Union Budget 2019: With India’s first full-time female Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman having already helmed the Industry, Commerce, and Defense sectors in her previous portfolios, the upcoming Annual Union Budget for 2019-20 appears to be in safe hands. With a fellow woman poised to present the nation’s budget, women in India would have set their expectations high for a women-friendly and supportive Union Budget.
Here are some expectations from the Budget exercise that women may want considered.
Patient hearing from the Finance Ministry
The modern-day Indian woman seeks a more hands-on role in deciding the country’s affairs. It is not much of a surprise than that Nirmala Sitharaman has already invited budget ideas from the public, including women. Such a unique crowd sourcing of budget ideas makes for a good start. This may eventually help draft a Budget that fulfills more in women’s wish lists than in the past.
STEP boost for female entrepreneurship
Indian women have a strong entrepreneurial spirit. As per a Nielson-Britannia survey, almost 48% of non-working housewives in India have high aspirations to start a business or be self-sufficient financially. However, the lack of skill development owing to social taboos or dearth of skill refinement centers closer home hampers their entrepreneurial goals. The government does offer the Support to Training and Employment Program (STEP) for women but budgetary allocations have been downsized from Rs 40 crore to Rs 5 crore. This can be increased.
Stronger emphasis on women’s safety
Women safety is an area that needs more emphasis than just financial allocations. More technologically advanced solutions are expected to be introduced in areas of women safety in both urban and rural areas across the country. At the same time, existing solutions like mobile SOS, camera surveillance in public transport, and all-women patrols need to be made more pervasive and widely used.
Sops for women workforce participation
Women workforce numbers have been on the decline across industries. From 32% in 2016 to 23% in 2018, lack of women-centric policies have hampered growth of women in the corporate world. Steps like introduction of compulsory annual diversity reports or leadership training for women linked with corporate tax structure can help enterprises grow while promoting women workforce in the country.
Increase in IT exemption limit and 80C
Just as the reduction in women employees’ contribution to EPF from 12% to 8% for first three years in the interim Budget was a welcome move, the wish list for the full Budget includes an increase in the IT exemption limits and Section 80C for women. Since women generally earn less than their male counterparts, any increase in tax exemption limits helps working women retain more in hand, especially since they tend to invest more for their families.
Deduction for day care expenses
In the interim Budget of 2019, the National Crèche Scheme saw a reduction in budgetary allocation from Rs 200 crore to Rs 128 crore. In today’s world where both spouses are working, it is the families and children that are largely left ignored. Women tax payers are looking at the Finance Minister to fulfill the long-pending demand of introducing a ‘parental leave’ on the lines of maternity leave. Alternatively, introduction of tax deduction for expenses incurred for various day care facilities or crèche centers ranks high on their wish list.
Access to clean cooking fuels
While cleaner cooking fuels may be a given for urban Indian women, their rural counterparts are still deprived of this social enabler that also safeguards their health. While the Pradhan Mantri Ujjawala Yojana managed to provide 6 crore connections against the target of 8 crore connections, which is commendable, the Finance Minister is expected to take this concern as a priority in the upcoming Budget.
Hopes run high among the female populace of India as a go-getter Finance Minister gears up for her first Union Budget presentation. It is time for the Indian woman of today to get her due.
(By Nisary M, Founder, Hermoneytalks.com and Partner, Hubwords Media)