Worst hit by the prices of essentials, women groups on Tuesday presented their wish-list for the budget to the Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.“The spiralling rise in prices of essential commodities and inflation have had a particularly adverse impact on women, and on families from the more disadvantaged and marginalised strata of society. Therefore, in this budget, we request you to give a special thrust to bringing down the prices and also focus on specific welfare schemes for women, especially those from the marginalised sections,” the groups said.

Gender budgeting

It is unfortunate that though the government has been consistently suggesting that gender budgeting is essential and several Ministries are supposed to prepare a public expenditure profile from a gender perspective, this has not been done. Consequently, gender allocations within different Ministries are not being planned or implemented in a proper and just manner, a memorandum submitted to Mr. Mukherjee said.

On food security, the memorandum said the price index of essential commodities in the current fiscal year was much higher than at anytime in the past. Therefore, the government should immediately take stringent measures to control prices. It should ban forward trading of wheat and rice and undertake de-hoarding measures urgently. The budget should take appropriate policy measures to address price rise The Essential Commodities Act should be reintroduced, and it must include all items earlier covered under it. It should be implemented in an effective manner to curb speculation and hoarding, the women said.

Demanding enactment of the promised National Food Security Bill, the memorandum said that the existing entitlements of 35 kg of grain should not be reduced to 25 kg and the essential commodities should be made available to all sections of society and universalisation of PDS must be guaranteed.

Universal sanitation

The budget must make higher budgetary allocations for Primary Health Centres which need to be strengthened as envisaged in the National Rural Health Mission. There should also be resource allocation for provision of safe drinking water and universal sanitation, especially in rural areas and urban slums, on a priority basis, it said while adding that the government should allocate 6 per cent of the GDP on education to make it universal, equitable and qualitative for all children aged up to 14. Adequate budgetary provisions must be made to implement the Right to Education Act.

Debt relief packages

Pointing out that women cultivators were still denied access to institutional credit because of the absence of land titles and other collateral in their name, the women said that the budget must ensure that women cultivators are able to access institutional credit. There should be explicit measures to make debt relief packages gender sensitive. The government should introduce schemes to provide interest-free farm loans or loans on nominal interest not exceeding 4 per cent. Relief packages for suicide ravaged families should take into consideration the problems faced by widows while starting cultivation again, the memorandum said.

Budgetary outlay must be provided for implementation of the Sachar Committee recommendations and special schemes and allocations for addressing the needs of differently-abled women.

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