The Budget speech of the FM for many parts sounded like a speech written by a women’s liberation activist or a charming gentleman who knows how to please women folk with sweet talk. The FM’s Statement in the closing parts of his speech – quoted here “I wish to draw a picture of three faces that represent the vast majority of the people of India. The first is the face of the woman. She is the girl child, the young student, the sportswoman, the homemaker, the working woman, and the mother” sounded straight out of a poem. True, as a society it is critical and imperative that we give more importance to women, but a budget speech needn’t be a platform to practice poetry? Or should it?
“The Gender budget” – A technical term for expenditure on Women related schemes has been allocated Rs 97,134 Crore which is highly commendable. But how will this money be spent is not clear from the FMs Speech. It’s a wait and watch game.
“Can we have a bank that lends mostly to women and women-run businesses, that supports women SHGs and women’s livelihood, that employs predominantly women, and that addresses gender related aspects of empowerment and financial inclusion? I think we can” said the FM in his speech
The proposal to set up India’s first women’s public sector bank strikes as an oddity. Is the finance minister saying that women customers are not treated at par by bankers? Or is it that there are other impediments to women accessing banking services in a unisex bank? Unisex bank hmm…..but isn’t the share of women employees rising by leaps and bounds in our banks?
Really, what is the rationale for setting up a women’s only bank? If the government wanted to see the share of loans to women raise, it could have easily done so by fixing a target range to banks. If there is a concern of gender bias in loan appraisals then the government could have asked banks to ensure adequate women officers in the banking credit machinery by fixing a ratio of women officers to men. Though this is not a progressive step it would at least help alleviate concerns of gender bias, if it existed, in the banking credit machinery.
What is a more prudent way of addressing an issue? Settling the issue in the normal setup or creating a separate / secluded solution? All these questions are being asked thinking the FM has perceived a problem for women in accessing and using banking services. But honestly what problems women face with respect to banks that it warrants a separate women’s bank unlike the much warranted requirement for a women’s police station (on a completely different subject)?
Nirbhaya fund, proposed by the FM to fund initiatives to protect and empower girl children and women, to which the Government will contribute Rs.1000 crore is a well intended one. But then there is no clarity on specifics, as the FM himself left it to Ministry of Women and Child Development and other ministries concerned. Let us hope all concerned work swiftly to realize the benefits of proposed initiatives and help women protect themselves in public places, offices and against violence of any form.
Duty free gold
Women travelling abroad will have more reasons to smile with the FM increasing the limit of duty free gold that can be brought in by them to Rs.1,00,000. However they can indirectly bring in Rs.1,50,000 worth gold under this route, if their spouse or a male friend is travelling with them as men can bring in Rs.50,000 worth of duty free gold.
Women Maternal care
One of biggest beneficiaries of the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme have been rural and poor pregnant women who are assured great care both before and after child birth. The FM has promised to roll out the plan to cover the entire country before the next elections. A humongous but very welcome and significant task as far as women are concerned.
Additional Funding for Ministry of Women and Child Development
An Additional Rs 200 Crore has been allocated to address discrimination of women especially single women and widows. This is a very welcome and much needed move as well!
Overall the budget has given a reason to cheer for the distressed and poor women. What about the other woman – The Housewife? Well, she has been mentioned only as part of the poetic line – her demands for helping reduce inflation seem to have not been heard!!