An umbrella body of 24 anganwadi unions has given a call for protest against the Union Budget’s “failure” to address their demands for minimum wages instead of honorarium and higher allocation for nutrition.
The All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers has urged all scheme workers to organise protests, including gherao of NDA MPs in the run-up to a general strike called by 10 Central trade unions on March 24.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's Budget speech as well as budgetary allocations had no fiscal push for fixed wages of frontline workers, who have seen their workload increase due to COVID-19-related responsibilities or for nutrition, especially when food insecurity worsened and India ranked 101 out of 116 countries in the Global Hunger Index.
The Minister announced the upgrade of two lakh anganwadi with "better infrastructure and audio-visual aids", but the 'Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0' scheme of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, under which these works will be carried out received negligible hike of 0.7%. The scheme received an allocation of ₹20,263.07 crore. The schemes under the Ministry that focus on safety of women such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, One Stop Centres, Nari Adalat, Mahila Police Volunteer and Women’s Helpline saw a decline in allocation from ₹587 crore to ₹562 crore.
The budget for the Ministry of Women and Child Development as a portion of the total expenditure has also declined from 0.70% to 0.63% . The Ministry received an allocation of ₹25,172.28 crore- which is a 3% increase from last year’s budgetary estimate of ₹24,435 crore.
The gender Budget, which includes schemes for women across various Ministries, has further shrunk this year, with its share in the total expenditure declining from 4.4% to 4.3% for financial year 2023 at ₹1,71,006.47 crore. It has decreased from 0.71% of GDP of the revised estimates for 2021-22 to 0.66% of the GDP in the budgetary estimates of 2022-2023.
Use of word women in Budget speech
Ms. Sitharaman’s Budget speech had nothing new to offer for women with no new schemes or initiatives announced. Word women appeared only six times in her speech.
"Around 91% of the increase in total Gender Budget from last year is from schemes in Part B [which are only 30% specific to women]. There's a very insignificant increase in the Part A total, which has the schemes we know for sure are just for women, at least most of them," Shruti Ambast, Senior Policy Analyst, Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, said.
“Women are a large number of the beneficiaries in the schemes that include MGNREGS, National Social Assistance Programme and schemes for welfare of SC, ST, minorities and other vulnerable sections. The combined expenditure on these schemes has reduced from 3.2 per cent of the total revised expenditure of 2021-22 to 2.5 per cent in budget allocation in 2022-2023. This shows that the government’s vision of ‘Amrit Kaal’ has no place for women,” the All India Democratic Women’s Association said in a press statement.
Other demands of the women’s movement such as a financial commitment for setting up anti-sexual harassment committees for working women of the informal sector, creches, working-women’s hostels in all cities, special old-age pension scheme for women have been swept under the carpet, Maya John, Convenor, Centre for Struggling Women, said.