NEW DELHI: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented what is the final full budget of this government before the elections of 2019, based on high rhetoric and overestimated projections of growth revenue.

However, the pro-corporate, anti-poor, neo-liberal policies adopted by the current regime which is reflected in this budget has resulted in job losses and penury for majority of the population. It is the women of these families who bear the burden of this crisis arising out of increasing unemployment and job loss in the wake of demonetisation and introduction of GST.

Coming right after the introduction of GST, the government refuses to acknowledge the ground reality and overestimates the GDP growth at a nominal rate of 11.5% and a real growth rate of 7-7.5%. Even by these overestimated standards, the size of the total budgetary spending by the government has come down. This in itself shows that the present regime is not serious about implementing any of its ‘grand pronouncements’. In line with this, the size of the Gender budget has also contracted, despite the Finance Minister’s statement that ‘agriculture and rural sector’ and ‘women’s employment and health’ were some of the main priorities of this year’s budget.

The government has shown total insensitivity towards the needs of women. The total Gender Budget has declined from 0.69% of the revised GDP for 2017-18 to 0.65 percent of the projected GDP for 2018-19. There has also been a decline from 5.2 percent to 4.9 percent in terms of the proportion of the Gender Budget to the total budgetary expenditure between 2017-18 (revised estimates) and the proposed budget for 2018-2019.

As far as the allocations for the Ministry of Women and Child Development are concerned, it has been increased from 0.95% of the total expenditure in the revised estimates of 2017-18 to 1.0 percent of the total projected expenditure for 2018-19. The implications for women are particularly alarming. This is nothing but an insult to the poor women workers and farmers of the country.

The finance minister has made tall claims about benefiting the farmers because of the pressures created by the massive farmers’ mobilisations. However, these pronouncements are not backed by requisite allocations.

The total budget for agriculture and farmers’ welfare has only increased by 0.05 percent of the total expenditure in the last year. Though the budget speech focused on the plight of the woman farmers, the gender specific allocation for women farmers is only 3.92 percent of the entire gender budget (that is an increase of a paltry 0.63 percent in one year).

The real agenda of the government is however revealed in the 22000 Gramin Haats that it proposes to set up so that ‘farmers can directly sell to the buyers’. The budget also projects that this will be facilitated through farmers’ producer firms and women’s self-help groups. This huge challenge is to be met by an overall paltry increase of 1400 Cr in the National Rural Livelihood Mission of which the women’s share is 50 percent.

It is clear that this is merely an initial sum being put forward by the government in order to facilitate corporate investments in agriculture. Hence instead of helping the farmers to overcome the agrarian crisis, this budget seeks to link women with Global Agricultural Value Chains which may lead to further exploitation.

Secondly, the Finance Minister has claimed that this budget will increase employment, especially for women. Even the Economic Survey 2017-18 has posited that there has been a drastic decrease in women’s employment in the last few years. In order to boost employment, the government is banking on skill development, increase in self-employment, support to medium and small enterprises, and the use of MNREGA for building infrastructure.

Once again none of these claims are backed by adequate allocations. The allocation for MNREGA remains the same as the Revised estimate of 2017-18 at Rs. 55000 Cr. The gender budget in MNREGA remains stagnant at Rs. 18333.33 Crores.

Further, the allocations for medium and small scale enterprises (MSME) has only gone up by Rs 85 Cr in the entire budget whereas the allocation for Skill Development and Livelihood generation has in fact decreased by Rs. 33 Crore in the last year. The tax break announced for MSME is limited to enterprises with an annual turnover of Rs. 100 Crore. This effectively rules out 90 percent of the small scale enterprises where women make up a large part of the work force.

The other big ticket claim in the budget is the government’s announcement that it will move towards universal health care. However, its vision for universal health care has no space for investments in primary health care that forms the foundation for public health.

The Budget concentrates on secondary and tertiary health care with a focus on insurance which is largely in the private sector. This will only benefit big companies instead of the poor patients. There has been a small increase of Rs. 1249 Cr in the total budget for health and family welfare. The allocation for the National Health Mission has come down by Rs. 671.95 Crore and the Gender Budget for health has come down by Rs, 157.77 Crore.

It is clear that the Government wants the corporate sector to invest in health and it is not willing to put forward the money necessary for improving primary health infrastructure. The long standing demand of ASHA workers for salaries for their work is totally unaddressed.

Food Security is a basic right of all citizens. The food subsidy to the Food Corporation of India has gone up by 20.7 percent which is just about enough to meet it’s rising establishment costs. However, the allocations for procurement of food under the National Food Security Act has declined by Rs. 7000 Cr and the Sugar Subsidy has come down by Rs. 100 Cr. Hence, the apparent increase in food subsidy is not substantive in nature.

At the same time the crucial Mid May Meal Scheme has only seen an abysmal increase of 500 Cr, and the ICDS scheme has seen an increase of just about Rs. 1090 Cr which again is not a substantive increase. The government has also allocated a paltry Rs. 3.34 Cr for the much hyped Ujjwala Yojana.

As far as education is concerned, the proportion of expenditure in this sector has come down from 2.1% to 2.0% of the total expenditure. The expenditure on Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has decreased from 47.9 % to 46.3% of the education expenditure in the last one year.

Further, there is virtually no allocation for the Ekalavya Vidyalayas and there is no mention of any increase in education infrastructure. In this context it is also important to note that the allocations for educational schemes for the girl child have decreased by Rs. 64.1 Cr. There has been a paltry increase of Rs. 80 Cr in the flagship Beti Badhao Beti Padhao Scheme.

Though the government claims to be pro-women, there is virtually no mention of measures to address the rising violence against women. The Nirbhaya Fund remains at Rs. 500 Cr. The government plans to expand the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, but the actual allocation for the Abhiyan has decreased by Rs, 1655. 17 Cr. Further, even after the hype, only a paltry Rs. 3400 Cr was spent on the Abhiyan last year. This means that open defecation free villages will remain a long term dream.

Finally, the finance minister claims that he has lessened the burden of the ‘honest salaried middle class’. He has also abolished the educational cess, but introduced a new social welfare cess of 10%. There is a net increase of cess by 8% on all salaried classes. So even though the standard deduction under income tax may have gone up, the net tax burden may remain the same or go up. Further this is of no particular consequence for women workers most of whom are in the informal sector.

In sum, this budget increases the burdens on working class families and opens the door for privatisation of social welfare measures. This will adversely impact the lives and livelihood of women.

(Malini Bhattacharya and Mariam Dhawale are the President and General Secretary respectively of the All India Democratic Women’s Association)