THE Union Budget 2017-18 presented by the finance minister on February 1 in parliament is totally disappointing and deceptive in many respects.
CITU’S RESPONSE TO THE BUDGET
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), in a statement issued on February 1, has noted that the finance minister, in his budget speech, boastfully mentioned about doing away with the classification of plan and non-plan expenditure, putting the entire expenditure in one basket. Plan expenditure is meant for capital investment or expenditure for value addition either in the services or the programmes by the concerned sector/ministry, while non-plan expenditure pertains to administrative expenses. Doing away with such classification and putting the entire expenditure in one basket is meant for confusing the people about the real extent of growth orientation.
In the background of severe economic crisis featured by massive sickness and closure of industries, resulting in huge job losses, no concrete measures are seen in the budget proposals for boosting quality employment across the sectors. Finance minister had to admit about the gloomy situation in private investment in the domestic economy, but did not bother to take concrete measures to remove such gloom by way of increasing public investment and directly intervening to improve purchasing power of the mass of the people and, inter alia, by announcing increase in minimum wage level to at least Rs 18000 as accepted by the central government in the Seventh Central Pay Commission recommendation. Rather the government did the opposite. It reiterated its ongoing exercise for privatisation/disinvestment of the public sector units, which are actually keeping the economy afloat through capital investment, and also in public utility services, which would further aggravate the already prevailing income-inequality and also create more gloom in the investment scenario.
The present budget dealt on railways too, which was so long dealt by a separate budget. It did little to expand the railway network and to address safety issues in the background of alarming increase in the frequency of railway accidents. Total allocation has been increased by only Rs 10,000 crore, both plan and non-plan together, making uncertain the completion of the ongoing railway projects, not to speak of initiatives for expansion. On the other hand in the name of making Railways competitive, there is every possibility of further increase the burden on the people for availing railway services on the one hand and increasing privatisation of railway services segment by segment.
The budget also reiterated the continuity of its policy of disinvestment and privatisation of public sector units through various routes including through Exchange Trading Fund, on the one hand and closure of the sick and loss-making PSUs, even those potentially viable, on the other. This is utterly condemnable.
Although some marginal increases are made in the allocations of various central schemes like ICDS, Mid-day-meal, ASHA etc, the long pending issue of increasing the wages of scheme workers has been totally ignored by the government, totally ignoring the unanimous recommendation of the Indian Labour Conference. CITU denounces such arrogance.
The finance minister had to admit in his budget speech the reality of tax-theft by corporate and business world. He stated that “we can conclude that we are largely a non-compliant society”. But he did nothing to recover the huge accumulated direct tax dues to the tune of Rs 6.59 lakh crores as per the Receipt Budget (Annex-10) presented by him. The minister admitted on record that out of this accumulated figure, for Rs 81,406 crore dues there is no dispute pending. But even that amount has not been recovered. Therefore all tall talks of transparency and tax-compliance by the minister is a deceptive ploy to confuse people and camouflage the tax-thieves-administration nexus.
The finance minister spoke a lot in giving relief to the NPA-striken banks in respect of their tax liability. But maintained stoic silence in recovering the NPAs from their most favoured corporate defaulters. But the Economic Survey has let the cat out of the bag and did not mince words in prescribing “burden sharing and even forgiving some burden on the private sector” to be made by the banks and the government. In essence, the entire exercise is to defend the interests of only those pilfering the national exchequer through tax-default and the banking system through loan-default, in the private corporate community.
The finance minister boasted about demonetisation drive as an effective measure in “eliminating corruption, black money, counterfeit currency and terror funding”. The minister should have given an account of how much black money was recovered since November 8, 2016, so also of the counterfeit currency and terror funding. But no such account has been given in the budget. Rather the fact that 98 percent of the demonetized currency has already entered into the banking system by December end clearly exposes the reality that whatever black money was there has already been allowed to be made white and nobody knows whether and to what extent the counterfeit notes got legitimised. Only the mass of the people – the farmers, workers, self-employed people and small traders are made to suffer through crop-loss, wage loss, job loss and loss of livelihood. And digitisation agencies like Paytm, Jio and many others are the gainers with captive lucrative business opportunities. Question arises – this government is for whom?
Similar deceptive posture by the minister in the budget speech is seen when he spoke about “protecting labour rights” and referred to, at the same breath, the very same retrograde proposals already made by the government for changes in all basic labour laws which are designed to push away majority of labour force in the country out of the purview and protection of all labour laws and to impose conditions of slavery on them. If this is not deception, then what else is it?
CITU denounces such deceptive approach of the government towards the interests and rights of the workers as demonstrated through Union Budget 2017-18 and calls upon the working people to oppose and protest countrywide.
RESPONSE OF THE AIAWU
The All India Agricultural Workers’ Union expressed its disappointment on the Union Budget 2017-18 for its callous approach towards the problem of rural poor and poor peasantry. The allotment for rural infrastructure, public distribution system and MNREGA is insufficient to address the problem of toiling masses in the rural India who became more unemployed after the demonetisation and are suffering due to the natural calamities. There is no considerable increase in the allotment for the flagship programmes. The proposed provisions for the relief of the farmers will only help the rich and corporate farmers and poor farmers will not be benefited.
With regard to MNREGA, the budget allocation would not provide any increase in the working days, neither will it help to increase the minimum wage of the workers. The so-called increase in the budget allocation is almost similar to the allotment during the previous year. Moreover, a major part of the budget allocation will be paid for the existing wage arrears. It was done at a time when the workers are demanding for the budget outlay for the implementation of the Act to be doubled at least to provide adequate employment.
This budget did not mention about the expansion of the benefits of food security to the eligible poor excluded from the eligible list. The focus on PPP model and the added allotment for infrastructure will help the corporate houses. The extra attention on the digital economy will not serve any relief to the rural poor and SC/STs who are deprived of the basic needs.
The All India Agricultural Workers’ Union appeals to all its units and activists to mobilise the rural masses against the pro-rich budget proposals unleashed by the BJP government.
AIDWA’S REACTION TO THE BUDGET
The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) said the union budget is an insult to the working poor and women of this country who have been bearing a disproportionate burden of the hardships due to demonetisation.
The budget starts with an assumption of 11.75 percent growth in the GDP for 2017-18 calculated over the revised figures of 2016-17. The major event between the timing of revised estimates and the present budget has been the brutal shock of demonetisation. The government’s own Economic Survey acknowledges the adverse effects of demonetisation on the economy. The finance minister in his speech also paid lip service to the adversities faced by common people which he insensitively called ‘short term costs’. Yet none of this is reflected in the GDP estimates assumed in the budget. Instead of estimating the degree of the slowdown, its sectoral spread, the nature of its effects on different sections of the population and the length of time for which these effects are likely be felt, the government has pretended that demonetisation has not happened in the actual assumptions of its GDP estimates. Moreover, based on these inflated GDP estimates, the size of the budget as a proportion of GDP has declined from 13.4 percent in 2015-16 to 12.7 percent in 2017-18 budget estimates. This will severely affect the lives and livelihoods of the majority of the people and especially women who have once again been short-changed by this government.
The tall claims of the finance minister – that his aim is to double the incomes of farmers, are not reflected in his allocations. He also stated that the allied sector of dairy development and fisheries (which provides livelihood to a lot of women) would receive a major boost through an increased allocation of Rs 8000 crore. However, there is no women specific allocation in either dairy or fisheries. Further, the only agricultural scheme that has allocations for women in the agricultural sector is the National Food Security Mission where a nominal increase of Rs 60 crore has been made in the gender budget, which actually accounts for less than 30 percent of the entire allocation. This does not even qualify to be in Part B of the gender budget and yet it has been listed there. Given the fact that majority of women are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, the dismal allocations and absolute cut of 50 percent in the Mudra and other credit guarantee schemes show the absolute callousness towards women and to agriculture which is a continuing feature of this government’s policies.
The finance minister’s claim that MNREGA has been allocated a huge sum of Rs 48,000 crore is yet another example of dressing down of facts. In 2015-16, MNREGA already had an allocation of Rs 47,499 crores in the revised estimates. Thus the allocation of Rs 48,000 crore does not entail any substantial increase. This freezing of allocation to MNREGA in this period of adverse impact on employment due to demonetisation is a gross anti-poor measure. The long-standing need for an urban employment guarantee Act finds no mention in this government’s priorities even as it records increasing migration.
Food (including the allocations under the National Food Security Act), kerosene and LPG subsidies have a direct impact on women. The share of these in the total budget has come down from 9.5 percent in 2015-16 to 7.9 percent in 2017-18. Moreover, there is no gender budget component in any of these except the LPG subsidy which is a miniscule Rs 3,200 crore.
There is no recognition of the problems of anganwadi workers by this government. The allocation to anganwadis does not even compensate for the cuts since 2015-16 and in real terms shows a decrease. Anganwadi workers’ right to regular payment of wages will be further affected by this allocation. Similarly, the interests of the ASHA workers and all scheme workers have been compromised in keeping with this government’s anti-woman stance.
The increased allocation of Rs 2,700 crore for maternity benefits comes as a cash transfer scheme on the condition of institutional deliveries. The government remains unresponsive to the evidence of problems with cash transfers that has been brought to its notice repeatedly.
AIDWA expresses grave concern that this government has completely failed to respond on the issue of rising violence against women, and the need to ensure budgetary support for survivors of violent crimes. This can be seen in the atrocious cut in the allocation of resources for the Nirbhaya fund. The revised estimate for the Nirbhaya fund in 2016-17 was Rs 585 crore and this has been now cut to Rs 400 crore. Several of the suggestions submitted by the national women’s organisations in this context have been completely ignored by the finance minister.
Overall, the budget shows a total callousness and ignores the sufferings of women particularly of the working class who have suffered enormously due to demonetisation which has come amidst a protracted crisis within the economy and particularly the agricultural sector. The government has used the doing away of the distinction between ‘Plan’ and ‘Non-Plan’ expenditures to conflate and confuse ordinary people and hide the massive cuts in social and economic welfare. The freezing of inadequate allocations in real terms to education and health will hit the working poor and women even further. The surrender of goals like the alleviation of poverty, focusing on the special needs of women, dalits, tribals and other deprived sections of society through the allocation of budgetary resources for them in favour of tax cuts for the corporate and the elite classes exposes the real anti-people agenda of the government.
The AIDWA calls upon all women to raise their voice to press the government to make the budget more women-friendly.
RESPONSE OF THE AIFAWH
The All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers, has stated that the NDA government has cheated the women and children of the country and the anganwadi workers and helpers. Budget 2017-18, like the previous budgets has criminally neglected India’s eight crore malnourished children under six and two crore pregnant women and lactating mothers by not increasing the allocations for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme. The Budget Estimates for the ICDS (core) 2017-18 is only Rs 15245.19 crore. It is even less than the budget allocation for ICDS in 2015-16 which was Rs 15433.09 crore and Rs 18108 crore in 2014-15. It is only half of the 12th Plan allocation for ICDS for the year 2017-18 which is Rs 30,025 crore.
The finance minister in his budget speech has given a misleading statement on the increased allocation for Women and child development. The budget boasts about the much promoted prime minister’s announcement of the maternity benefit of Rs 6,000 to the pregnant women. This is nothing new and it has been included in the Right to Food Act. But ironically the amount earmarked for the Maternity Benefit programme is a mere Rs 2700 crore which will cover only 17 percent of the 2.6 crore live child births per year in India. Concealing these facts the finance minister claims to increase the budget estimates for women and children.
A dangerous move made in the budget is the announcement by the finance minister to set up ‘Mahila Shakti Kendra’ in the anganwadi centres. This is nothing but the government’s succumbing to the corporate agenda and putting the anganwadi centres at the disposal of the corporates. The corporate ‘Vedanta’ Company proposed to utilise half of the time of the anganwadi centres for skill development, after an agreement with the ministry of women and child development. After the opposition by the AIFAWH, the WCD ministry had assured that the anganwadi centres which are meant to be developed as anganwadi cum crèches shall not be utilised for any other purpose. But the budget had extended it to all the centres with a meagre allocation of Rs 500 crores with no clarity on who will be giving the training and how much time and space is necessary. In the present situation with half of the anganwadi centres not even having basic facilities such as drinking water or own building, AIFAWH apprehends that the basic services will be affected. Moreover as is being practiced, the burden of the extra work will be on the anganwadi workers.
Although in this budget, which has come on the eve of assembly elections in five states, there are no direct proposals for direct cash transfers in place of schemes like ICDS, the Economic Survey sets the direction for direct cash transfer in the name of the Universal Basic Income Scheme. In many states like Telengana, they have started direct cash transfers on an experiment basis, in place of ICDS.
The demands for implementation of recommendations of the 45th Indian Labour Conference to recognise the scheme workers including anganwadi workers and helpers as employees, give them minimum wages and pension and other social security benefits are again neglected. Since 2011, the remuneration of the anganwadi employees has not been increased, whereas the working hours have been increased to make it full time.
AIFAWH calls upon all the state unions and anganwadi workers and helpers to protest against government’s attitude and remind them of their election promise of “Review the working conditions and enhance the remuneration of Anganwadi worker's” by organising protest demonstrations and actions including burning of effigies all over the country on February 2, 2017, along with other scheme workers. It calls upon the anganwadi employees to be prepared for militant struggles till our demands are met and reach out to the people of the country for support to the struggles to Save ICDS.
DSMM’S RESPONSE TO THE BUDGET
The Dalit Soshan Mukti Manch has stated that the Union Budget 2107-18 is totally disappointing as far as the welfare and development of dalits, is concerned. Unlike the previous budgets, this budget does not have a Special Component Plan for dalits, since the plan and non plan expenditures have been merged by the Modi government. They have mixed all the accounts including the revenue expenditure, which will not help in improving any developmental activities. Of the total 21 lakh crore budget, the allotment for the Scheduled Castes welfare is only Rs 52,000 crore. It is not clear whether this amount includes revenue expenditure or it is only for capital expenditure. Although in terms of the amount allocated, there is an increase, but it is much below the mandated allocation of 16 percent of total expenditure. This allocation is only a meagre 2.5 percent of total budget and is below 10 percent of the capital expenditure. Another important aspect based on previous year’s experience is that whatever allotments are made on paper, they have not spent the money in practice. These funds remained either unspent or were diverted. To overcome this situation, the DSMM since the beginning has been demanding the enactment of a law for compulsory spending. DSMM reiterates its demand of enacting a law for making SCSP spending mandatory.
After demonetisation, conditions of poor, particularly dalits, have deteriorated. To meet this challenge, everyone expected some sort of monetary help through the budget. Such hopes have crashed. Whatever words or promises were made by Modi for improvement of the lives of dalits, they have proved futile. To achieve dalit rights there is no other way except to unite and fight. DSMM appeals all dalit and democratic organisations to come forward to fight for our legitimate rights against injustice done by the NDA government to the socially backward sections.
RESPONSE OF THE SFI
The Students’ Federation of India has noted that the present situation required a massive increase in the budgetary allocations in social sector spending, so as to increase the domestic demand. The social sector spending including that on education can be increased by reducing the concessions to the corporates and big businesses. The fact that government has not done so is only a pointer of its priorities.
When it comes to education, finance minister’s budget speech is marred by absolute lack of attention and concern. No commitments have been made in increasing the budgetary outlays in any of the sectors. Instead what are seen are merely some promises.
Finance minister talks about reforming UGC and then providing financial autonomy to the college and universities based on the ranking as per the mandatory accreditation. This is in tune with the neoliberal push that we have been witnessing since the period of congress-led UPA-1. It will only lead to increasing the already existing wide gap in the various sectors of education.
There is a talk of 100 international skill centres with courses in foreign languages, Rs 4000 crore for skill acquisition and knowledge awareness and priority on science education. This too is in tune with the government’s empty rhetoric of ‘skill education’, while the actual trajectory of the educational policy is towards deskilling the youth.
There is an increasing thrust of centralisation with the proposal of a separate testing agency to take all entrance exams in the country; while the existing bodies such CBSE, AICTE etc will be asked to focus on academics only.
The CEC of SFI sees the union budget an exercise in self deception, which refuses to understand the ground reality of the masses. The same attitude can be witnessed in the budgetary allocations and promises made in the education sector. While the education sector today requires massive expansion to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend, the present approach of this government will only lead to worsening of the quality in all spheres of education. SFI has called upon all its units to remain vigilant on the concrete manifestations of this budget in the campuses and accordingly make necessary interventions.