Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in her Budget speech on Wednesday that the top priority of the Narendra Modi government is inclusive development. This is also the first of the seven goals that the government has set for “this Amrit Kaal.”
In its last budget before the 2024 elections, the government said that its motto of “inclusive growth” was especially for youth, women, farmers, OBCs, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, people with disabilities, economically weaker sections, and other underprivileged groups.
Sitharaman said that the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana (National Rural Livelihood Mission) has been a “remarkable success” in giving rural women more economic power by getting them to join 81 lakh self-help groups.
The finance minister said, “We will help these groups reach the next level of economic independence by forming large producer enterprises or collectives with several thousand members and professional management.”
Sitharaman announced a one-time small savings plan called the Mahila Samman Savings Certificate. This plan lets women or girls save up to Rs 2 lakh for two years (until March 2025) at a fixed interest rate of 7.5%, with the option to take out some of their money.
But even though she talked a lot about women’s empowerment in her speech and said that the government recognises “the importance of Nari Shakti as the harbinger of our bright future and for women-led development during the Amrit Kaal,” the welfare programmes for women and children don’t change much.
Sitharaman, on the other hand, talked about the changes the government had made to the Ministry of Women and Child Development’s programmes and how Mission Shakti, Mission Vatsalya, Saksham Anganwadi, and Poshan 2.0 were all launched at the same time. Two lakh anganwadis are to be upgraded under Saksham Anganwadi.
The budget for the women’s ministry hasn’t changed much since 2022-23, when it was Rs 25,172 crore. It is now Rs 25,448 crore. Last year, the ministry’s new budget plan was for Rs 23,912 crore.
Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan Abhiyan 2.0, the government’s flagship nutrition programme for children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers, also didn’t see a big increase, going from Rs 20,263 crore in 2022-23 to Rs 20,554 crore, even though the Centre has been criticised for high rates of child malnutrition in the country.
Mission Vatsalya, Mission Shakti, the Nirbhaya Fund, and the SAMBAL scheme, which includes Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, and One-Stop centres, have not seen an increase in their budgets.
Under the welfare heads of the ministry of women and child development, funds for social security and welfare have steadily gone down, from Rs 3,437 crore in the budget estimate for 2022–2023 to Rs 2,729 crore in the revised estimate and Rs 1,429 crore this year. Aid grants to state governments, on the other hand, have gone up from Rs 18,383 crore to Rs 20,506 crore in 2022-23.
The finance minister also talked about the government’s “vision to improve the quality of life of citizens in the most backward districts of the country” through the Aspirational Districts Programme. He said that 95 percent of the 112 districts had made “significant progress in key sectors such as health, nutrition, financial inclusion, and basic infrastructure.” The government’s goal to focus on aspirational blocks was announced in the 2022-23 budget. Under the plan, as many as 500 blocks will be taken care of.
Sitharaman, on the other hand, has said that Rs 15,000 crore will be spent over the next three years to carry out the Pradhan Mantri PVTG Development Mission as part of the Development Action Plan for the Scheduled Tribes. This plan will cover a large part of the northeastern region.
Over the next three years, the Centre will hire 38,800 teachers and support staff for the 740 Eklavya Model Residential Schools. These schools will serve 3.5 lakh tribal students.
The budget for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s post-matric scholarships, which is one of the largest educational programmes in the country, has gone up from Rs 5,660 crore in 2022-23 to Rs 6,359 crore. However, there are no big changes for Scheduled Caste communities.