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Budget 2018: Centre’s incentives give women reasons to cheer

Gender experts welcomed the proposal but maintained that the government also needs to address the more fundamental issue of increasing women’s participation in the workforce.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2018 23:50 IST
Moushumi Das Gupta
Jaitley also announced an increase in the allocation of National Rural Livelihood Mission to Rs 5,750 crore in 2018-19; a large portion of this goes towards providing loans to women Self Help Groups.
Jaitley also announced an increase in the allocation of National Rural Livelihood Mission to Rs 5,750 crore in 2018-19; a large portion of this goes towards providing loans to women Self Help Groups.(AP Photo)

From free gas connections to more closed toilets, and from a health scheme that could create jobs for women to concessions in the provident fund regime, Union Budget 2018 had several schemes aimed at bettering the lives of women.

In a move that is likely to help increase the take-home salary of working women, finance minister Arun Jaitley said in his Budget speech on Thursday that their contribution to the employee provident fund would be lowered from 12% to 8% even as the employers’ share would remain the same.

Gender experts welcomed the proposal but maintained that the government also needs to address the more fundamental issue of increasing women’s participation in the workforce.

“As per the NSSO data, women’s workforce participation rate has declined by 0.5% per year between 2004-05 and 2011-12. This is because women do a lot of unpaid work, which prevents many of them from joining the workforce,” Indira Hirway, professor of economics at Ahmedabad based Centre for Development Alternatives said.

Jaitley also expanded the ambit of government’s flagship Ujjwala Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, which seeks to provide free cooking gas to poor rural women, by increasing the number of beneficiaries from 50 million to 80 million. An additional budgetary support of Rs 4800 crore has been earmarked for the scheme in the budget.

Padmini Swaminathan, visiting professor, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad said the inclusion of 30 million more women under the scheme was a positive step but added that the government has to also address gaps in the scheme.

“What is the point of expansion unless we know the reasons for poor outcomes in several parts of the country and relatively better outcomes in other?” she asked.

The fund allocation for the women and child development (WCD) ministry saw an increase of 16.3 % — from Rs 21,236 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 24,700 crore in 2018-19.

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, another one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet programmes, saw an increase in fund allotment from Rs 200 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 280 crore .“The increase in allocation is a positive sign but the government needs to ensure that the schemes are implemented properly,” said former Panjab University professor Pam Rajput.

Jaitley also announced an increase in the allocation of National Rural Livelihood Mission to Rs 5,750 crore in 2018-19; a large portion of this goes towards providing loans to women Self Help Groups (SHGs).