Govt renews focus on women, announces Nirbhaya fund in budget
Finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram's 2013-14 budget speech would perhaps best be remembered for mentioning "women" 24 times throughout his entire 95 minute presentation.
The thrust on the fair sex is also an indication of the UPA - II government's priority ahead of the 2014 elections. For, last year when Pranab Mukherjee presented the budget, he had mentioned "women" just eight times.
In a first of its kind initiative to empower India's women and keep them safe and secure, Chidambaram announced setting up of a special Rs 1,000 crore fund, aptly named "Nirbhaya" in memory of the December 16 gangrape victim.
Coming in the backdrop of the nationwide protest witnessed in the aftermath of the incident and a little ahead of the 2014 elections, the move is being seen by political analysts as an attempt by the UPA-II government to renew its women focus and bolster measures for their safety and security.
The Women & Child Development (WCD) along with other stakeholder ministries will soon finalize the details of the structure, scope and the application of the fund.
In fact, women and children were one of the key focuses of Chidambaram's final full budget before 2014. Hefty allocations and a slew of initiatives were announced to uplift the condition of women and children.
While the overall gender budget spanning different ministries has also been hiked to Rs 97,134 crore in 2013-14 from Rs 88,142 crore in 2012-13, the child budget has been increased to Rs 77,236 crore from Rs 71,028 crore.
Donations made to the National Children's Fund will now be eligible for 100% deduction.
Bowing to the growing clamour from citizens, law makers and politicians for bolstering measures on women safety, Chidambaram also allocated an additional Rs 200 crore to the WCD ministry for implementing schemes designed specifically for protecting women from gender discrimination and violence.
These include setting up the "One Stop Crisis Centre" to provide all kind of support - from medical to legal -- to victims of rape and assault and launching a compensation scheme for rape victims among others.
An allocation of Rs 18 crore has also been made to launch the long talked about helpline for women in distress. The overall budget of the WCD ministry was also hiked by 10% in 2013-14 budget - to Rs 20,440 crore from Rs 18,584 crore in 2012-13.
However, the slew of women centric initiatives has failed to impress activists.
"The underlining gender centric focus is sheer tokenism, nothing else. They have not been thought through properly. The Rs 1000 crore fund for instance is hardly enough to create proper infrastructure to ensure women's safety and security," said Ranjana Kumari, president, Women's Power Connect, a coalition of women's organization.
A bulk of WCD's allocation - Rs 17,700 crore -- has been earmarked for Integrated Child Development Services, a crucial program to monitor health and nutrition of children in the 0-6 age group and lactating mothers.
Besides, another Rs 300 crore was allocated to implement the multi-sectoral nutrition program in 100 districts during 2013-14.