Invoking women voters in the Union Budget is not new but this year was different. Presented by the first full-time female finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, it recognised the role of women as entrepreneurs and were accorded benefits accordingly.
“In India’s growth story, particularly in the rural economy — grameen arth vyavastha — the role of women is a very sweet story. This government wishes to encourage and facilitate this role of women,” said Sitharaman after invoking the adage “Nari tu Narayani (Women you are the caregiver).”
Acknowledging the efforts of several schemes such as Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency (MUDRA), Standup India, and self-help groups (SHGs), which empowered women entrepreneurship in the past five years, the FM proposed to expand the women SHG interest-subvention programme to all districts.
“For every verified women SHG member having a Jan-Dhan Bank Account, an overdraft of Rs 5,000 shall be allowed. One woman in every SHG will also be made eligible for a loan up to Rs 1 lakh under the MUDRA scheme,” she said.
In the 2018-19 Union Budget, loans to SHGs of women was targeted to increase by Rs 75,000 crore by March this year. The allocation to the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) was Rs 5,750 crore in 2018-19. This year, the allocation has been increased to Rs 9,024 crore.
The NRLM seeks to reach out to all rural poor women, estimated at 100 million in a phased manner, over 10 years.
The Union Budget also extended the Standup India Scheme for assisting new businesses and industry with capital provided under it. The scheme will now continue for the entire period coinciding with the 15th Finance Commission period of 2020-25. The banks will provide financial assistance for demand-based businesses, including for example acquisition of scavenging machines and robots, said the FM. “This government firmly believes that the socioeconomic transformation that is taking place particularly in the last decade, Indian women’s role and leadership is distinct. The recent elections have shown record turnout of women voters at par with men. We also have a record 78 women Members of Parliament here. This reinforces our approach of going beyond just women-centric policymaking to building women-led initiatives and movements,” Sitharaman said in her speech.
The budgetary allocation to flagship schemes for women has seen a rise this year.
The Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana — a maternity benefit scheme — increased 108 per cent in budgetary allocation from last year to Rs 2,500 crore. The Ministry of Women and Child Development, which oversees most flagship schemes, saw its budgetary allocation increase by 18 per cent to Rs 29,164.9 crore. The Mission for Protection and Empowerment for Women, the umbrella scheme for all social reforms for care and development of women, got enhanced budgetary allocation of Rs 1,330 crore.