AIDWA hails focus on agrarian crisis
The All-India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) has hailed Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's initiative of taking cognisance of the huge agrarian crisis and taking steps to bring relief to farmers, who include a large number of women also. In a statement, Subhashini Ali, president, and Sudha Sundararaman, general secretary of the AIDWA, said the measures for debt waiver and debt relief did not, however, address the critical issue of loans taken from private moneylenders. Secondly, many regions in the grip of crisis such as Vidharbha and Rayalaseema were dry land, where individual holdings were usually more than two hectares, eligible for relief. The crucial question of reduction in the rate of interest to 4 per cent on agricultural loans was ignored. Finally, it was not just debt relief but rejuvenation of the entire agricultural sector through a massive increase in public spending that would alleviate this crisis, the statement said. After four years, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government heeded to the voice of lakhs of anganwadi employees but their demand for an increase in wages was met only partially. Secondly, the budget did not reflect the allocations for universalisation of the Integrated Child Development Services and make 14 lakh anganwadi centres functional by the end of 2008 as per a Supreme Court directive, especially at a time when child malnourishment and infant mortality continued to remain high. Given the huge increase in the prices of essential commodities, especially wheat, rice, pulses, it was expected that the budget would suggest measures to curb inflation, which was exacerbated by the recent increase in fuel prices. Food security The statement said the UPA gave an undertaking in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) to strengthen the public distribution system and move towards universalising it. However, the meagre increase in the food subsidy allocation from Rs. 31,456 crore last year to Rs. 32,667 crore was hardly adequate to ensure basic food security for more than 70 per cent of the population that lived below poverty line. "This cannot meet the needs of food-deficit States such as Kerala, as well as States that were adversely affected by the recent cuts in allocations of foodgrains,' it said. The allocations for health and education remained far below the targets set in the CMP and the decision to shift the burden of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan to the States showed the lack of commitment of the Centre to implement the constitutional guarantee of right to education. "As far as gender budgeting is concerned, we welcome the fact that more Ministries had provided a gender budget analysis of their expenditure,' the statement added.