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Gender Budget Statement 2018: Small step for fund allocation, giant leap for lip service

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While ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ will get more money than last year, the budget for all other major schemes including Ujjwala has been reduced.

New Delhi: Despite the government’s big talk on women empowerment, the Union Budget presented Thursday showed only a modest increase of 7.6 per cent on the allocation for women-related schemes.

The gender budget – spending on women-related schemes and projects – rose to Rs 1,21,961 crore in 2018-19 from Rs 1,13,311 crore in 2017-18. While ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ has been allocated a sum of Rs 280 crore – an increase of Rs 80 crore since last year’s Budget – it is the only major women-related scheme to get a significant boost. The budget for all other major schemes, including the Ujjwala Yojana – whose beneficiaries have increased from five to eight crore this year – has been reduced.

Generic schemes listed as women-only schemes

While the Gender Budget Statement (GBS) claims that a sum of Rs 33,872 crore has been allocated solely for women-only schemes, as in the past, this figure remains misleading, as two-thirds of these schemes are generic schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. The PMAY, which has been allocated a sum of rupees 21,000 crore, serves manual scavengers, primitive tribal groups, legally-released bonded labour groups, and members of the SC/ST communities, along with women.

The PMAY is not the only generic scheme to find mention under the 100 per cent women-beneficiary schemes. Programmes under the Ministry of AYUSH, such as the Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine, the National Institute of Siddha, the Central Council for Research in Siddha, and the Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences, are also included as ‘women-only’ schemes in the GBS.

Also, like last year, a vaguely-worded scheme under the Ministry of External Affairs for the “solar electrification of 2,800 houses in 14 Pacific island countries to empower women” is mentioned under the women-only schemes.

Reduced amount added to unutilised Nirbhaya Fund

While the government has reduced the amount allocated to the Nirbhaya Fund, created in the aftermath of the 2012 horrific gangrape-murder in Delhi, it has still added a sum of Rs 378.75 crore to the largely unutilised fund.

Last year, ThePrint reported that only Rs 264 crore out of the Rs 3,100 crore corpus had been spent till August.

The utilisation of the Nirbhaya Fund is currently under the apex court’s scrutiny, with criticism mounting against the government’s under-utilisation of the fund.

Reduced allocation to the Maternity Benefit Programme

After much controversy over the Maternity Benefit Programme, which is meant to provide compensation for the wage loss in terms of cash incentives to mothers, and increasing its budget by a whopping 300 per cent last year, the government has reduced the budget allocated to this programme this year. It has been allocated Rs 2,400 crore this year.

The Prime Minister had virtually halved the number of beneficiaries under the programme in May last year by restricting the scheme to firstborns instead of ‘first two live births’ applicable earlier.

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