Budget good for middle class but silent on new benefits for women: Sonu Bhasin
If there was one thing that everyone agreed on before 11.00 am on 1st February it was this – the budget would be populist one. The only point of debate was on the level of populism that would be demonstrated through the Finance Bill.
Most finance ministers make a special effort to call out their efforts to make a difference in the lives of women. Piyush Goyal had two small paragraphs which reiterated the efforts made by the NDA government over the last four years for the well being of women in India especially those in the rural sector. However, the budget was silent for any new benefits/schemes specifically for women – especially working women.
Most finance ministers make a special effort to call out their efforts to make a difference in the lives of women but this one was silent on new benefits
For women in the organised work force there have been two broad areas of concerns. These are Income parity between genders and a larger participation of women in the work force. The Monster Salary Index points out that there is more than a 20 percent gap between the earnings of women and men doing the same work. The income parity matter could have been addressed in the budget by reducing the tax rate by 20 percent across the board for women earners.
This way, even if the employers are tardy about parity in paying out salaries, a reduced tax rate could ensure some parity in the take-home salary for women! To encourage larger participation of women in the organised work force the budget could have looked at tax benefits to employers for recruiting more women.
The budget, however, chose to focus on rural and middle class India. It is indeed true that women are part of these two segments and any scheme to benefit the larger segment would end up benefiting the women as well. But for a government that claims to focus on women through a variety of initiatives, the budget was strangely silent on addressing this group separately. The benefits to women have to be seen by delving a bit deeper into the announced schemes.
Take the case of the social security scheme announced for unorganised workers who will get an assured monthly pension of Rs. 3,000/- after the age of 60 years. As per an ICEHM Report, women account for one third of the work force in the informal economy. More than 12 crore women workers are engaged in the unorganised sector constituting almost 97 percent of the total women workers in India. Thus, the social security scheme will benefit these women workers who, till now, did not have any form of financial security once they were unable to work due to old age.
Then there is the GeM – Government E- Market. The government is committed to sourcing at least 3 percent of the total requirement from women owned SMEs. This is a Rs. 540 crore market opportunity for women entrepreneurs. Add to this the fact that more than 70 percent of the beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojna are women. Thus, the government is committed to giving loans to women SMEs and then committing to buy from them if they are able to give the government the products they need.
It was mentioned that women would be beneficiaries especially those who do not work but have money of their own that they keep in deposits.
Another benefit addressed at the larger middle class is the abolition of TDS on interest payments up to Rs. 40,000 per year. It was mentioned that women would be beneficiaries especially those who do not work but have money of their own that they keep in deposits.
Thus, women will definitely benefit from the schemes announced in the budget but a little more of specificity for women would have added to the ‘feel good factor’ that the minister hoped to achieve.