As Nirmala Sitharaman, the country’s first woman Finance Minster took guard to deliver her second Budget speech, expectations were running high. With a woman at the helm of economic affairs, housewives, working women, and women entrepreneurs,all expected her to fulfill some part of their Budget bucket lists.
Moving on from ‘Naari Tu Narayani’, a theme she had introduced in Budget 2019, the Finance Minister announced, “for every woman wishing to stand up and get counted, this Budget aims to have your aspirations and hopes addressed.”
The FM seconded her speech announcing an allocation of Rs.28,600 crore for women specific programs.The financial allocation apart and with a dearth of any big ticket announcements, the Budget did offer multiple takeaways for women across financial and social demography.
But are these takeaways more cosmetic or can they really help women address their hopes and aspirations as the FM believes? Let’s take a look.
Focus on improving women participation in economy
For all its progress on other fronts, India still lacks behind when it comes to women participation in the economic growth. The recently concluded Economic Survey 2020 revealed that 60% of women in India are engaged in full-time housework. The lack of safe accommodation options for women plays an important role in such low participation numbers.
The working women hostel scheme of the GOI offers safe and conveniently located accommodation for working women with day care facility for children. In her Budget speech, the FM has tripled the allocation for Working Women’s Hostel scheme from Rs 45 crore in 2019-20 to Rs 150 crore in 2020-21. This is likely to enhance female participation figures in jobs across sectors.
More support for women safety
Women safety continues to be a big challenge across urban and rural India. To address the security concerns, the Budget for Ujjawala, a scheme earmarked to prevent trafficking, and to rescue and rehabilitate women has been increased from Rs. 20 crore to Rs. 30 crore. Emphasizing on women safety, the FM also announced an increased Budget for the Mission for Protection and Empowerment of Women to Rs. 1,163 crore, up from the existing Rs. 961 crore.
Tax relief for working women and single mothers
The FM has announced a new simplified tax structure that can help working women decrease their tax liability. Women, like other tax payers, were often forced to invest in unwanted financial instruments just to save tax. For example,many working women may have opted for a joint home loan with their husbands just to help avail tax deduction benefits.
Now, under the new scheme, working women have the option to choose between the older and the new tax structures as per their overall financial plan. Also, for working single mothers, this opens up options to invest in the best instruments across classes as per their current and future needs and not forcefully invest just to save tax.
Rise in insurance cover for bank deposits
A lack of financial awareness about other investment avenues and an assured return guarantee means that bank fixed deposits continue to be a top investment option especially for housewives and senior citizens. The recent cases of irregularities in co-operative banks had made investors jittery.
The FM has raised the deposit insurance limit to Rs. 5 Lakhs, up from the current Rs. 1 Lakhs. While majority of banks continue to be safe, this increase in insurance will help put to rest all fears for housewives and women who prefer a bank FD owing to its benefits like assured returns and high liquidity.
Support for women participation in agriculture sector as ‘Dhaanya Lakshmi’
To uplift the rural economy and women, the FM announced a village storage scheme to be run by women self help groups. These women self help groups known as ‘Dhaanya Lakshmi’ are likely to receive proactive support from NABARD and Mudra Schemes ensuring higher women participation in agriculture sector.
Higher allocation for women centric social schemes
The finance minister announced Rs. 30,000 crore for the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry, a 14% hike to ensure more women can seek benefits under multiple government schemes. For example, the Budget of Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) under which pregnant women and lactating mothers are given financial assistance has been increased to Rs. 2500 Crore.
Likewise, the funds for National Creche Scheme allowing women to leave their children while going to work have been increased to Rs. 75 crore up from Rs. 50 crore. Focusing on women health and to ensure lower maternal mortality rate and improve nutrition levels, the FM also announced setting up of a task force to review minimum marriageable age for women.
Conclusion: While not all items in womens’ bucket lists may have become a reality, Budget 2020 does offer certain benefits for women across social demographies, ranging from tangible tax benefits to enhanced social support.