From the allocation of pension to widows to lack of schooling and employment opportunities for women, the nation has witnessed continued neglect of women’s empowerment over the last five years.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives. His recent book on survival issues and people’s response titled Planet in Peril has been published by Vitasta, Delhi.
Crucial aspects of welfare and empowerment of women were denied badly needed support during the last five years of the NDA regime. This had a very adverse impact on the welfare of some of the most vulnerable groups of women.
This can be seen very clearly in the allocations for pensions of widows. The main scheme for this is called the Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme, which is administered under the wider National Social Assistance Program by the Ministry of Rural Development. A big increase in these allocations was badly needed as the pension amount for widows had been languishing at low levels. Instead what we actually saw in NDA years are further cuts. In 2014-15 in the Budget Estimate an allocation of Rs. 3189 crore was made specifically for the widow pension scheme, but the actual expenditure on this scheme during this year was just Rs. 1877 crore, a very high cut indeed. In actual practice this meant that a very large number of widows were deprived of their pension.
During the next three years we see that, firstly, the original allocation is much below the 2014-15 level and secondly ,the actual expenditure is even less than the allocation. For 2018-19 the actual expenditure is not known yet, but the revised estimate was less than the budget estimate.
In the interim budget this year the Budget Estimate for this scheme has been kept as low as Rs. 1938 crore which is lower than the Budget Estimate for the previous year ( Rs. 2255 crore ) and much lower than the Budget Estimate for 2014-15 ( Rs. 3189 crore). This shows the alarming extent to which the most important scheme for the welfare of one of the most vulnerable groups of women has been deprived of funds during the Modi regime.
Another highly vulnerable group is that of trafficked women. There is a scheme called Comprehensive Scheme for Combating Trafficking ( Ujjwala) under the Ministry of Women and Child Development. In the 2018-19 Budget a sum of Rs. 50 crore was provided for this ( Budget Estimate ) but this was later cut to just Rs. 20 crore (Revised Estimate), a very heavy cut of 60 per cent. In the Budget Estimate of the latest (interim) budget an allocation of only Rs. 30 crore has been made, which is 40 per cent less than the original allocation made last year.
Swadhar Greh is a scheme for the support and rehabilitation of women in distress. In 2018-19 an allocation of Rs. 95 crore was made for this scheme ( Budget Estimate ) but this was later cut very heavily to just Rs. 50 crore in the Revised Estimate, a cut of 47 per cent. In the interim budget also just Rs. 50 crore has been provided. For Women Helpline Rs. 29 crore was provided last year and this has been cut to Rs. 18 crore this year. In 2016-17 actual expenditure on this had fallen to just Rs. one crore.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had personally spoken about the high commitment of his government for providing maternity support under the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana Scheme , but reality can be quite different from rhetoric. The reality is that in 2018-19 the revised estimate for this scheme was cut to half the original sallocation ( from Rs. 2400 crore to Rs. 1200 crore).
As for the flagship Beti Bachao, Beti Padao program the government has admitted that from 2014-15 more than half of the expenditure incurred on the program was for media promotion.
In the process of restructuring cost-sharing of the National Creche Scheme there has been at least a temporary setback for the program. The allocation in the interim budget of this year is down to Rs. 50 crore, compared to Rs. 128 crore in the previous year ( Budget Estimate). The Revised Estimate in 2018-19 was just Rs. 30 crore.
The National Mission for Empowerment of Women ( Mahila Shakti Kendra ) is considered to be a very important intervention of the Union Government. This got a much-needed boost in the budget for 2018-19 when an allocation of Rs. 267 crore was made. However later this was cut very heavily by more than 50 per cent to just Rs. 115 crore. The allocation in the latest interim budget at Rs. 150 crore is also much lower than the Budget Estimate of the previous year.
Actually the allocations for helping women should have increased in a big way in recent years as women workers have suffered very heavily from the disruptive impacts of demonetization and GST as well as the scaling down of NREGA works. Instead what we have seen are substantial cutbacks in crucial areas of women’s welfare. Some of the biggest groups of women workers, for example mid-day meal cooks, have suffered from complete neglect and are reduced to daily wages of Rs. 40 or less in vast areas, and even these low wages are not paid on time.