Budget in India always tries to encourage the women by giving tax exemptions and other benefits. The tax exemption limits have generally been higher than that for men or senior citizens. The allocations for women welfare and child healthcare has been comparable with other developing countries but there has always been room for more innovative schemes.
Budget 2011 tried to include several programmes to benefit women even though the allocation for the women’s programmes didn’t change for years. The “gender budget”, a provision within the budget was earmarked to benefit the women but this remained pegged at 6% in 2011-12 budget. The women in India had great expectations from the 2012 budget in terms of tax exemption and other gender specific budget provisions this year. It is definitely an uphill task considering the precarious condition the Congress government is in and the growing resentment in the Indian public due to inflation and no major benefits coming in the last two budgets too, especially for working women. Also, every home maker expects the spiralling costs of the essential goods to be arrested so that they can get some respite from consistent price hikes!
In budget 2012 women expected some directive on the interest rates and concessional rates for Women, more welfare schemes for the women, especially for the financially weaker women. In the gender specific budget they expected women to get better facilities in government transports, public health, drinking water facilities and schooling facilities in rural areas for the girl child. In other words more social security for the girls is the key word. The Budget was also expected to better from last year by improving expenditures in women related sectors and in sectors of taxation, trade, etc.
Avoiding pressures, the FM has kept the women’s IT exemption at Rs. 2.0 lakhs as against Rs. 2.5 lakhs which was being demanded. This also resulted in bringing the tax exemption of men, women and senior citizens at par. However the new budget promises lower interest rates to women borrowers for housing loan and further exemptions in case of timely repayments. This is a new feature that will be appreciated by women from all quarters. Today there is a substantial woman workforce in the country who are earning decent incomes and have aspirations of acquiring their own homes. This move would encourage independent women home buyers to enter the housing sector. The move will actually benefit a special class of single mothers who are looking forward to settle down on their own.
However the FM has conveniently overlooked the need to provide special educational concessions for girl students. There has been a growing demand for such financial provisions along with special subsidies and loan waivers for girl students who complete higher education and desire to pursue professional courses. Probably in an attempt to create a practical budget outlay the FM has compromised on the interests of women who had tremendous hopes pinned on this year’s budget. Additionally the fiscal deficit might have compelled the planners to cut down on such fringe subsidies which may otherwise have appeared important in an election year.
Overall this year’s union budget has not brought anything significant as far as the women of the country are concerned. But given the tight financial situation and other more pressing worries that the FM has tried to address one cannot really blame him for having overlooked this crucial entity. After all if women want equality in all spheres they must also have to bear the burdens of the state equally. That being said, they could use all the encouragement they can get, especially when their progress has been so good in recent times!