Interim Budget Reveals a Decade of Neglect
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Below we publish the extracts from the statements issued by various organisations on the interim budget presented by the union government on February 1.
A Desperate Push towards Privatisation: CITU
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) strongly condemns the interim budget presented by union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, deeming it a collection of falsehoods and a desperate push towards privatisation. The budget is an attempt to regain political power by asserting an unfounded 50 per cent increase in average income and falsely portraying moderate inflation. Contrary to these claims, the stark reality reveals escalating prices of essential commodities and widespread unemployment across the nation. The recent ILO report exposes declining real wages globally, including in India, while the UNO report on the poverty index ranks India's performance as the worst in recent times. Instead of instilling confidence in people grappling to make ends meet, the interim budget callously mocks the harsh realities faced by the people.
In the budget speech, the finance minister tried to compare the performance of the Modi-led BJP government with its predecessors. However, the facts indicate that under this regime, privatisation of PSUs reached an unprecedented Rs 4.09 lakh crores, the highest in the nation's history. The government has set an ambitious target of divesting Rs 50,000 crores worth of PSU shares in FY 25, surpassing the target of Rs 30,000 crores for FY 24. The interim budget further exposes the government's intent to open defense research and development to private players, allocating a corpus of Rs 1 lakh crores for this purpose, providing 50-year interest-free loans to the private sector under the guise of fostering innovation.
The grand claims made during the budget presentation regarding allocations for various welfare measures are debunked by the unspent and surrendered funds. For instance, the surrender of Rs 1 lakh crores, allocated to agriculture and farmers' welfare between 2019-20 to 2022-23, underscores the dubious nature of the BJP government's claims and the deceit played on the people.
It is ironic that while the BJP government at the centre dismantles the very concept of federalism enshrined in the constitution, the budget professes to outline a blueprint for the next generation of reforms in consultation with the states. The track record of the last decade clearly demonstrates the government's anti-worker, anti-peasant, anti-people, and anti-national stance. The interim budget fails to present any positive measures for workers, peasants, and the public; instead, it lays claim to the blueprint for its envisioned "Vikasit Bharath" (Developed India) by June 2024, projecting a return to power. True to its neoliberal policies, the government envisions a pro-corporate and pro-rich "Vikasit Bharat" by 2047.
In this context, CITU calls upon its affiliated unions and members to make the nationwide mass mobilisations on February 16, including industrial/sectoral strikes and the Grameen Bandh call by Samyukta Kisan Morcha and CTUs, a resounding success.
Anti-Farmer Budget: AIKS
The BJP-led Modi government touts the 2024-25 union budget as "innovative and inclusive," but it reveals the lowest agricultural spending in five years. Despite being an election year, the interim budget neglects the rural economy, with an 81 thousand crore cut in allocations for agriculture and allied activities compared to 2022-23. There is a 22.3 per cent decline in allocations compared to 2022-23 expenditure and a 6 per cent decline compared to the 2023-24 revised budget, exposing the government's biased "inclusion" strategy. This reflects the Modi regime's systematic dismantling of small-scale agriculture for corporate interests, cleverly hidden within a nationalist narrative.
Finance minister's budget indicates significant reductions in allocations for various sectors, including rural development, MGNREGA, rural employment, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, cooperation, food storage and warehousing, plantations, crop husbandry, flood control and drainage, land reforms, fertilizer subsidy, food subsidy, dairy development, soil and water conservation, irrigation, nutrition, rural roads, housing, education, and health. Allocation cuts extend to resources for women and children, as well as for Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Notably, there is no provision for addressing the longstanding demand of farmers for minimum support prices as per the C2+50 per cent.
In 2024-25, the allocation for fertilizer subsidy is Rs 87,339 crores less than the actual expenditure in 2022-23, while the food subsidy allocation falls short by Rs 67,552 crores compared to the same period. The Modi government's consistent anti-farmer stance is evident in recurring budget cuts for crucial sectors like fertilizer and food subsidies, as well as schemes like MGNREGA. This insensitivity to the widespread crisis reveals a lack of concern for the poor, forcing subsequent increases in allocations each year. Not factoring in this reality in the budget underscores its anti-poor nature.
The diminishing resource transfers to state governments and reduced borrowing limits, part of an ongoing assault on constitutional federalism, will significantly undermine progressive and democratic state governments' ability to implement policies benefiting the working people. This contrasts starkly with the favoritism shown to big business, creating an environment conducive to exploiting the working class in the name of "ease of doing business" and refusing proportional taxation on monopolies and the ultra-rich.
The finance minister has reaffirmed the NDA regime's allegiance to international finance capital by endorsing unimpeded financial inflow, including FDI. The attempt to present FDI as "First Develop India" masks its actual impact of "Fast Drain India." The proposal to encourage investment in post-harvest activities echoes the rejected Farm Acts and risks corporate exploitation, especially by entities like Adani and Ambani. The Modi government's trajectory suggests that it is not the farmers but loyal international finance partners who stand to benefit from this so-called 'development.' AIKS urges all units to vehemently protest this anti-farmer, anti-people Budget and contribute to the success of the nationwide Grameen Bharat Bandh on February 16.
Agri-workers Neglected: AIAWU
The interim budget has failed to address the pressing concerns faced by agricultural workers in the country. The government's disregard for the well-being of the agricultural workforce is evident. The BJP, known for exploiting communal divisions to secure votes, continues its blatant assault on the lives and livelihoods of the impoverished.
The allocation for MGNREGA remains at only Rs 86,000 crores, a shockingly stagnant figure considering the severe inflation. The government has neglected to increase this amount, even in comparison to the 2022-23 allocation of Rs 90,805.92 crores. Furthermore, funds for central sector schemes in agriculture and for farmer's welfare have been reduced, placing an additional burden on the states.
The allotment for the market intervention scheme and price support scheme has been drastically cut, adversely affecting the lives of the rural poor. The funds for Pradhan Mantri Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Yojna have been reduced from Rs 2,200.00 crores to Rs 1,737.50 crores.
The government has nearly terminated the distribution of pulses to states/union territories for welfare schemes by slashing the allocation for the scheme. This move will only exacerbate malnutrition among the poor. Funds for Pradhan Mantri Kisan Man Dhan Yojana have been reduced from Rs 138 crores to Rs 100 crores.
In the case of fertilizer subsidy, the nutrient based subsidy has been reduced from Rs 60,300 crores to a mere Rs 45,000 crores. The funds allocated under food subsidy to the Food Corporation of India, as per the National Food Security Act, have been eliminated. Food subsidies have witnessed a cut of Rs 60,470 crores between 2022-23 and 2023-24, while fertilizer subsidies have decreased by Rs 62,445 crores.
The amount for anganwadis has been reduced by Rs 323 crores, a move deemed inhumane. The funds for PMGSY have decreased from Rs 19,000 crores to Rs 12,000 crores. The funds for the mid-day meal scheme, renamed as PM POSHAN, have also seen a reduction from the 2022-23 budgetary estimates despite prevailing inflationary circumstances.
This budget starkly reflects the callous indifference of the ruling classes to the plight of the poor. Strong protests should emerge from every corner against this anti-people budget.
Women Betrayed: AIDWA
The proclamation of 'women’s empowerment' successes should be scrutinised amidst ongoing economic distress, declining women’s paid employment, and escalating hunger, causing considerable anguish. The finance minister's assertion that women’s empowerment hinges on 'outcomes, not outlays,' suggests a disregard for crucial budgetary allocations, evident in the lack of immediate relief announcements in the budget speech.
India's unfavourable rankings in the WEF Gender Parity Index (127 out of 146) and Global Hunger Index (111 out of 125) expose the government's claims, reflecting the distress faced by women and their families. The projected total state expenditure, reduced to 14.54 per cent of the GDP, contradicts the nominal allocations under the gender budget, maintaining a near-constant percentage from the previous year. This undermines the government’s 'Nari Shakti' pledge.
The absence of MGNREGS mention indicates the government's continuous efforts to undermine the scheme, reflected in stagnant budgetary estimates and a reduction in allocations for 2024-25. Less than 1 per cent of households applying for work received 100 days of employment, and job cards of over 5.48 crore MNREGA workers were deleted in 2022-2023.
The government's claims of providing free food to 80 crore people are contradicted by the budget, showcasing lower food subsidy allocations than actual expenditures in 2022-23 and the revised estimate of 2023-24. Mission Anganwadi Saksham and POSHAN face cutbacks, revealing the government's inclination towards privatisation, as evident in reduced allocations.
The PM Awas Yojana's purported benefit to women, with 70 per cent female beneficiaries, is debunked by a 26.5 per cent reduction in the revised estimate compared to the actual expenditure of 2022-23. The NRLM's allocation remains inadequate, with no significant increases, and is misused for unrelated purposes, such as enticing women into drone production.
Schemes like the savings plan for girl children and Jan Dhan have faced implementation challenges, exposing the government's 'women’s empowerment' propaganda. Social sector expenditures stagnate, with unspent Nirbhaya fund and stagnant Mission Shakti schemes. ASHA and anganwadi workers' demand for regularisation and increased wages are overlooked, with promises only to link them under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme.
Allocations for scholarships, minorities, and the National Social Assistance scheme remain stagnant or decline. Development for SC, ST, and vulnerable groups sees a drastic reduction, challenging the government's 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas, and Sabka Vishwas' slogan. The government's claims of passing bills for women's empowerment face scrutiny, with AIDWA calling for unity against the alleged anti-women government in the 2024 general elections.
Modi-2, led by the BJP, holds a dubious distinction as the sole government to refrain from increasing the remuneration of anganwadi workers and helpers during its five-year tenure, despite escalating workloads. The finance minister's budget statement, promising anganwadi and ASHA workers’ inclusion in the Ayushman Bharat scheme, appears as a cruel joke to those providing essential services to millions. With a budget reduction of over Rs 300 crore, delayed central fund releases jeopardise the timely payment of wages and essential funds for anganwadi workers.
The looming prospect of working without minimum wages, job security, or pension underlines the gravity of the situation. The budget, filled with lofty promises, overlooks the plight of workers, revealing an unsettling disconnect. The anganwadi workers and helpers will express their dissent on February 16, 2024, through sectoral/industrial strikes and the nationwide Grameen Bharat Bandh, joining forces with central trade unions and Samyukta Kisan Morcha.
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