Derek O’Brien on Budget: Empty Promises from a ‘Boys Only’ Club
Image of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley (R) and TMC leader Derek O’Brien (L) used for representational purposes.
Image of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley (R) and TMC leader Derek O’Brien (L) used for representational purposes.(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)

Derek O’Brien on Budget: Empty Promises from a ‘Boys Only’ Club

A focus area of the Budget speech of 2018 was the theme of welfare and of social inclusion. Related to the same, the BJP-led government has spoken a lot in recent days – before, during and after the Budget speech – of its ‘special approach’ to women and to gender inequities in our society.

This is all very well, but what of the government’s own record? On the BJP government’s watch, India fell 21 positions – to number 103 of 144 countries – in the World Gender Gap Index 2017, conducted by the World Economic Forum. This is the same organisation that hosts the Davos jamboree that the government got so excited about a few weeks ago.

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Budget’s Intent Towards Women’s Empowerment

The Budget proposals are another test of the government’s true commitment – as opposed to its stated intent – towards women’s empowerment. For all the talk, the proportion of ‘gender budget’ to the total budgetary expenditure, remains a measly 4.9 percent. Increase in allocation to women-related schemes is limited to 7.6 percent. ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ has been allocated a sum of Rs 280 crore – an increase of Rs 80 crore over the previous year.

In Bengal, the Trinamool Congress government’s flagship scheme for women empowerment is ‘Kanyashree Prakalpa’. This has substantially reduced dropout rates among girls, pushed back the age of marriage, and therefore delayed motherhood. It has been structured and generously funded to help women through an efficiently managed, digitised system that has come to be globally recognised.

The scheme has changed the lives of and directly benefited more than 45 lakh women across Bengal, and has regularly scaled the per beneficiary allowance from 500 rupees to 750 rupees to 1,000 rupees a month, as of the upcoming fiscal year.

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TMC’s Women Empowerment Initiatives

While running a successful scheme for women’s education, the Bengal Government also introduced the ‘Rupashree’ scheme this year. Under this scheme, a one-time assistance of Rs 25,000 will be provided to a family of girls with an annual income of up to Rs 1.5 lakh for the purpose of their marriage. A total amount of Rs 1,500 crore has been allocated for this.

There are other schemes too in Bengal that have won national admiration. These include ‘Muktir Alo’ and the Swavalamban scheme for the skills-based training and education of women, as well as other schemes for rehabilitation of vulnerable and abandoned women, and women from minority communities.

These programmes take commitment, planning and money. The state budget outlay for ‘Kanyashree’ alone came to Rs 1,200 crore in the previous financial year. This was six times of what was spent on ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’.

Now make your assessment.

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What Can You Expect from a ‘Boy’s Only Club’?

The outlay for all other major schemes, including the ‘Ujjwala Yojana’, has been reduced. Strangely, the number of beneficiaries targeted by the Ujjwala Yojana has gone up from 50 million to 80 million – but the money for it has been cut. There has been a negligible increase in the outlay for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme. ICDS is critical for nutritional needs of women and children.

The Maternity Benefit Programme is meant to provide compensation for wage loss among mothers of newborn children. It offers cash incentives. The outlay for this too has been reduced. Incidentally, this scheme has already violated the rights of pregnant and lactating women, as specified by the National Food Security Act.

This happened when the government halved the number of beneficiaries under the Programme in May 2017 – restricting benefits to firstborns instead of “first two live births”. In effect, it sought to bring in population control by the backdoor.

The sad part is if such programmes were left to sensitive state governments, then not only would implementation be better, but the purpose of social inclusion too would be served.

This would also require a commitment to cooperative and non-partisan federalism – unfortunately, not something the BJP-led government has shown itself as capable of.

So for all the talk of women empowerment, what else can you expect from a party which owes its origins to a ‘boys only club’?

(The author is a Trinamool Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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