Think of the vast majority of women in India, and the most common image that comes to mind is of them walking miles to fetch water in villages or lined up in urban slums to collect water, fetching firewood, working in the fields, on construction sites, as domestic helps in cities – all of this and also cooking and caring for their families. Invisible and unrecognized drudgery is their destiny and this plight continues unchanged.

How has the Modi Sarkar approached this plight? Two years of the much-hyped ‘achhe din’ of the Modi government have only meant more ‘bad days’ for women, as the Budget allocation for social sector programmes that directly affect women’s wellbeing, such as MGNREGA, Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and so forth, have been cut or have not been reinforced.

Some of these programmes offer a meagre livelihood to millions of women, who work at anganwadis and as ASHAs or cooks in schools. Their work makes a critical contribution to health and nutrition of children which is otherwise in a dismal state. All this, at a measly remuneration of Rs 3,000 for anganwadi workers and Rs 1,500 for helpers a month, which is less than half the minimum wage declared by the governments for similar jobs.

Any cut in allocation for these programmes, therefore, means a direct hit at the nutrition, health and education of the most vulnerable link — women and girl-child — in the spending chain of governments as well as families. In most families, any increased economic distress almost always results in cutbacks for the girls and women – in terms of food, or healthcare or education. This is the patriarchal mindset at work.

Take MGNREGA, where women form a majority of the workforce. After two consecutive monsoon failures and drought conditions hitting around 10 States, some studies have pointed out that only 7 per cent of the total rural households registered in these States have got work for more than 100 days. With the Modi government starving MGNREGA of funds, reports are pouring in from many States of delayed payment of wages. As per an estimate, by the end of 2014-15, nine States were left with pending wages worth Rs 1203 crore, which were cleared only after these States got funds for 2015-16. By linking payment of wages with the quantum of work done by them, women workers once again stand to be affected the most.  

The allocation for ICDS has also been slashed by Rs 1,500 crore (from Rs 15,300 allocated to Rs 14,000 crore in the revised estimate of 2015-16), directly impacting women’s livelihoods as well as child health. Also, there is no provision in the budget for universal maternity benefit entitlement of Rs 6,000 to all pregnant and lactating mothers as committed to under the National Food Security Act.

The suffering of women, especially the elderly and destitute, will also get aggravated as large-scale migration to cities is being reported following the unabated agrarian crisis and rural distress. In such a situation, no effort has been made by the Centre to even think of raising the measly old age pension fixed at Rs 200 since 2007-2008.

Coming to health, in a country where over 75 per cent of the population spends out-of-pocket for healthcare, under-funding public health instead of strengthening it will further affect women and girls the most, spending on which is anyway is low down in a family’s priority.

According to Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, given the impact of inflation and population increase, the rise in allocation for the National Health Mission, a flagship programme for strengthening the public health system, from Rs.19,135.37 crore in 2015-16 to Rs.19,437 for 2016-17 “actually represents a 6-7 per cent  decrease, per capita.”

Expenditure on the Tribal Sub Plan for the uplift of this marginalised section of the population, which is supposed to be 8.6 per cent of the total Plan expenditure, has also been slashed by almost half to 4.4 per cent, a shortfall of Rs 24,000 crore.

Similarly, in the case of the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan, the expenditure is pegged at 7 per cent of the total, when it should be 16.6 per cent — a shortfall of Rs 52,470 crore.

That women have a coveted place only in Prime Minister’s Modi’s speeches not actions is clear from the 50 per cent cut in the allocation for the Women & Child Development Ministry, which handles key schemes for women and child welfare.

The total gender budget, too, had decreased from 4.19 per cent of the total expenditure in 2014-2015 to 3.71 per cent in 2015-2016.

 “In absolute terms, this constitutes a decrease of 12.2 per cent in the gender budget and an almost 49.3 per cent decrease in the allocation for the WCD Ministry over the revised budget of 2014-15,” according to the All India Democratic Women’s Association. In fact, there had been a Rs 20,000 crore cut across all Ministries when it comes to the gender budget.

In sum, while claiming that it has left more funds in the hands of States due to higher devolution, the Modi government, while polarising the country on religious lines by shouting hollow slogans like ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’  has so far only ensured that its fiscal deficit is checked at the cost of depriving women and children of nutrition under ICDS, jobs under MGNREGA, health benefits and pensions.

Allocation for schemes that impact women/girls (Rs crores)











Mid-day Meal










National Health Mission





Rural Drinking Water Scheme






Source: Centre for Budget and Governance Accountabilit