With the release of interim budget and the General elections 2019, expectations are rife about big bang announcements from the current government. Ashwajit Singh, MD of IPE Global Limited feels “Indian economy has been doing fairly well with a consistent growth rate therefore, it is quite likely that it is going to be a pro-poor, pro-farmers populist budget.”
While the budget will be a holistic one, I hope that areas such jobs and skills development, agriculture and women empowerment will get more focus.
Jobs and skills development – While a lot has been done by the government in this sphere, yet India continues to have a large unemployed workforce with nearly 97% of them lacking any formal training. Perhaps more needs to be done in this area. We expect increased allocation to MGNREGA from the current 60-65000 crores with a focus on asset creation, water conservation and agriculture diversification in order to have a far-reaching impact on the economy and improving the lives of people. There needs to more effective implementation of the existing schemes to avoid problems of wage gaps and low income in 70-80% of people who manage to get jobs.
The budget also needs to provide an impetus to genuine entrepreneurs. Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana (PMMY) did help entrepreneurs to some extent and the government sanctioned 2.5 lakhs crores last year. However, the average ticket size for each beneficiary is 50,000 which is not enough for small businesses to really flourish.
Agriculture – Nearly half of India’s workforce is involved in this sector which contributes to nearly 17% of the GDP. Considering this, the budget can look at provisions such as – Increase in the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of various crops to provide a fare margin to farmers for a decent livelihood; inclusion of more crops like onions, tomatoes etc. A National Level Fund for insurance of crops for farmers would be a great relief since the existing schemes are not standardized.
Women Empowerment – The Maternity Benefit Act Amendment in 2017 increased the maternity leave entitlement from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for the first two children for our 65 crore women. However, according to a survey, women could lose 11-18 lakh jobs in FY 18-19 across the 10 sectors because of the financial burden on companies especially considering that India is probably the only country where the maternity cost is borne completely by the employer. Possibly the government can consider sharing of the maternity compensation with the employer.
Another issue that needs attention is the provision of fair and secure workplace for women. We have seen the rise of #MeToo movement at workplace and it has made us realize the urgency of the situation. I sincerely advocate gender audit mechanisms to be supported by the government at formal workplaces. Besides, we also have 52.7 Crore labor force in India where majority are women who are employed in agricultural and informal sectors who lack awareness about their gender rights. It is high time these disparities in the informal sector are addressed.
The budget could also look at considering a higher allocation for conditional cash transfers to pregnant and lactating women. We do have the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMVYY) scheme but, currently, this is limited to only one child per household. I would like to see the benefit being accrued to two children per household.
To sum up, I would like to conclude that while there will be announcements, it is equally important to build a strong monitoring and evaluation mechanism. Poor implementation of schemes will not lead to the desired impact and reach the beneficiaries.