Did the UPA government play its trump card?

Did the UPA government play its trump card?
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First Published: Wed, Mar 10 2010. 01 15 AM IST

Updated: Wed, Mar 10 2010. 12 56 PM IST
Much of the post-Budget analyses that flood our newspapers these days focus on issues around crossing the double-digit growth barrier, applauding the 1 percentage point improvement in meeting the fiscal responsibility and budget management targets or the response of the stock markets to the Budget. What is conspicuously absent from much of such analyses is examining what the Budget has really meant for the aam aadmi and aurat—Dalits, tribals, women and minorities who constitute large chunks of our population and a predominant majority of the poor.
Push gender budgeting
The 50% increase in allocations for the ministry of women and child development, the nodal ministry for women, in Union Budget 2010-11, is indeed welcome, given that the ministry has suffered from paltry allocations for most of its schemes. The challenge now would be to ensure that these better outlays result in better outcomes for women.
But while analysing allocations for women, it is important to look beyond this ministry as several other ministries allocate and spend on women and this is where the gender budgeting statement (GBS), which compiles allocations on women from across different ministries and departments, gains significance. While as a first step, the current efforts towards gender budgeting are welcome, it has now been five years since it was first introduced in the budget and there is an urgent need to take it beyond an exercise largely limited to paper to one that translates to better outlays and outcomes for women.
Analysing the figures reflected in GBS since 2007-08—as the methodology of GBS seems comparable and more consistent from 2007-08 onwards—allocations for women across various ministries and departments after stagnating last year at 5.5% of the total expenditure, has gone up to 6.1% in 2010-11. Though this is welcome, it is important to remind ourselves that at a per capita level, this still translates to an allocation of approximately Rs1,200 per woman per annum, which is low by any standards.
Analysing GBS alone gives an incomplete picture. While, it is important to acknowledge the new initiatives for women, including the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana, which could go a long way towards providing maternity benefits to women in the unorganized sector, and Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojna for women in agriculture, several burning issues are still crying for attention, such as adequate provisioning for the domestic violence law, minimum wages for front-line workers such as anganwadi workers and helpers and accredited social health activists in the flagship schemes such as Integrated Child Development Services and the National Rural Health Mission.
Dalits still at margins?
Budgets are symptomatic of the deeper malaise in society and the one figure that says it all is the unit costs for the Centrally sponsored scheme for pre-matric scholarship to children of those scheduled castes (SCs) engaged in unclean occupations, which stood at a meagre Rs40 per month, to Rs75 per month. The finance minister’s admission of this in his speech and a clear commitment to “…revise rates of scholarship under its post-matric scholarship schemes for SCs and OBC (other backward classes) students, which is long overdue”, is welcome. The promise of implementation of the special component plan for SCs and tribal sub-plan (16% of Plan allocations for SCs and 8% for STs), though, remains elusive even after 30 years of the promise being made, as we are still only half-way round the mark (7.2% for SCs and 4.3% for scheduled tribes in Union Budget 2010-11).
Bottleneck for minorities
In response to the Sachar committee recommendations, several development programmes and schemes were launched to address the development deficit that minority communities face. This year’s Budget has brought about an increase of 50% in the Plan allocations for the ministry of minority affairs.
However, a closer look at these initiatives shows that these have yielded limited deliverable outputs. Actual expenditure as a percentage of Budget estimates for the ministry of minority affairs has been as low as 39% and 62% for 2007-08 and 2008-09, respectively. Bottlenecks in implementation plague most of the schemes of the ministry.
In particular, evidence from across India seems to suggest that the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme has remained largely on paper as there is very little or no awareness about it either in the community or among the officials who are supposed to implement them. A survey done by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan across several states shows that the response of officials ranged from “hamey koi information nahin hai (we have no information)” to “why should there be special schemes for Muslims?” Bias among implementing agency officials needs to be addressed if the government is serious about effectively implementing these schemes.
The columnist is, director, Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability
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First Published: Wed, Mar 10 2010. 01 15 AM IST