Higher Budget allocations could be used to grab media headlines, but it’s the utilisation that matters.
With the Union Budget now imminent, it is perhaps not irrelevant to examine the Narendra Modi government’s Budgets from the gender perspective. A Gender Budget Statement (GBS), introduced in 2005-06 by the Manmohan Singh government, is a tool to scrutinise the intent and commitment of the government to gender equity and to review its performance through the gender lens.
Constituting 48 per cent of India’s population, women lag far behind men on crucial social indicators like health, education and economic opportunities. According to World Economic Forum, India was ranked 87th in the Global Gender Gap Index 2016. In women’s health, India ranked 142nd in the index, third from the bottom. Only 27 per cent of women in India are in the labour force, the second lowest rate of female labour-force participation in South Asia, after Pakistan. Spending on women was 5.26 per cent of the Union Budget in 2017-18. Compared to the last Budget of the UPA government in 2013-14, in which Gender Budgeting (GB) was 5.83 per cent of the total Budget, the share of GB has been falling since Mr Modi took over — 5.46 per cent in 2014-15, 4.46 per cent in 2015-16, and 4.50 per cent in 2016-17. While there has been a marginal increase last year (5.26 per cent), it is still less than the last UPA Budget.
The GBS is presented in two parts. Part A indicates the schemes meant entirely for women and girls, whereas Part B reports schemes in which at least 30 per cent of the funds benefit them. Since the Modi government took office at the Centre, Part A spending has been declining. Compared to Rs 24,285 crores in 2013-14, the revised estimates came down to Rs 17,426.3 crores in 2014-15, hit rock bottom at Rs 11,388.4 crores in 2015-16, then increased to Rs 21,179.1 crores in 2016-17, still less by Rs 3,106 crores compared to the last UPA Budget. In 2017-18, the Budget allocation in Part A was Rs 31,390.8 crores. But this figure is quite misleading as it also includes Rs 23,000 crores allocation for the Rural Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). It may be noted that PMAY is not just for women, it includes male beneficiaries from different segments of society. It’s therefore wrong to put it in Part A of GBS. The finance minister appears to have done so as an eyewash merely to increase GBS’ Part A allocation. Minus this, the Part A allocation stands at a meagre Rs 8,390.8 crores.
The other two components of Part A allocations are for the women and child development ministry (MWCD) and the petroleum and natural gas ministry for LPG connections to poor households. While providing LPG connections to poor households is a welcome intervention, it’s inclusion in Part A and reporting it as a scheme exclusively benefiting women endorses stereotypes that domestic duties like cooking are primarily the responsibility of women.
The Budget estimates in Part B of GBS increased by Rs 8,182 crores in 2017-18 from the previous year. However, due to faulty methodology, there’s no clear identification of specific areas for gender concerns under various ministries and departments. There seem to be a general 30-50 per cent reporting of allocations under GBS without explicit details of gender concerns and budgetary allotment to address those. The whole exercise is marked by a sense of casualness bordering on indifference.
While the total allocation (BE) to MWCD had marked an increase of Rs 4,686 crores in the 2017-18 Budget than the previous year, the actual spending both is terms of amount as well as a percentage of the total Budget had been falling since 2013-14. From 1.16 per cent of the total Budget in 2013-14, it fell to 0.88 per cent in 2016-17. Compared to UPA rule in 2013-14, the actual expenditure of the MWCD reduced by Rs 808 crores in 2015-16 and by Rs 397 crores as per the 2016-17 revised estimates. The Budget estimate for 2015-16 and 2016-17 at Rs 10,382 crores and Rs 17,408 crores respectively were lower even than the actual spending of Rs 18,037 crores in 2013-14. The Modi government’s lack of concern for women and children are clearly reflected in its Budget allocations and utilisation pattern over the last three years. Despite an enhanced Budget, only after the 2018-19 Budget is presented on February 1 will we know through the revised estimates how much of the allocated Budget has actually been utilised.
Higher Budget allocations could be used to grab media headlines, but it’s the utilisation that matters. The Prime Minister’s pet project “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” was launched with much fanfare in 100 districts with the lowest child sex ratio in 2015. In 2016-17, it was expanded to 61 additional districts. The allocations for the project were doubled from Rs 100 crores (BE) in 2016-17 to Rs 200 crores (BE) in 2017-18. However, the spending of mere Rs 43 crores (RE) in 2016-17 indicates a massive underutilisation of the allocated funds. Mere hype is not enough to implement a scheme successfully.
It’s important to bring all ministries under the purview of gender budgeting. Sanitation is a concern for the majority of India’s women. It not only relates to her health and hygiene, but absence of toilets is also a key security issue. However, the ministry of drinking water and sanitation is yet to adopt gender budgeting. Other important ministries like urban development and law and justice are outside its ambit.
The pink covers of the just-released Economic Survey were to signal the Centre’s purportedly pro-women approach. However, it inadvertently revealed a highly patriarchal mindset. Endorsing gender stereotypes through association of colours is contrary to the cause for equality and empowerment of women.
Mr Modi and his government would do well to move beyond coining catchy slogans and tokenism. If the government is really serious about women’s empowerment, it must bring to the table something more substantive than mere changing of colours for the covers of official documents. The GBS of the past three years clearly indicates the Modi government’s lack of concern on gender issues. One can only hope that it would try to amend its past indifference in the Budget that the finance minister will present on Thursday.