There was a lot of anticipation surrounding Nirmala Sitharaman’s maiden budget for 2019. As the country’s first full-time female finance Minister, expectations for a more gender-sensitive budget were voiced by people across the board. The ruling party manifesto said that it would chalk out a comprehensive ‘Women in the Workforce’ road map for increasing the female workforce participation rate over the next five years. It also committed to encouraging companies to generate better employment opportunities for women. In view of this, we must take a look at the potential implications of this budget for the Indian woman.
‘Progress not possible without greater women participation’ – The Indian woman in the Budget
Highlighting the importance of women’s contributions to all segments of society, the finance minister proposed to form a broad-based committee for suggesting ways to enhance women welfare. She made clear the government’s intention of promoting not just women-centric policies but women-led policy making.
Interest Subvention Programme
In a boost for women self-help groups and enterprises, Sitharaman announced the expansion of the interest subvention programme, wherein loan borrowers do not have to pay the total interest amount on a loan amount, to all districts in the country.
Mudra scheme for women in SHG
Additionally, every woman Self Help Group member having a verified Jan Dhan account will get an overdraft facility of Rs 5,000. One woman in each SHG will be made eligible for a loan up to Rs 1 lakh under the Modi government’s Mudra scheme.
While the Finance Minister did call for recognising women’s contributions, a large number of concerns and issues faced by women did not find a mention in the speech. Gender budgeting was introduced in 2005-06 to mainstream “women’s concerns in all activities” and for “improving their access to public resources” where all ministries and departments are supposed to make allocations to “address the development needs of women”. This allocation, has reduced to about 5 percent in 2018 – the first such downward trend in Modi government’s full budgets.
Of the 168 crores allocated for Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme from 2014 to 2017, the government released only 18.59 crore. Most of the funds allotted for schemes aimed at women welfare remain unutilised. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India also raised concerns over anomalies found in expenditure and implementation of women related welfare schemes.
In 2014, the BJP had dedicated an entire section of its manifesto to women empowerment. Over the last 5 years, the allocation of funds under the gender budget and the expenditure of the Ministry of Women and Development have witnessed a continuous decline.
Silver lining in the cloud
Big boost for start-ups
Further, what comes as a relief for startup companies is the announcement that the funds raised by startups will not require any income tax scrutiny on their valuation if they are verified by the government. As more and more women start businesses of their own, this push for the Indian startup scenario could be encouraging for women.
Job creation from corporate tax relief
Corporate tax was reduced to 25 percent for companies with turnover up to Rs 400 crore. Earlier, companies with turnover only up to Rs 250 crores came under this slab. A tax relief can encourage corporates to increase investment, thus creating more jobs which may indirectly benefit female job seekers as well thus encouraging more women to be employed in the workforce.
Skill training for the youth
The gap between industry requirements and education has been cited as one of the reasons for unemployment. At a time when job creation levels are low in the country, the focus on skilling our youth for high-paying jobs comes as a welcome move. Industry relevant skill training will be imparted under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana. This initiative must ensure participation of women given that unemployment among women is significantly high.
Benefits for MSMEs
Indian women are participating in MSMEs in greater numbers. A 2014 International Finance Corp study found that nearly three-fourths of women-owned MSMEs have an unmet financial need. For promoting ease of doing business in this sector, loans of up to 1 crore will be granted to MSMEs within 59 minutes through an online portal. The interim budget in February 2019 had already announced a 3 percent tax benefit for women-owned MSMEs.
Social Stock Exchange
The concept of a social stock exchange proposed in the budget aims to help social enterprises and voluntary organisations to raise funds. Over the last few years, it has been observed that more women are choosing to run social enterprises. This move can prove to be beneficial to them.
Considering the BJP’s poll promises concerning women, and the anticipation surrounding the first female finance minister, there is a disappointment that women’s issues have not received the attention that was due. By carrying the Indian budget in a bahikhata, our finance minister marked a break from the age-old tradition of carrying the Indian budget 2019 in a briefcase before the presentation. Going forward, here’s hoping that Sitharaman’s Nari to Narayani speech also marks a break from the lip service paid to gender budgeting in India.