Press Conf

While all sections of people suffered in Covid, women and children suffered even more. Several studies including the recently released Oxfam Inequality report have documented that the loss of job is even more in troubled times for women and it is even more difficult for them to get their work back. Women in the unorganized sector who could save their jobs in the unorganized sector often had to work for lower wages. Yet another problem for women workers was that they had less access to crèche and related facilities in Covid times. Women employed in health and care work whose work and risk increased greatly in Covid times were generally not compensated adequately for this.

Education of many children from weaker sections was disrupted badly as they could not access online education. The risk of permanently dropping out from schools increased for a large number of children from weaker sections, particularly girl children. Many children became more vulnerable to risks of child labor and even trafficking.

In addition violence against women and girls increased significantly, as also the burden of care work. Keeping in view these growing hardships and risks and the need to provide more relief to them, it was expected that the allocations for women in this year’ union budget will increase very significantly, but unfortunately these hopes have not been fulfilled.

Today on February 3 the Right to Food Campaign, which has been drawing attention to several important aspects of the food situation from time to time, organized a press conference in Delhi at which the Campaign expressed its serious concern that  at a time of growing hunger and malnutrition, the Union Budget 2021 has actually reduced allocations for crucial social security schemes such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), midday meals, maternity entitlements, and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

The Right to Food Campaign (RFC) has pointed out more specifically that (as  also evident in the  revised budget estimates for 2020-21)  that ICDS and Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) suffered greatly because of the lockdown and closing of anganwadi centres. The revised estimate for PMMVY (₹1,300 crore) is barely half of what was allocated for the programme for 2020-21. That itself was low as the scheme covers only the first child, with a reduced benefit of ₹5000, while the National Food Security Act entitles all pregnant women to a maternity benefit of at least ₹6000 per child.

The RFC has informed that in the 2021-22 budget, ICDS and PMMVY have been clubbed with other schemes, but comparing like with like, it is clear that both programmes have been undermined . The budget allocation for midday meals is pretty much the same in 2021-22 as in 2020-21, and if anything, lower in real terms. ( also see annexure). The 2021-22 budget for the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) ( which covers  pensions for the elderly, women and disability affected persons) is the same as in 2020-21 budget, and is also lower in real terms.

The RFC also finds it disappointing to see that there is no announcement in the budget to expand the Public Distribution System (PDS) to include those who are excluded from the National Food Security Act or NFSA, to update the population estimates to calculate NFSA coverage, or to include items such as edible oil and pulses. While it seems like the food subsidy has increased, this is only a reflection of the central government finally paying the FCI for the grains distributed over the last few years.

The RFC also re-emphasized the increasingly importance of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA)  in providing some wage employment in rural areas in these difficult times, as also the urgent need to increase the guarantee of work of 200 days per year and also to increase the wage rates. But the 2021-22 allocation for NREGA is only ₹73,000 crores (as compared to the revised estimate of ₹1,15,000 for 2020-21).

The RFC has emphasized the need for significant increase in allocations to meet the following urgent needs–

  1. The public distribution system or PDS should be universalized. Pulses and edible oil should also become legal entitlements under the PDS, and should be procured at the Minimum Support Price (MSP).
  2. Provision of additional food rations under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) should continue for another
  3. Hot cooked meals under ICDS and midday meals should be revived immediately. The budgets for these programmes should make adequate provisions for inclusion of eggs in the meals.
  4. Hot cooked meals should extend to children under three years of age through crèches and to pregnant and lactating women through community
  5. Maternity entitlements should be universalized and made unconditional. The amount of benefit should be increased to at least ₹6,000 per child, as per the provisions of
  6. Central government  contribution  for  social  security pensions  should  increase  at  least to ₹2,000.
  1. Allocation for NREGA should be increased to provide at least 200 days of work per year to all rural households seeking employment, at least at the statutory minimum
  2. All workers providing care work, such as Anganwadi Workers and Helpers, ASHAs, should be provided with at least the minimum wage and decent working

Annexure

 BE 2020RE 2020BE 2021
Umbrella ICDS -Anganwadi Services20532.417252.3 
Poshan Abhiyan3700600 
Scheme for Adolescent Girls25050 
National Creche Scheme7515 
Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0 (Umbrella ICDS: Anganwadi Services, Poshan Abhiyan, Scheme for Adolescent Girls, National Crèche Scheme) 

24557.4

 

17917.3

 

20105

Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana25001300 
Mahila Shakti Kendra10015 
Beti Bachao Beti Padhao220100 
Gender Budgeting and Research, Publication and Monitoring83 
SAMARTHYA (Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana/ Gender Budgeting/Research/Skill Training etc.) 

2828

 

1418

 

2522

Midday Meal Scheme110001290011500
National Social Assistance Programme (old age, widow and disability pensions) 

9196.92

 

11660.24

 

9200

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author who has been involved  with several social movements.


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