People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 26

June 28, 2009

 

MEMO TO FINANCE MINISTER

 

Women’s Organisations Demand Specific Budget Provisions

 

ON June 23, representatives of several national level organisations of women --- namely, the All India Democratic Women’s Association, All India Women’s Conference, Centre for Women Development Studies, Joint Women’s Programme, Guild of Service, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, National Federation of Indian Women, Muslim Women’s Forum and Young Women’s Christian Association of India --- sent a memorandum to the finance minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee. Drafted in context of the Budget 2009, the memorandum urged additional budgetary allocations and strengthening of the gender component in various schemes meant to benefit the women and children who belong to the poorest sections of the society.

The said organisations felt it is extremely important to take into consideration the opinion of women’s organisations in pre-budget consultations so that the gender component of the union budget could be enhanced and strengthened. Hence they urged the finance minister to take into considerations the suggestions made and the demands raised in the memorandum while finalising the budget proposal for the current year.

 

GENDER

BUDGETTING

Asking for much more effort insofar as gender budgeting is concerned, the memo pointed out that the Mid-Term Appraisal Committee of the Tenth Five Year Plan recommended that 30 per cent of all allocations in all ministries must reach women, but it is far from being implemented.

Misleading computations have artificially exaggerated the amount actually being spent on women. For instance, the entire budgets for ICDS or the Ministry for Social Justice and even items like Fashion Designing are regularly shown as women specific expenditure. The ambit of gender budgeting should include gender audit and gender outcome assessment in all ministries and departments at the central and state levels. There must be greater transparency, and accountability of the centre and the states, regarding the actual disaggregated expenditure, as compared to the allocation of funds, in the final statement. Further, it should extend beyond expenditure policies to cover the gender-differentiated implications of tax policies as well.

The memo suggested the following:

1) Allocations must be provided to the gender budget cells located in the different ministries to strengthen their functioning.

2) The recommendation about 30 per cent of expenditure for women must be implemented rigorously.

3) Sex-disaggregated data must be made available as far as possible to enable assessment of the expenditure and outcomes in gender terms.

4) The notion of bringing all schemes for children etc automatically under the gender component is patriarchal and discriminatory, and must be discontinued. Child related expenditure should be placed under a different head, or indicated separately.

 

PRICE RISE &

FOOD SECURITY

As the continuous and steep rise in prices of essential commodities is a matter of grave concern for women, the memo demanded strict measures to ensure price stability and prevent speculation in essential commodities. It regretted the recent withdrawal of the ban on forward trading of wheat and rice, demanding that it be re-imposed and extended to cover all essential commodities.

Food insecurity impacts women and girl children first and has emerged as a major problem across the country. The latest NFHS-3 highlights the poor nutritional status of women and children, and the girl child in particular. The promised National Food Security Act lowers the grain entitlement of all ration card holders including the most vulnerable BPL and Antyodaya sections from 35 kg to 25 kg. This is a step backward, rather than a strengthening of the system. It is all the more surprising in the present situation when government has successfully procured adequate stocks that are lying unutilised in government warehouses.

Targeting has undermined the PDS and led to unfair exclusions, depriving a large section of the poor, including widows, single women, tribal and Dalits the right to access cheaper food grain, and many other welfare measures as well. The memo therefore suggested the following:

1) Return to a universal system of distribution under the PDS, rather than the present targeted system, at Antyodaya prices.

2) Ensuring sufficient quantities of supply in the PDS system across all states to both BPL as well as APL households; restoration of earlier quotas; consideration of the spiralling prices, and assured minimum food security for all citizens.

3) Substantial increase in allocations for the Food Corporation of India to facilitate procurement and ensure safe storage of items; and for the PDS to ensure its extension to all habitations in the country. 

4) Revocation of the Essential Commodities Act and restoration under it of the items removed from its scope; effective use of the act to curb speculation and hoarding.

 

WOMEN

FARMERS

The agrarian crisis continues to be extensive, with rising input costs rendering farming an unviable proposition. Women of rural households have been particularly adversely affected. Women play a crucial role in the agricultural sector, their identity as farmers must be acknowledged, and supported through the budget measures. Although credit to agriculture has increased, women cultivators continue to be denied access to institutional credit because of the absence of land titles and other collateral in their name. The memo therefore suggested the following:

1) Special measures to ensure that women cultivators not holding land titles but cultivating household land or as tenants get access to institutional credit as per RBI guidelines.

2) A comprehensive debt relief package for farmers to address indebtedness, and explicit recognition of the needs of indebted women cultivators as a separate entity. Replacement of half-hearted measures to provide region specific relief packages and token interest subvention by debt write-off for small and marginal farmers across the country. This should include non-institutional debts as well. Ensured availability and accessibility of interest free farm loans to women. In any case, the interest rate should not exceed four per cent.

3) Fair and remunerative prices to farmers for their produce.

4) Relief for families of farmers who have committed suicide. Recognition to women as farmers in this respect by all state governments, and consideration in relief packages of specific difficulties facing widows in subsequent cultivation. Consideration of the educational needs of children, particularly daughters. Antyodaya cards for all suicide affected households till a universal system is in place.

 

WOMEN

WORKERS

Women form a large chunk of the unorganised work force, especially in the home based and domestic work segments. They have not been recognised as employees, and are not paid minimum wages even under government schemes where they are employed in significant numbers. The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act 2008 is restricted to BPL workers, and fails to provide for any funds to cover the proposed schemes. The lakhs of women who opt for work under NREGS are often denied minimum wages due to gender insensitive work norms. The absence of adequate opportunities for productive employment is a major problem facing women. The memo therefore suggested the following:

1) Adequate funding of NREGS; proper mechanism to ensure that funds reach the districts in time so that works are not held up and wages not delayed.

2) Proper work norms in NREGA so that women earn the statutory minimum wage after a day’s work. Provision of childcare facilities, rest and shade and other facilities as specified in the guidelines, with separate financial provision.

3) Extension of employment guarantee to urban areas.

4) Ensured minimum wages for Anganwadi workers, mid-day meal workers and public health workers who perform crucial social functions.

5) Increase in maternity benefit allowance to cover the costs of nutrition and care (in addition to JSY) to Rs 6000.  

6) Increase in hostels for working women.

7) Removal of BPL criterion for extending social security measures to unorganised workers; a grievance redressal machinery to address their complaints.

8) Recognition to the economic contribution of unpaid family workers by extending social security provisions to them.

9) Recognition to migrant workers as a special category with special needs; provision in the budget for this vulnerable section to access the PDS, health and educational facilities, etc, even when they are on the move.

 

HEALTH AND

EDUCATION

There has been a decline in per capita public expenditure on health. The latest NFHS points to very poor performance in basic health indicators, including child immunisation. Serious issues of under-financing of major schemes need to be overcome. The ICDS programme has to guarantee universal coverage with minimum quality services, as per the Supreme Court mandate. In this context, the memo suggested the following:

1) Increase in public health expenditure to at least 5 per cent of GDP.

2) Revitalisation of the primary health care system with adequate infrastructure.

3) Increased outlays for the provision of drinking water, universal sanitation and food security as part of the commitment to safeguarding the people’s health.

4) Setting up 14 lakh Anganwadis to universalise the ICDS as per the latest Supreme Court order. Increase in provision for all child specific schemes, including ICDS, to at least Rs 12,000 crore. Assured iron supplementation for anaemic womenacross all age spans.

5) Increased outlays for nurse training.

To achieve the goal of universal, equitable, quality education for all children, up to 14 years of age, the budget allocation must be increased to at least six per cent of the GDP. The Right to Education Bill Amendment must not permit privatisation of education, and must extend the provision of free and universal education to the 3-6 age group as well. Significant increases in central government programmes on both literacy and education are required, and special allocations must be made to ensure greater access to women. The memo therefore suggested the following:

1) Adequate funding for eradication of female illiteracy.

2) Increase in SSA expenditure to ensure universal access; upgrading of “Education Centres” to proper schools to provide all children with good quality schooling.

3) Primary schools to be set up within one km radius of all habitations.

4) Increase in secondary school spending; ensures provision of proper secondary schools within three km of all habitations to enable girl students to attend school.

5) Special funds to ensure separate and functional toilets (with water provision) for girls in all schools; provision for building compound walls in schools to upgrade security.

6) Enhanced scholarship scheme for girls in secondary schools, with special emphasis on girls from educationally deprived categories.

7) Increased allocation for vocational, job oriented training and non-stereotyped skills development.

 

OTHER

ISSUES

SHGs: Increase in allocations for self-help groups; more funds for credit at interest rates not exceeding four per cent per annum; health insurance and social security for members, training and marketing support for the groups to become economically productive. Strengthening of the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh for support to the SHGs.

Minority Women: Adequate outlay for implementation of the Sachar recommendations, with allocation for a sub-plan which includes Muslim women as they among the most deprived and marginalised sections of society. Provision of Urdu language teaching in schools, better amenities in local schools, budgeting for madrasas. Special allocations for hostels and sanitation in schools.

Tribal and Dalit Women: Special focus on electrification of all tribal areas, primary health centres, drinking water, and hostels for tribal girls with required facilities. A separate monitoring mechanism to ensure that the special fund is effectively utilised. Provision to ensure that these entitlements reach dalit habitations as well.

Welfare Schemes for Women: A major step-up in outlays for welfare and social security schemes for women and children, with special provision for single women and women-headed households.  In particular widow pension schemes, shelters for women in distress situations, hostels for single working women with or without children, shelters for children without adult protection, shelters for senior citizens need to be provided support. The allocation for welfare schemes must be increased. The provision for the widows with sons losing their eligibility for pension must be removed. Special allocation for addressing the needs of senior citizens.

PWDV Act: Since the funds to implement the Domestic Violence Act have not been provided at the central level, institutional mechanisms for implementing the act are not in place. Hence many women are facing difficulties in utilising this act. There must be a budgetary allocation to ensure the operationalisation of institutional mechanisms for proper implementation of the act.

Physically and Mentally Challenged Women: Special schemes and allocations for addressing the needs of physically and mentally challenged women.