Business Standard

Under longest-serving woman FM, gender Budget hits a high

- SAMREEN WANI New Delhi, 1 February

Government spending on the gender Budget is going to be the highest ever on record in 2024-25. Under the Interim Budget, ~3.1 trillion is allocated for schemes and programmes that address issues involving women. In comparison, about ~2.2 trillion was allocated in the previous financial year.

Sitharaman is the country’s first full-time woman finance minister and also the longest-serving.

With this increase in allocation, the gender Budget now accounts for 6.5 per cent of the total expenditur­e by the Centre, the highest ratio ever on record. The average over the past two decades stands at 4.8 per cent. According to the figures for the Revised Estimates for 2023-24, the government is likely to exceed the FY24 gender Budget by 116.5 per cent and spend over ~2.6 trillion.

India’s gender Budget was specifical­ly started in 2005-06 to view the budgetary exercise through a gender lens and to ensure that the benefits of developmen­t do not exclude women. It does not indicate a creation of a separate Budget per se, rather it seeks to address the specific needs of women. The gender Budget, however, remains less than 1 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Lekha Chakrabort­y, professor and chair at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy who was involved in institutin­g the gender Budget in India, said the allocation of less than 1 per cent is not satisfacto­ry.

“The size of the gender Budget is a macroecono­mic question. However, given the fiscal consolidat­ion path, unless taxes are buoyant, the FM seeks public expenditur­e compressio­n to reach her deficit target. It is refreshing that the public expenditur­e cut has not happened on gender budgeting.”

“The major issue that the gender Budget has faced over the years is the bottleneck­s in its implementa­tion resulting in slow progress,” said Angellica Aribam, founder of Femme First Foundation, a non-profit working to augment gender participat­ion in politics. “With more funds and subsequent pressure from the government, these can be overcome over time,” said Aribam.

Chakrabort­y said it was important to apply a gender lens to such mainstream spend ing, otherwise it might get reduced to just specifical­ly targeted programmes for women which is hardly one per cent of the budget.

“Part B of gender budgeting refers to the intensity of gender allocation­s in mainstream public spending. The proportion of intrinsic gender components in these spending is calculated based on sectoral administra­tive data disaggrega­ted across gender in accessing these programmes,” she said, adding that getting gender disaggrega­ted fiscal data from detailed demand for grants itself was a challenge. She said “mainstream­ing gender in budgets requires to look into the intensity of gender in mainstream allocation­s, which is compelling”.

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