As the 2024 Lok Sabha elections loom, the Modi government gears up to unveil a slew of significant initiatives primarily focused on women. The upcoming interim budget slated for February 1 is poised to witness substantial announcements, potentially revolutionising support structures for women across various sectors.
Proposed Farmer Aid and Cash Transfer Schemes
A standout proposal entails elevating the Prime Minister Kisan Samman Nidhi for women farmers, doubling the annual support from Rs 6,000 to Rs 12,000. In a nation with an estimated 26 crore farmers, a mere 13% are women owning land in their names. This substantial enhancement in aid for women farmers is expected to alleviate financial burdens, albeit with an additional government outlay of Rs 120 crore.
Simultaneously, the government is pioneering a cash transfer scheme specifically designed to uplift economically disadvantaged women. Media reports suggest that discussions are underway to extend this support to women above 21 years who currently do not benefit from any existing government welfare program. This move aims to directly assist those marginalised women who often fall through the cracks of traditional welfare systems, providing them with a direct financial lifeline.
These initiatives not only seek to bridge the gender gap in agricultural support but also aim to uplift those women who are economically marginalised and overlooked by conventional welfare programs.
MGNREGA's Reinforced Focus
Recognizing the indispensable contribution of women in the rural workforce, the Modi government is poised to amplify its focus on gender parity within the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The Act, designed to ensure livelihood security by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in rural areas, has witnessed a noticeable surge in female participation.
Currently, women constitute a substantial 59.26% of the total workforce engaged under MGNREGA, up from the 53.19% recorded in the fiscal year 2020-21.
This heightened emphasis on women's participation within MGNREGA aligns with the government's broader vision to bolster rural employment opportunities while addressing gender disparities. Moreover, this surge in female engagement within MGNREGA signifies a more inclusive approach to economic development, recognizing and leveraging the untapped potential of rural women.
Economic Impact and Voter Dynamics
Since 2013, the central government has channelled Rs 16.8 lakh crore directly into bank accounts, benefiting approximately 70 crore individuals through 319 schemes. Notably, 33% of this amount was transferred in the fiscal year 2020-21, signifying a surge in direct economic empowerment efforts.
Undoubtedly, the unpaid labour of women significantly bolsters the country's economy, contributing a substantial Rs 22.7 lakh crore, which accounts for 7.5% of the GDP. Moreover, the female voter base, estimated at 35 crore individuals, has emerged as a pivotal factor in electoral outcomes, notably influencing BJP's success in previous elections.
BJP's Strategy and Focus on Women
Recent state elections have evidenced BJP's strategic focus on women, yielding considerable electoral gains. Studies indicate BJP securing a higher proportion of female votes, culminating in electoral victories in multiple states. Initiatives like the creation of 1 lakh 'Lakhpati Didis' and the push for 33% reservation affirm the BJP's strategy for women-centric governance.
The Modi government has progressively amplified the allocation for gender-specific programs, with the gender budget soaring to Rs 2.23 lakh crore in the 2023-24 Budget Estimate, showcasing a significant surge from Rs 1 lakh crore in 2013-14. This resolute increase in gender-specific allocations marks a strategic commitment towards bolstering women-centric welfare schemes.
Financial Inclusion and Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana
The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana has been instrumental in financial inclusion, opening a staggering 46 crore bank accounts, of which 56% are held by women. The deposits in these accounts have tripled over the years, with the average balance projected to reach Rs 3,761 in 2022, significantly up from Rs 1,279 in 2015.
The imminent interim budget of 2024 unveils a strategic emphasis on women-centric policies by the Modi government, intending to address gender-based economic disparities. Proposals to augment support for women farmers and introduce cash transfer schemes for economically deprived women signify a proactive step towards empowerment.
However, alongside these promising initiatives, concerns loom regarding the fiscal implications of doubling Prime Minister Kisan Samman Nidhi for women farmers. The anticipated additional government burden of Rs 120 crore raises questions about sustainable financial allocation amidst competing budgetary needs.
While the reinforced focus on women in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is commendable, sustaining and further augmenting female participation might pose implementation challenges. Balancing increased prioritization with operational effectiveness remains a critical aspect to ensure tangible outcomes.
Moreover, despite the surge in the gender-specific budget to Rs 2.23 lakh crore in 2023-24, questions arise about the effective utilization and distribution of these funds across diverse women-centric welfare schemes.
Amidst these promising strides and underlying concerns, the Modi government's commitment to elevating women's socio-economic status remains evident. The upcoming budget holds the potential for transformative impacts, albeit contingent upon effective implementation and judicious fiscal management. Striking a balance between ambitious initiatives and fiscal prudence will be imperative to ensure sustainable empowerment for women across the nation.