Chidambaram’s Budget 2013 was great for Women...or was it?

Akrita Reyar

From the ramparts of North Block, the Finance Minister must have seen the collective rage of a nation erupt in the most pristine and prestigious part of Lutyens Delhi – the Rashtrapati Bhavan - over the gang-rape and death of an unnamed young woman in December 2012.

So it was no surprise that her memory was solemnly evoked when P Chidambaram read out the Union Budget 2013-14. He recalled: “Recent incidents have cast a long, dark shadow on our liberal and progressive credentials. As more women enter public spaces – for education or work or access to services or leisure – there are more reports of violence against them. We stand in solidarity with our girl children and women. And we pledge to do everything possible to empower them and to keep them safe and secure.”

Whether it was lip service or heartfelt cannot be said, but a commemorative ‘Nirbhaya Fund’ has been set up with a corpus of Rs 1,000 crore. Nirbhaya (fearless), as one would recall, was the name given by newspapers to the victim to hide her actual identity.

The amount would be at the disposal of the Ministry of Women and Child Development and other concerned ministries and used towards promoting safety of women and for their empowerment.

Besides, an additional Rs 200 crore has been allocated for the Ministry of Women and Child Development to design schemes to fight gender discrimination everywhere, especially at workplace.

A much-awaited announcement regarding an all women’s bank also came through. Considering the large number of women heading most of the leading banks in India, this was both symbolic and anticipated.

The bank, which would be set up with an initial capital of Rs 1,000 cr, would be mainly staffed by women and serve the primary motive of lending money to women and women-run businesses, support women SHGs and help women earn a livelihood.

Necessary approvals and the banking licence are likely to be obtained by October 2013.

For handloom sector workers, particularly women, working capital and term loans would be extended at a concessional interest of 6%. About 150,000 individual weavers and 1,800 primary cooperative societies are likely to benefit in 2013-14 from this move. An additional sum of Rs 96 crore has also been allotted to the Ministry of Textiles for interest subvention.

However, for the working women, there is not much to cheer with no special benefits being announced for them either by the way of higher income tax exemption limits or any special saving or investment instruments.