(Photo: HT)
(Photo: HT)

Opinion | Nothing much for the homemakers to cheer about

Govt could have helped reduce daily household expenses by cutting the GST rates

The Budget does not have much for the urban homemaker to cheer about. It’s a mixed bag.

The announcement made in the interim budget that people with an income of up to 5 lakh do not have to pay income tax has been maintained in this budget, and this should give some relief to urban homemakers. However, no further sops have been announced with regard to duty cuts. Further, there is the additional burden of a 1 cess on petrol and diesel, which will increase the prices of all essential commodities, thus impacting the household expenses. Homemakers hoping to invest in gold will also have to shell out more, as customs duty on gold has gone up from 10% to 12.5%. Customs duty on split ACs has also been increased from 10% to 20%.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman reiterated the importance of improving the condition of women for the welfare of the world and emphasised on greater participation of women. Crediting the socio-economic transformation in the last one decade to women, she also cited the record turnout of women voters in the recent election, and her 78 women colleagues in the Lok Sabha, to reinforce the role of women in the country.

Does this mean happy tidings for women? The government plans to set up a committee for suggesting ways to encourage and facilitate women’s participation in the country’s development. More so, as the focus shifts from women-centric politics to women-led-initiatives and movements.

Sitharaman has also proposed to expand the women SHG Interest Subvention Programme to all districts in India. This means that every verified women SHG with a Jan Dhan account will be given an overdraft facility of up to 5,000. Also, one woman in every SHG will be eligible for a loan of up to 1 lakh under the MUDRA Scheme.

Besides, some of the following initiatives indicated will have an indirect impact.

The 3,000 pension per month for informal sector workers will help rural women.

Raising the employers’ contribution of 14% of salary to the provident fund of central government employees from the 10% at present, will increase savings for households.

The deduction of 1.5 lakh on interest paid for a housing loan of 45 lakh in affordable housing till 31 March 2020 has brought cheer to the homemaker.

Pension benefit has been extended to 30 million retail traders and shopkeepers with an annual turnover of less than 1.5 crore under Pradhan Mantri Karam Yogi Maandhan Scheme. This will further empower their families.

The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, aimed at weaning away rural women from unhealthy firewood cooking to cooking gas, has seen only 10% of these women going for the refilling of cooking gas. This is because rural women have found it easier to go back to firewood cooking, which is free, to paying 500, despite the subsidy of 217 per month, per refill. As such, the government could have announced a stimulus, in terms of subsidy.

The government’s focus on solar stoves, however, should provide a cheaper alternative to rural women for cooking. Sitharaman could have looked at reducing every day and planned expenses for the urban homemaker, with reduced GST rates for the most common household expenses, family occasions for spending out of home, possibly even two-wheelers and cars.

So, prima facie, homemakers do not have much to cheer about.

The writer is the head of Ipsos Business Consulting.