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A budget that heaps further miseries on Indian women

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21st Feb.2014
A budget that heaps further miseries on Indian women
AIDWA condemns the interim budget that was presented by the Finance Minister on Feb. 17th 2014, which claims to be swayed by “equity concerns” but which has imposed heavy additional burdens on women, making it even more difficult for them to exercise their right to a violence free life.
An additional allocation for the Nirbhaya Fund, of 1000 crores carries little meaning if the survivors and victims of sexual violence are unable to access the funds for rehabilitation and relief purposes. It is most unfortunate that a similar allocation made grandiosely in the last budget has been spent only partially, and in a non transparent manner.  Moreover, what is the use of making an allocation when attacking women’s ability to survive in all other sectors?
Displaying fanatical loyalty to the neo-liberal mantra of curtailing government expenditure, finance minister P. Chidambram has slashed nearly Rs.32,000 crore from funds allocated to crucial flagship schemes and other welfare programs in the financial year 2013-14 that is just ending. These cuts, while affecting crores of socio-economically deprived families, will specially harm women of the country as they constitute the most vulnerable section among the disadvantaged.
It has been reported that throughout last year, the finance ministry had been arm-twisting various other government ministries to curtail expenditure. These cuts have no relationship with performance of the scheme/program or the state government’s “absorption capacity” that is, their ability to implement the program. This is clear from the fact that the cuts are dipping below the level of spending achieved in the previous year 2012-13.
By brazenly cutting welfare spending in the run-up to the general elections, the government led by the neo-liberal triumvirate of Manmohan Singh-Chidambaram-Montek Singh Ahluwalia is playing into the hands of the communal BJP because such attacks on the poor will only push them into the equally deceitful fold of the Modi-led party. Neo-liberal fundamentalism is feeding the rise of majoritarian fundamentalism.
Some highlights of these callous cutbacks are:
·         Educational programs have suffered cuts of Rs.2240.34 encompassing the mid-day meal scheme, the primary education program (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) and the secondary education program (Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan). As it is, girls are discouraged from attending schools in higher classes – dropout rates are higher for girls. Moreover, key facilities like separate toilets for girls are needed to encourage parents to send girls to schools. These will suffer after the cutbacks. Mid-day meal is the only source for nutrition for many families and any cut in this program will see girl students getting removed from schools as families struggle to feed their children.
·         Drinking water and sanitation programs have borne a massive cut of Rs.2934 crore combined. Again this has a direct impact on women because it is womenfolk that fetch drinking water in most households. Similarly, not having toilets in the home directly pushes women into danger as they become open to attacks while going to fields/forests for attending calls of nature.
·         The ICDS funding has been cut by Rs.1290 crore. This program is crucial for providing nutrition to children in the 0-6 year age group and also to pregnant mothers. By cutting funds for ICDS today’s and tomorrow’s children are being condemned to malnutrition. In addition lakhs of women work as anganwadi workers and helpers under ICDS. These too will be adversely impacted by cuts in ICDS spending.
·         Funds for MGNREGS have not been cut in absolute terms but they have remained stagnant over the past four years, hovering around the Rs.30,000 crore per year mark. In effect this means a cut because the number of people, especially women, needing jobs will get turned away.
·         The National Health Mission, which includes has the dominant rural segment, has been curtailed by a massive Rs.2484 crore. This will have a serious effect on key issues like infant and maternal mortality. It will also affect immunization of children. Over 8 lakh women ASHAs who are at the frontline of implementing the program will also bear the burden of these cuts.
·         The National Mission for Empowerment of Women (also called Mission Poorna Shakti) was launched in 2010 to provide coordination between various women related programs and catalyse women’s empowerment. It’s spending was curtailed by more than 50%, from Rs.738 crore to just Rs.347 crore in 2013-14.
Various other enabling programs that support rural infrastructure and livelihoods have similarly been curtailed affecting poorer families with marked effect on the women. Total Plan Expenditure in 2013-14 had been projected last year as Rs. 5.55 lakh crore in Budget Estimates but it stands slashed to Rs. 4.75 lakh crore in revised estimates.
For 2013-14, the Budget Estimate for the department of rural development had been pegged at Rs. 74,478 crore but it has been slashed to Rs. 59,356 crore in revised estimate. Similarly, the budget estimate for the department of health and family welfare was Rs. 33,278 crore but it has been slashed to Rs. 27,531 crore in revised estimate.
AIDWA calls on the Government to halt the neo liberal police framework that has spelt misery for the  common people, and strive for real equity  by introducing pro people, gender friendly, measures in the budget.
 Sd/-                                                    Sd/-                                               Sd/-
Malini Bhattacharya                 Sudha Sundararaman            Jagmati Sangwan
(President)                                    (Vice President)                (General Secretary)

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