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Invisible? Union budget 2019-20 "ignores" women farmers, agricultural labourers

By Dr Soma KP*
The Government of India has placed a budget before us without attention to the analysis of its own achievements and failures, which an assessment of the economy should normally provide. In the absence of an assessment it is like shooting in dark for quick and sharp political gain and media byte by hyping what's good for the middle class who construct the discourse and debunk any debate about rising poverty and inequality.
The budget hides a reality by seeking to offer petty sops. The announcement of "income support of Rs 6,000 per family to small and marginal farmers owning up to 5 acres land" is much less than what the Odisha and Andhra Pradesh governments have offered to its farmers -- Rs 10,000 and 8000 per acre, respectively, per year.
Rs 6,000 per hectare (ha) is like a handout to be given come election time; with three installments it means that Rs 2000 per ha at election time and two more such doses to flow thereafter to families (read head of household – men) with no reference to the invisible women farmers.
As with food security benefit, they could have well assured that this amount goes to women to run their households and ensure even basic needs, but that sense did not prevail. Appeasement politics of crumbs are on offer.
For peasants and farm labourers there is almost nothing in the budget, except that they could benefit as informal sector workers for those above 60 years of age, provided of course residence proof and other requirements are met (not to mention insistence continually being on aadhaar for government scheme benefits to flow, and proof of citizenship to boot, especially in the North East).
While the poor farmers are reeling under cutbacks in schemes for health expenditure, pension and direct cash transfers rampant with potential for corruption, and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is rendered redundant with paucity of funds in timely manner, causing communities to opt for migration rather than put in demands for MGNREGS works.
Other compulsions of (private) insurance for loans for crop loans, as input costs continue to rise for Seidel, fertilizers, insecticides and seeds, all this means that there is no light at the end of the agrarian crisis tunnel and nor does there seem hope of MSP increase.
The low liftoff of produce from farmers is evident as market driven solutions prevail, causing farmers to sell farm produce and even cattle and ruminants at low prices to repay debt, which only perpetuates the cycle of debt driven suicides. There are no irrigation announcements except drip irrigation subsidies that will flow eventually to corporates.
The food subsidy bill remains almost stagnant at Rs 1,70,000 crore this year as compared to last year's figure although the finance minister throws in a comparison of four years ago! But the all-time high in defence expenditure tells us the story of where priority lies in incomes from defence contracts to feed more corporate and destructive greed in the name of national security optics.
Such is the vision of this government for the future!
The pension scheme for 42 crore workers reveals the stark reality of the level of distress among informal sector workers who must depend on government doles in the sunset years, a pension which may barely give them a square meal each day. And there is little in the budget for the unemployed young seeking to find work.
The income tax relief measures and the standard deduction as well as the second house property taxation exemption offer a silver lining to the middle class organized sector workers but are meaningless to the lower income groups, and more so for women as they can seldom gain ownership of property.
The budget is a stop gap step-up to election mode for the ruling class, wherein the poor farmers and especially peasant women farmers have been disowned and rendered potentially even more vulnerable.
Dr Soma
By undermining the imperative of redressing the agrarian crisis and the burgeoning unemployment, not to mention how all this destructive development may impact on our ecological wellbeing; one wonders at the audacity and intent behind the optics when reference is drawn to a vision for 2030!
All peasants, youth and rural women must assert their political prowess to expose this betrayal and status quoist intent evident in the urban organized sector bias in the budget and claim their space and share in the future of the nation's economic progress.
---
*With Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM)

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