Reflections on the Interim Union Budget 2024-25 through Gender and Social Sector Lens

The 1st Panel Discussion of IMPRI in the 4th Annual Series of Thematic Deliberations and Analysis of Interim Budget 2024-25 on “Gender, Social Inclusion and Interim Union Budget 2024-25” was Chaired by Prof. Vibhuti Patel , Anchored by Ms. Samriddhi & Ms. Yashika

Series Convenors were Dr. Arjun Kumar & Dr. Simi Mehta

Esteemed Panellists were:

  1. Dr. Sangham Dhar, Coordinator/Programme Lead -Gender Responsive Budgeting, highlighted the progress at subnational levels due to partnership of UN Women India and the state governments and union territories
  2. Prof. N. Manimekalai, Founder Director, Department of Women’s Studies provided an exhaustive analysis of the budget and shared best practices of Tamilnadu,
    Kerala and Karnataka.
  3. Dr Paramita Majumdar, Independent Consultant provided an overview of GRB processes starting from 2005 to 2024 and also pointed at pathways for the future.
  4. Shri Sailesh Mishra, Founder President, Silver Innings Group mentioned that in the budget speech of the FM, senior citizens who constitute 149 million population of India were not even mentioned. He emphasized the need for policy for Elderly who asked for an increase in budgetary allocation for Old age pension which is currently mere Rs. 800/- per month which is highly inadequate to meet their healthcare needs such as Diapers, insulin, care- giver’s fees, mental health services.
  5. Maya Awasthi, Trans Activist made a thought provoking points about budgets being seen in gender-binary framework that excludes concerns of the transgender community in terms of Education, Health, Reproductive Rights, Shelter, sex-reassignment surgery, employment & livelihood, career counselling, helpline to respond to social distress, gender based violence faced on a daily basis by the gender minorites.
  6. Ms Deepa Pawar, Managing Trustee & Founder Director, Anubhuti Trust, Mumbai spoke forcefully spoke against neglect of the SC, ST, DNT population and remained the legacy of Phule, Periyar and Dr. Ambedkar i.e. fighting for social justice.
  7. Dr Neha Shah , Associate Professor, L.J. University gave a profile of macroeconomy where 89% control over the economy is by the private sector and the state has only 11% of economic resources due to liberalisation and privatisation policies implemented over the last 34 years. Regarding low work participation of women, she pointed to the fact that the opportunity cost of entering the work force is very high for women due to the burden of the economy and absence of quality creche facilities. She stated that even Maternity Benefits Act, 2017 is implemented only in the government sector. She recommended increased budgetary allocation to strengthen the support system for women.

Highlights of the budget deliberations were as follows:

The interim budget serves as a framework for managing provisional expenditures over a short duration, till the new government is formed after the general election and it will take office at the central level. So the interim budget was presented on 2-2-2024 by the Hon. The Finance Minister is meant to meet the financial requirements and tackle revenue considerations of the current government during this interim period. Following the inauguration of the new government, a comprehensive budget for the remaining portion of the fiscal year will be presented in July, 2024.

In the post-independence period, India has implemented a range of major social sector initiatives to address various challenges and improve the well-being of its citizens that covers areas such as education, healthcare, women’s empowerment, rural development, skill development, employment, special needs of socio-economic marginalised communities such as SCs, STs, PWD, lonely elderly from the poverty groups.

Major challenges faced for the gender and social sector concerns in the current times are youth unemployment in the urban, rural and tribal areas, low work participation rate for women, food inflation, hunger and malnutrition , and agrarian distress.

Former RBI governor, Dr. Duvvuri Subbarao, in his edit page article in The Times of India, on 30-1-2024 alerted the government, and I quote, “Consequence of jobless growth is inequality.” He also averred that, by using the instruments of policies and financial allocation of the interim budget 2024-25 and fiscal measures for enhancing purchasing power of the bottom 50% of population can be enhanced. This will result into huge consumption that will result in more production and more employment resulting in higher quality of economic growth and reduction of inequality. But this has not happened in the interim budget.

Last year’s Budget too ignored social spending in favour of capital expenditure. Over the last one decade, there has been a continuous trend of declining expenditure of the Union Budget for schemes for:

  1. Protective and welfare schemes such as shelter homes, short stay homes, rehabilitation schemes for women survivors of violence, pensions for widows and destitute women, directly benefiting women for crisis management of situations arising out of economic and socio-cultural subordination and dehumanization of women;
  2. Social service spending on education, public health, crèche, working women’s hostels, housing, nutrition, water supply, sanitation-toilets, drainage, fuel, fodder
  3. Regulatory services to combat gender-based violence such as funds for State Commission for Women, women’s cell at the police stations, awareness generation programmes.

Funds for social sectors that ensure basic rights have declined as a proportion of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For example, Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 aim to address child malnutrition and hunger. From 2021-22, the Anganwadi programme (ICDS) was merged with POSHAN Abhiyaan and a nutrition scheme for adolescent girls. Even with more components, its allocation went down from 0.13% of GDP in 2014-15 to 0.07% in 2023-24 — almost half of what it was.

According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)5 data, the percentages of anaemic children was 67, underweight children were 32 and stunted children were 36 in India which is among the worst nation states in the world. Yet, funds meant to address malnutrition have been slashed drastically. Another important nutrition scheme is the midday meal (MDM) scheme, covering almost 12 crore children. Evidence shows that the scheme has led to an improvement in attendance in the schools, learning outcomes as well as nutritional outcomes and reduced stunting in children.

However, the Budget allocation for MDM decreased by 50% as a share of GDP. In 2021 the Ministry of Finance rejected a breakfast at school plan citing funds constraint, a plan that has shown promising results in Tamil Nadu within a year. The share of GDP for MDM, food subsidy and health care has remained stable. According to the World Social Protection Report by the International Labour Organization, only 25% of Indians are covered by at least one social security scheme against the Asia-Pacific average of 44%. Its result can be clearly seen in India’s stagnant Human Development Index rank.

The panelists also expressed their anguish regarding massive underutilisation of allocated budget, lack of political commitment adversely impacting survival struggles of women, youth, SC, ST, persons with disability, transgender community and informal sector work force. The panelists demanded reversal of reduction in budgetary allocation for education and public health in the interim budget.

Prof. Vibhuti Patel in her concluding remarks criticized prioritisation of population control rather than human development investment. She also mentioned the need for debate around the ‘free vaccination campaign for girls aged 9-14 years’ to be launched by the GoI. She ended with Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s visionary declaration, “We must not be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies the base of social democracy.”

Prof. Vibhuti Patel is a visiting distinguished professor at IMPRI.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organization.

Acknowledgement: This article was posted by Mansi Garg, a research intern at IMPRI.

IMPRI’s 4th Annual Series of Thematic Deliberations and Analysis of Interim Union Budget 2024-25

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