A woman-centric budget, presented by Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, gave enough reasons for Indian woman to smile. The gender budget has Rs. 97,134 crore and the child budget has Rs. 77,236 crore in 2013-14.
As a huge step towards empowerment of women, the government proposed to set up the country’s first women’s bank as a public sector bank.
“I shall provide 1,000 crore as initial capital. I hope to obtain the necessary approvals and the banking licence by October, 2013, and I invite all Honourable Members to the inauguration of the bank shortly thereafter,” the Minister announced amidst a thunderous applause from members.
Mr. Chidambaram said women were at the head of many banks today, including two public sector banks, but there was no bank that exclusively served women. “Can we have a bank that lends mostly to women and women-run businesses, that supports women Self Help Groups and women’s livelihood, that employs predominantly women, and that addresses gender related aspects of empowerment and financial inclusion? I think we can,’’ he said as he announced setting up of the country’s first women’s bank.
Of the three big promises made by Mr. Chidambaram in his budget proposals for 2013-14, the first was the “collective responsibility to ensure the safety and dignity of women.”
Towards this end, the government announced a proposal to set up a Nirbhaya Fund with an allocation of Rs. 1,000 crore. Union Women and Child Development Minister and other Ministers concerned will work out the details of the structure, scope and application of the Fund.
Referring to the horrific case of gang rape and murder of a young woman in the National Capital in December, Mr. Chidambaram said recent incidents had cast a long, dark shadow on our liberal and progressive credentials.
“As more women enter public spaces – for education or work or access to services or leisure – there are more reports of violence against them. We stand in solidarity with our girl children and women. And we pledge to do everything possible to empower them and to keep them safe and secure,’’ the Finance Minister said, adding that a number of initiatives were under way and many more would be taken by government as well as non-government organisations.
Saying these deserved government support, Mr. Chidambaram announced the Nirbhaya Fund, named after the gang rape victim.
Pointing out that women belonging to the most vulnerable groups, including single women and widows, must be able to live with self-esteem and dignity, the Minister said young women faced gender discrimination everywhere, especially at the work place. The Ministry of Women and Child Development has been asked to design schemes that will address these concerns. “I propose to provide an additional sum of Rs. 200 crore to the Ministry to begin work in this regard,” he said.
Women’s groups said the government had set up the Nirbhaya Fund under public pressure. The Minister’s budget speech made several references to women. But since these have not been backed by sufficient allocations in the required areas, these references appear to be mere token and hollow gestures, Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) said.
The ‘Nirbhaya fund’ is the most glaring instance of this. In the case of the gang rape victim, the government had responded to the public outcry by taking over all the costs of the victim’s medical treatment, she said.
The budget was the government’s chance to show that these were not mere ‘charity’ gestures in one single case. In fact, the government ought to show that it owns responsibility for the safety of all women, by providing every single survivor of rape or acid attacks with state-funded rehabilitation and medical care, Ms. Krishnan said.
Legislation against violence faced by women (such as the Domestic Violence Act and laws against sexual violence) need to be backed by budgetary allocations. The budget should also have announced specific allocations for safe houses and shelters for women who face domestic violence, incest, and for homeless women, she said.
A statement issued by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) said that at present the Fund had not been accounted for in the gender budget and it was unclear whether it would eventually materialise.
“This shows that the UPA II is keen to make a hasty political move to garner the trust and confidence of the women protesters without taking any specific and concrete steps to implement the Justice Verma Committee recommendations,” the statement added.
The AIDWA said the percentage of allocations for the gender budget remained static at 16.4 per cent of the total budget and 5.8 per cent of the total budget. It is even more disturbing that the total allocations for the Ministry of Women and Child Development, a Ministry that is the nodal point for combating violence against women and looking after their welfare, have gone up by a paltry Rs. 971.45 crore.