The Union Budget 2021, presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1, has elicited varied criticisms from a number of organisations representing the working class, women as well as disability rights organisations.
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions, in its press statement, called out the Union Budget 2021 for being “cruelly insensitive” towards the distress that the country’s working people are suffering from, bearing the worst brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the tall claims of the government, the Budget “does not provide anything for the people, did nothing for addressing the severe unemployment situation, no direct relief to people under severe distress through income and food support” it said.
The statement added that while the Finance Minister did talk about the need to enhance expenditure and measures for well-being of the people, the total proposed budgetary expenditure for 2021-22 remained almost at the same level as that in 2020-21 (revised estimate), which, therefore, means a fall in real terms.
The Budget, which has drastically cut down allocations for several social sector and welfare-related expenditures including Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (41% less than what government actually spent last year), mid-day meal scheme (Rs 1,400 crore less), and Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (30% cut), shows the reality of the government’s commitment to people’s well being, CITU highlighted.
Further, referring to reduction in allocation in jobs and skill development (35% less compared to last Budget), the CITU statement said that the FM has made a mockery of the government’s tall talks about improving employment generation and employability.
Not only that, one of the key features of this year’s Budget is the government’s emphasis “to bring down the number of Centrally Sponsored Schemes” in line with the recommendation of the 15th Finance Commission. Instead more emphasis is on “promoting “ease of doing business” for the corporates and big business, both foreign and domestic,” either by easing statutory obligations under the Companies Act as well as in tax assessment and other such exemptions, the statement by CITU added.
Highlighting the government’s apparent “selling spree of national assets”, the statement added, that the current Budget has arrogantly reiterated its “programme of wholesale privatisation programme of mostly profit making PSUs, while declaring closure of all loss making PSUs, even those in core and strategic sector like pharmaceuticals, heavy manufacturing etc.,” with a target of Rs 1.75 lakh crore to be garnered through privatisation in the current fiscal.
Similarly, from Railways to Urban transport, gas-pipe lines and electricity discom sector, all reforms proposed by the government are aimed at privatisation through the PPP (public private partnership) route, CITU said. Even expansion in the public health infrastructure sector, which the FM talked about, is slated to executed in PPP route “through private health business operators”, it added.
The workers union also said that the government’s talk about “promoting manufacturing sector as per their so called Atmanirbhar project are nothing but hollow announcement and basically aimed at incentivising the corporate class,” which is visible from the “huge concessions that have already flown to these corporate since last six years under the same government, but nothing has been delivered by them either in terms of productive investment or employment generation.”
Criticising the Labour Codes, CITU said these codes will “abolish all labour rights including that to even ask for social security and minimum wage”.
Despite the ongoing farmers’ struggle which is demanding the scrapping of the draconian farm laws, the Budget also remained unresponsive on the statutory provision of MSP and procurement covering all crops and based on C2+50% formula, as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission.
The complete statement by CITU can be accessed here
Budget Ignores Rights of the Disabled
The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) has also released a press statement protesting against the substantial reduction (12%) in the budgetary support to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPD), from a meagre Rs 1,325.39 crore estimated last year to Rs 1,171.77 crore in Budget 2021.
The disability rights group has also called upon the disabled community to rise in unison and protest against this disabled-unfriendly budget.
At a time when unemployment is witnessing a rise among the disabled, the budgetary allocation to the National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation has been drastically reduced from Rs. 41 crore provisioned in the earlier Budget to a mere Rs. 0.01 crore this time, highlighted the statement. The government’s refusal to extend reservations to the private sector accompanied by shrinking employment avenues in the government sector will further add to the bouregoning of unemployment among the disabled, NPRD added.
Not only that, there have been substantial reductions in various schemes and programmes for the disabled under the DEPD. For example, the “Scheme for Implementation for Persons with Disabilities Act” sees a cut in its allocation from Rs. 251.50 to Rs. 209.77 crore; and the allocation for the National Trust which caters to persons with autism, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities etc. has been reduced from Rs. 39.50 to Rs. 30.00 crore, the statement added. There is also a reduction in the grant in aid to state governments.
According to NPRD, the announcements made to “vigorously pursue privatisation of various public sector undertakings will also adversely impact the disabled”.
While the pandemic led to a huge escalation in the number of mental health cases, “the allocations made towards mental health displays the total lack of acknowledgement of the crisis,” the NPRD statement said, adding, “instead allocations to the National Mental Health Programme remains constant at Rs. 40.00 crore”.
The NPRD has also criticised the FM’s failure to mention disabled persons even once during the two-hour long speech, which it said, displays the government’s blatant neglect of the community “while pursuing policies that confine disabled citizens to the margins”.
AIDWA Denounces Budget, Says It Is Anti-women
According to the All India Democratic Women’s Association, the Union Budget 2021, presented amid a deepening economic crisis owing to the pandemic, ignores the penury faced by marginalised sections.
Instead of addressing the concerns of increasing unemployment, falling incomes and extreme food insecurity, the Budget has seen severe cut backs in public expenditure, as per the statement released by AIDWA. Amid this, the gender budget, too, is “facing a steep reduction from a revised estimate of Rs 2.07 lakh crore (or 1.06% of GDP) in 2020-2021 to Rs 1.53 lakh crore or 0.4% of the GDP. At the same time, the allocations of the Ministry of Women and Child Development are also abysmal at Rs 3,310 crore,” the statement added.
AIDWA has also criticised the Mission POSHAN 2.0 which has been initiated consolidating the umbrella ICDS scheme with Poshan Abhiyan, Scheme for Adolescent Girls and National Creche Scheme under one scheme. It highlighted that “the total allocation for Mission Poshan 2.0 is Rs 20,100 crore, a 20% reduction than the money allocated for these schemes in 2020-2021”.
Further, the projected cutback in food subsidy from the revised estimate of about Rs 4,22,618.14 crore in 2020-2021 to Rs 2,42,836 crore in 2021-2022, a whopping 42.5% decrease, shows that the government does not intend to maintain any kind of nutritional or other support for women, AIDWA said.
There is also a severe decline in the LPG subsidy support by about 60%.
While “there has been an increase in allocation for the gender component of National Rural Livelihood Mission by about Rs 2,000 Crore, but this increase is linked to capacity of women to bear the burden of credit”, which means that the increased allocation is largely for credit, the women’s organisation has highlighted. Additionally, there are insignificant changes in animal husbandry and fisheries sectors too., which overall means that the women have not been given livelihood support.
The Budget 2021 also sees cutbacks in the National Social Assistance Scheme, including widow pensions, etc. For instance, “the revised estimate (based on expenditure) for the National Social Assistance Scheme was Rs 42,617.22 crore in 2020-2021, which has been reduced to a mere Rs 9,200 crore in 2021-2022”. Not only that, the Budget is also silent on universal social protection for all women in informal employment and makes no institutional provision for their recognition as ‘workers’ in addition to ignoring the demands of ICDS and ASHA workers, AIDWA stated.
Highlighting the government’s lack of commitment to women’s security, AIDWA said that the much touted Mission Shakti, amalgamating all schemes for women’s security and empowerment has also seen a cut in allocation, nearly 13% lower than the expenditure on all these schemes put together in 2020-2021.
Also, the focus on promoting corporate takeover of public assets and basic services will increase the costs of living, which, according to AIDWA, will create an additional burden on women. Therefore, the organisation has resolved to raise its voice against “the anti-people budget and intensify the fight for food and livelihood, security and social assistance for women and their families”.