Punjab Polls: Is AAP's 'Rs 1,000 to Women' Promise Sensible or 'Lazy' Policy?

Another question that needs answering is whether Punjab can even afford it. We talk to experts to find out.

Punjab Polls: Is AAP's 'Rs 1,000 to Women' Promise Sensible or 'Lazy' Policy?

(This was first published on 27 November 2021. It has been republished from The Quint's archives after AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal repeated his poll promise to women while campaigning in Mohali.)

"Meri plate khaali hai, par aap kha lijiye." (My plate is empty, but you please eat from it.)

This is how policy experts and political analysts see Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal's election promise to transfer Rs 1,000 per month to the account of every woman aged 18 or above, if voted to power.

But in a state that is battling severe unemployment, and is reeling under massive debt – the scheme covering all women – is a 'lazy policy' that looks to write out women as active contributors to the economy, experts told The Quint.

But First, What Will It Cost?

According to data released ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls, there are 96.19 lakh registered women voters in Punjab. While the list for 2022 Assembly polls is not out yet, the AAP has estimated that the policy could benefit one crore women.

Rs 1,000 for 1 crore women for 12 months – would cost the government Rs 12,000 crore every year.

According to The Indian Express, when Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government took oath in 2017, it inherited a debt of Rs 1.82 lakh crore.

For the year 2019-2020, this reached Rs 2.29 lakh crore. For 2020-2021, while it was projected to reach Rs 2.48 lakh crore, it ended up rising to Rs 2.61 lakh.

According to the newspaper, debt accounts to almost 45 percent of the projected Gross State Domestic Product for 2021-2022 which will be Rs 6.07 lakh.

Pointing that his opponents will ask where exactly the money would come from, Kejriwal, while making the announcement, said in Moga:

There is no dearth of money with any government, all that’s required is intention to work for people.

But it is not as rosy as Kejriwal makes it sound, a Congress leader from the state told The Quint, on condition of anonymity.

"Has the AAP taken into account the power subsidy that has already been given to farmers, this alone would cost the government more than Rs 10,000 crore every year. Not to mention the 'Har Ghar Paani, Har Ghar Safai' and the social security pension scheme. Not against welfare schemes for women, but this seems nothing but a lazy poll promise."

Navsharan Singh, Senior Programme Specialist at the International Development Research Centre, agrees with Kejriwal. She says that welfare schemes can be implemented if the government wants to.

"Implementation is not an issue. I mean things can be implemented if the state wants them to be implemented. Making it possible is not a question. We should encourage welfare schemes to uplift those who are in need."

But the inclusion of all women in the scheme has left me disturbed, she added.

'An Anti-Women Policy': Experts Slam Move

Women have to be written into policies, not excluded from the economy and their worth should not be reduced to mere aid receivers, leftist activist Navkiran Natt told The Quint.

The policy would not have been an issue if a specific section was to receive the aid, she added.

"Why should a 22-year-old girl in rural Punjab, who had a college degree and is unemployed, be okay with getting just Rs 1,000 every month? Why should she be okay with bare minimum? Why should she not demand a job?"

Navsharan Singh said that instead of making a blueprint on including women in the economy, the policy ignores that they can be productive agents, too.

"It is reducing women's worth in the economy. You are not seeing them as productive agents who will be participating in an economy that is expanding it, contributing to it. The tragedy is that these politicians do not have a blueprint. They do not know what to do with economy. They have no plans for crisis-ridden agrarian economy, where there is massive underemployment and women are stuck doing backbreaking work which has no worth – but there is no plan. They want everyone to be happy with Rs 1,000 per month."

Singh said that while literacy levels are increasing in Punjab, unemployment levels among women (and men) are increasing year by year in India – and a feminist policy would address that.

"Young, educated women are sitting at home. What is the vision of political parties for them? Why is their vision for society? Or are they just expecting women to sit at home," Singh asked.

What Could Be Done Instead?

Chief Economist and Director of Research, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told The Quint that while direct benefits could help those who are in dire need, long-term strategies like entrepreneurship should be weaved into policy making.

"To be honest, direct transfers will only help a section of people, and in the long term will end up reducing the opportunities for skilled, and or educated women," he said.

Improving women's participation in workforce will be the only thing that helps, he said.

Activist Natt asks why the AAP does not talk about equal pay for equal work.

"Talk about same work, same pay. Talk about wages for women. But AAP won't talk about such things because it affects them electorally.The minimum wage – where you already have a great gender inequality is something that needs to be addressed. If Kejriwal wants to make a social change, this is the first thing that should be addressed. But the intention is not people driven, but vote driven."

Political analyst Kanwardeep Singh Dharowali said that the focus should also be to create opportunities for jobs lost due to agrarian crisis.

"Women who were employed majorly in agriculture have become unemployed because of agrarian crisis. It has become more capital intensive, leading to unemployment for women. Bring in the IT sector, corporate sector, create more jobs instead of handing out lollipops."
Kanwardeep Singh Dharowali

Quoting an example of the Congress party's poll promise, Dharowali added, "The Congress had announced 33 percent reservation for women in government jobs. It was implemented just seven months ago by Amarinder Singh. But, so far, how many government jobs have been advertised? None. It is like my plate is empty, but I will encourage you to eat. This promise by the AAP also sounds the same to me."

The Political Implication

In the recently concluded 2021 Assembly elections in Assam, women voted in large numbers to the Bharatiya Janata Party. One of the most-talked about reason for that was the 'Orunodoi' scheme – dubbed one of the most ambitious welfare schemes Assam has ever seen.

With a direct bank transfer of Rs 830 per month, the scheme targets women as the “primary caretakers of the household”. Only those whose household income is less than Rs 2 lakh per annum are eligible to get the benefit, with a clear drawing of line of how many people would benefit from it.

In the run-up to Tamil Nadu Assembly polls earlier, the DMK promised Rs 1,000 per month to women from families that had ration cards that make them eligible for subsidised rations, and the AIADMK upped the game to Rs 1,500 per month to the same group. A promise for salary for homemakers was made by the Congress in Assam and Kamal Haasan's party in Tamil Nadu. The TMC, too, made a direct cash transfer promise to women in Bengal.

But will the AAP's promise have a political impact?

It could, explains Dharowali.

"Here, you have a government for five years that did not create any jobs for women. Previously the Akali Dal governed for 10 years, but barely did anything in terms of jobs. This could resonate with the women because they are battling social and economic backwardness – and more than 60 percent of Punjab's population lives in rural areas."

But Singh hopes that the women reject this idea – and demand for more inclusion.

"I hope the women of Punjab reject this wholeheartedly and demand that they don't wan cheque of Rs 1,000 but jobs. I hope they ask for education. I hope they ask for jobs. I hope they ask for participation and contribution in society. In an ideal world, they should not even be asking for something as basic as this," she said.

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