FM Nirmala Sitharaman Invokes ‘Naari & Narayani’, But Not Much In Budget 2019-20 For Women?

Posted: July 5, 2019

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A first look at FM Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget 2019-20 feels disappointing. Will a reading of fine print yield better benefits for women and children?

Annual budget for the year 2019-20 was announced this morning by India’s new Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the Modi 2.0 government.

Being the first full time female Finance Minister a lot was expected from her, especially by women and agriculture sector. Have the expectations been fulfilled?

The Budget prioritizes transformation of ‘Gaon’, ‘Garib’ and ‘Kisan’. It also focuses on increasing digital transaction, connectivity through waterways and highways, infrastructure improvement in both rural and urban areas and also enhancing the overall quality of living.

The key positives of the budget are

  • To raise the Indian economy to a $5-trillion economy by 2020
  • One nation, one grid for electricity
  • National grid for water and gas. To make water available in every house by 2024
  • Rebate of 3.5 lakh on interest paid (2 lakh till now) on home loans up to 45 lakh. To boost affordable housing.
  • Surcharge on income tax to be paid by individuals having annual income between 3 and 5 crore to be hiked by 3%. For income above 7 crores surcharge on tax to be 7%.
  • Additional income tax deduction of 1.5 lakh rupees on the interest paid on loans taken topurchase e-vehicles.
  • 1 registered female member of self-help-groups to be given loan of 1 lakh rupees under Mudra Yojana. Also, every member is allowed overdraft facility of 5000 rupees.
  • Persons without PAN can file income tax return by quoting their Aadhar number
  • Pre-filled tax return forms to be made available to taxpayers
  • Pension scheme for 3 crore small traders (already announced)
  • To bring in a Model Rent Act
  • TDS to be deducted if cash withdrawal from bank account exceeds 1 crore in one year. To encourage less cash economy.
  • Minimum support price (MSP) of food grains increased (a day before the budget). To help farmers.

Negatives in the budget

  • No increase in income tax exemption limit
  • Infrastructure Cess and Excise increased by Rs 1 each on petrol and diesel
  • Custom duty on gold and other precious metals increased from 10% to 12.5%
  • Duty on imported electronic and electrical items increased

The citizens had a lot of expectations from this budget by the new Modi government which has been voted back to power for a second term with a massive mandate but sadly it looks more like an extension of the interim budget announced on February 1, 2019.

The budget proposes a bank recapitisation fund of 70000 crores which may help in pumping more money in the market and thus help revive the economy. However, the FM chose not to specify a figure for fiscal deficit. Even though the govt claims to focus on rural sector yet there is hardly any substantial relief in the budget for the farmers and poor people. Also, there are no announcements for the crucial education and health sector.

The Finance Minister has promised a slew of new initiatives to mitigate the financial problems of the corporate sector, but there are no special proposals or benefits for women, senior citizens and children.

What’s there for women?

Nirmala Sitharaman, in her speech here, acknowledged that there was no segment where the contribution of women was not significant.

She also mentioned that women in India are traditionally considered to be Narayani, quoting Swami Vivekanand who wrote in a letter to Swami Ramkrishna that there is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved, and that it’s not possible for a bird to fly on one wing.

She promised to focus on women empowerment, proposing to set up a high-level committee with govt and private stakeholders to evaluate and suggest more ways to increase women participation in workplaces, especially in the rural economy. But apart from this sentimental quote, the FM failed to give anything tangible for women in her maiden budget speech.

Even the lone provision of giving Mudra loan of 1 lakh is for only one women member in each self-help-group. It is a good initiative but with very limited impact.

Besides this, the increase in cess on petrol and diesel prices would have a cascading effect on the prices of daily commodities and fuel inflation. Hike in excise duty on gold is also a dampener for women who like to buy gold for weddings and festive occasions.

The budget is being touted as a budget for the next ten years and a foundation for reviving the sagging national economy, but the true impact of govt claims would be seen only after the fine print is read and realized.

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