UNION BUDGET 2023-2024: CITU Says ‘Political Jumla’; AIDWA, AIKS Term it Pro-Corporate
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The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) has termed the 2023-24 Union Budget as an attempt to “hoodwink” women and the working class to “promote the agenda” of big corporate houses.
The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) slammed the Budget for “favouring” the government’s “corporate cronies” and “attacking farmers and workers with a vengeance”.
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) termed the Budget as “nothing but a political jumla” that was mum on the “grim economic situation facing the country”.
In a press statement released on Wednesday, the AIDWA said that the “narrative unleashed by the government in the name of the Budget is designed to perpetrate falsehoods, show that all is well and people are becoming prosperous”.
The Budget should be “seen in the context of the widening inequality and deepening economic distress”, the women’s body said.
“As the Global Inequality Report, 2022 shows, one percent of the population, namely the capitalist cronies of the BJP government, control more than 40% of the country’s wealth,” it said adding that “whereas the bottom 50% control only 3% and is scrambling for survival.”
Women and their families are “facing a severe employment crisis, but the Budget is oblivious to this reality. Instead, it provides minimal tax relief to the salaried class and ignores the plight of the self-employed and most of those in informal labour”. “This is likely to exacerbate rather than reduce the inequality in the country,” the AIDWA added.
Mentioning that the Centre has “actually cut back” on its expenditure, the AIDWA said: “In nominal terms, the proportion of the Budget to GDP has come down from 15.3% (revised) in 2022-2023 to 14.9% Budget Estimates (BE) in 2023-24. However, if we account for the current inflation rate, there is, in fact, a reduction in the total budgetary expenditure of the Union government”.
Though the Prime Minister and the Union finance minister have “touted” it as a “pro-women Budget, its figures tell a different story”.
“The total proportion of the gender budget as a proportion of GDP has increased from 0.71% (RE) 2022-2023 to 0.73% (BE). But if we account for inflation, the real value of these allocations is less than 3%, which is lower than last year.”
Despite the nominal increases, due to the PM Awas Yojana, the Centre’s record of release and utilisation of funds in this scheme is “abysmal, and most states received only half of their approved budgets in 2022”, the AIDWA said.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development’s expenditure is only about 0.05% of the entire Budget expenditure, it said. “About 80% of this is for the Saksham Anganwadi POSHAN 2.0 scheme. The budget for schemes addressing safety issues and violence against women has been increased minimally. Further, there are virtually no provisions for sportswomen, whose safety has become a major concern in recent times.”
The Budget emphasises mobilising women’s savings and linking them with corporate supply chains. Nirmala Sitharaman “touted that the Deen Dayal National Rural Livelihood Mission has 81 lakh savings groups, which will be upgraded and made into large enterprises. However, the credit provided to them will be largely through private players, and there were no announcements for low-interest credit lines for women”.
Besides, Mahila Samaan Saving Patra, the new savings scheme announced for women, is “only going to cover only a handful of women who can afford to save. Thus, the financial schemes will do little to address the problem of increasing indebtedness of women”, it said.
“The root cause of this debt trap is the lack of livelihood and the high interest rates charged by MFIs and private small finance banks. Rather it will put women’s savings at the disposal of these private lending agencies, whose share is growing in financial markets because of the policies of the [Narendra] Modi government.”
Further, the allocation for employment generation schemes like MGNREGS has been cut by 33%. In fact, such cutbacks are a “direct attack on women-oriented schemes”. The Budget recognised the rights of scheme workers nor enhanced their remuneration, the AIDWA added.
“The allocations under the National Assistance Programme (including widow pension), and schemes for the welfare of scheduled tribes and scheduled castes have seen nominal and no substantive increases.”
Despite making “tall claims” about providing free food to 80 crore families and extending the term of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana for one year, food subsidy has come down by 31% in nominal terms. “It is also one-third less than the actual expenditure in 2021-2022.”
Allocation for the National Midday Meal programme has been reduced even in nominal terms. The allocation for the Anganwadi programme is almost the same as the revised Budget for the last year, which is a “cutback in real terms when we account for inflation”.
The “small budgetary increase” on education is “nominal”. “The most worrying trend is the emphasis on digital education, non-restoration of Rajiv Gandhi and Maulana Azad Fellowships and the emphasis on student loans as a financing model for education. All these will have an adverse impact on woman/girl education,” the organization said.
Except for Ayushman Bharat, which is “dominated by private sector companies”, the expenditure on the National Health Mission (NHM) has “nominally decreased.
“Thus, we see that the government is making massive cuts in social welfare expenditure rather than providing a model for inclusive development,” the AIDWA added.
The AIDWA sees the Budget as an exercise to “subsidise big corporate houses” at the “expense” of women and their families. It called upon all its units and democratic forces to hold protests and expose the “fraud that the government is perpetrating in the name of an inclusive budget” and work to defeat this “draconian and pro-corporate” government in 2024.
The AIKS too criticised the “pro-rich” Budget, which was prepared at the “behest of the corporate cronies”.
“It is against the interests of the farmers, the poor and the toiling masses. It was high on rhetoric and hollow on actual allocation for agriculture and rural development,” it said in a press release.
The BJP government has “refused to implement the minimum support prices (MSP) as per the MS Swaminathan Commission recommendations of C2+50 % nor ensured legal guarantee for MSP leading to increasing distress for farmers. This Budget does nothing to mitigate the situation”.
Alleging that the government is “exacting revenge from farmers” after it was forced to withdraw the three farm laws, the AIKS said: “There has been a drastic cut on expenditure for rural employment, MGNREGA, food security, fertiliser subsidy, etc.”
Highlighting recession, climate change and other exigencies that have dented farmers’ confidence, the AIKS said: “There is nothing in it to enhance the incomes of the peasantry and toiling masses. The BE for agriculture has been substantially reduced from Rs 1,24,000 crore in 2022-23 to Rs 1,15,531.79 crore this year. Actually, there has been a comprehensive reduction in budgetary allocation for agriculture.”
Criticising the Rs 60,000 crore allocation for the “much-hyped” Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, it said that if the government’s “claim of about 12 crore beneficiaries is taken, at least, Rs 72,000 crore should have been allocated”.
Compared with the 2022-23 BE of Rs 15,500 the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana has only been allocated Rs 1,3625 crore, the AIKS said.
“The Green Revolution, which was advertised as the core scheme and was allocated Rs 6,747 crore in 2021-22, has had no allocation in the last as well as this Budget. There has been a drastic cut in fertiliser subsidies from Rs 2,25,000 crore in 2022-23 RE to Rs 1,75,000 crore in BE of 2023-24—a 22% cut of Rs 50,000 crore. Such a move could have an adverse impact on productivity and impact the production of food grains.”
The “much-touted” allocation for natural farming appears to be marginal at Rs 459 crore. The allocation for Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana has been “drastically” cut from Rs 10,433 crore to Rs 7,150 crore.
“Besides, the allocation for Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sinchai Yojna has been cut from Rs 12,954 crore in 2022-23 BE to Rs 10,787 crore. The allocation for Market Intervention and Price Support Scheme, which was Rs 1,500 crore in the 2022-23 RE “does not find any mention” in the Budget.
The allocation for rural employment has been drastically cut to Rs 1,01,474.51 crore in 2023-24 BE from Rs 1,53,525.41 crore in 2022-23 RE, the AIKS said.
“The allotment for MGNREGA has been cut from Rs 89,000 crore in RE of 2022-23 to merely Rs 60,000 crore in 2023-24 BE when an estimated Rs 2.72 lakh crore is required if the government intends to provide the legally guaranteed 100 days of employment.”
The budgetary allocations “disregard” its own Economic Survey, which “showed that demand under the rural employment scheme is still higher than the pre-pandemic period, pointing towards rural distress”.
“The Budget reflects the government’s apathy towards the country’s rural poor.”
The allocation for Atmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana has also been cut from Rs 5,758 crore to Rs 2,273 crore. “All talk of generating 2 crore employment every year has been conveniently forgotten,” the AIKS said.
Terming the “narrative” built around free ration allocation under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana, replacing the pandemic time additional foodgrain scheme, a “farce”, the AIKS said: “The biggest fall has been seen in the food subsidy bill from Rs 2,87,194 crore in RE of 2022-23 to Rs 1,97,350 crore in BE of 2023-34—a whopping reduction of 31%.”
Alleging that the government’s clear intention is to “reduce spending on food security and the Public Distribution System”, the AIKS said: “The reduced food subsidy bill has direct consequences for procurement of food grains. The budgetary allocation for decentralised procurement to food grains under the National Food Security Act has been reduced from Rs 72,282.50 crore in RE (2022-23) to just Rs 59,793 crore in this year’s BE—a reduction of 17%.”
Besides, the allocation for food subsidy to the Food Corporation of India has been “drastically” cut from Rs 1,45,920 crore to Rs 1,37,207 crore. “These steps are cause for concern not just from the point of farmers’ incomes but also India’s food security when inflationary trends cannot be discounted.”
The Budget also “smacks of a blatant effort to centralise cooperatives and bring in an environment for control by the Centre. This is against the rights of states under a federal system”, the farmers body said.
Terming the “tall claims” about setting an Agriculture Accelerator Fund to encourage agricultural start-ups and decentralised cold storages, etc. as part of the “regular rhetoric”, the AIKS said: “It is likely to meet the same fate as the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund, which was also announced with much fanfare. It was allocated Rs 500 crore in 2022-23 but brought down to only Rs 150 crore in the RE.”
The talk of a digital public infrastructure for agriculture also is aimed at helping corporate companies rather than farmers, the AIKS alleged.
Dubbing Amrit Kal “hollow” with “no substantial relief” for farmers, toiling masses and the poor in the Budget, the AIKS said that Sitharaman’s claims were “utter lies once actual allocations are taken note of”.
“The last full Budget of this government does not commit anything to disown its anti-people, anti-farmer and anti-worker policies. It only further bolsters it. The Budget offers no relief to the masses regarding health, education or social security.”
Alleging that the government has also “exposed its communal character”, the AIKS pointed to the reduction in allocation for the Umbrella Programme for Development of Minorities from Rs 1,810 crore to Rs 610 crores.
The AIKS called upon all its units to protest this “anti-farmer, anti-worker and pro-corporate Budget” by uniting with all peasants and workers to “expose the betrayal” by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government.
The CITU dubbed the Budget as “nothing but a political jumla which does not utter a word on the grim economic situation facing the country though the Economic Survey sought to camouflage it by presenting a rosy picture”.
“The Economic Survey itself predicted a decline in GDP to 6.5% in 2022-23. Such a downward growth spiral for four consecutive years is unprecedented in the history of independent India. There is de-growth in the manufacturing sector, which came down to 1.6% against 9.9% last fiscal,” it said in a press release.
The CITU said that the Budget was “oblivious” to the loss of jobs, worsening working and living conditions of workers and common people, alarming unemployment and inflation and “failed” to address even the risks mentioned in the Economic Survey like plateauing of export growth due to the global recession, widening current account deficit, the continuing depreciation of the rupee, the high debt GDP ratio, etc.
“The drastic cut in the subsidy for petroleum by 75% from the RE of the last year will adversely affect all sectors of the economy and result in the rise in prices grievously.”
Though the recently released Oxfam report pointed out that the bottom half of the population pays six times more on indirect taxes compared to the top 10%, the Budget “further lowered the tax rate on the super-rich”.
On the other hand, the gross subsidy on food has been “slashed by 31% when India is home to the largest number of hungry and malnourished in the world”, the CITU added.
“The Budget clearly shows that the Modi-led BJP government has not learned any lessons from the health disaster during the pandemic, which exposed the public health infrastructure’s pathetic condition. Instead of enhancing budgetary allocation, the Budget reduced the allocation for Ayushman Bharat by a sharp 34%; the allocation for NHM has been cut down by 1% from last year’s estimations.”
The CITU too pointed to the reduction in allocation for education. “The funds for National Education Mission have been reduced by 2%.”
The tens of lakhs of Anganwadi workers and helpers, ASHAs, MidDay Meal workers, etc. providing health, education, nutrition and child care services to the poor, particularly women and children have been “neglected without any improvement in their remuneration and benefits”.
The CITU too criticised the reduction in allocation for MGNREGA, which has been “providing some succour to rural job-seekers”, and the National Livelihood Mission. “Allocation for the highly advertised Atmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana has been reduced by 65%.”
The CITU said that the “most atrocious attack” was on labour. “While the actual expenditure on labour-related Central sector schemes/projects in FY 21 was Rs 23,165 crore, the Budget has slashed it by around half to just Rs 12,435 crore. The fund for pension has been cut down by 4.2%.”
Despite all the “high-sounding talk” about doubling farmers’ income and helping agriculture, Sitharaman “did not spare even agricultural expenditure”.
“PM Kisan allocations have been cut down by 11.76%; Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana by 31%, Krishi Sinchai Yojana by 17% and Krishionnati Yojana by 2% from last year’s BE. Fertiliser subsidies have been cut down by 22% from last year’s RE and allocation for crop insurance scheme by 12% over last year’s estimates.”
The “deceptive manoeuvres, which are its wont, are visible in this Budget too”, the CITU said adding that the housing allocation was drastically cut in FY by Rs 90,020 crore. “This Budget even does not restore the allocation to the earlier level; it has only increased it by a mere Rs 79,590 crore.”
The “anti-minority, anti-women, anti-Dalit and tribal attitude” of the Modi government find clear expression in the Budget, the CITU said. “The Umbrella Programme for Development of Minorities has been cut by 66%; the allocation for maternity benefit scheme—Matru Vandana Yojana—has been cut down by Rs 40.15 crore. Gender budget is only 9% of the total expenditure; for SCs, a mere 3.5% and for STs, a meagre 2.7%.”
The “much-trumpeted” capex spending is, in fact, funded by the upfront money collected by “gifting out” highly revenue-generating public assets through the National Monetisation Pipeline, which envisages collecting Rs 9 lakh crore, it said. “This is nothing but throwing away the revenue-collecting capacity of the government for the next 30-35 years in favour of the private companies—mostly its cronies. The Budget has reduced the investment in PSUs by 11%.”
The Budget also has “nothing” for employment generation and support for MSMEs. “It does not provide any relief in GST to the common people.”
The first Budget in the so-called Amrit Kaal has turned out to be “venomous” for the people despite the expectation in some quarters that the last Budget before the 2024 Lok Sabha election, the government might have provided some relief to the people. “Probably, the BJP-RSS want to rely more on their divisive communal agenda. The working class and the people have to be vigilant,” the CITU added.
The organisation called upon all its committees, affiliates and the working class and toiling people, in general, to strongly oppose the Budget and hold protests at the workplaces and residential areas.
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