Insights from India’s latest Budget-Delving into Nutrition and Women’s Priorities

March 13th, 2024

Many sectors in India are still grappling with the multi-dimensional impact of COVID-19 pandemic.While the budget focuses largely on infrastructure development to boost growth, there is a need to focus on tackling the inequalities that deepened during the pandemic.  This is particularly important given how sectors with long term impact such as education, nutrition, and healthcare among others, were a hard hit.

In the interim budget 2024, there was a need for creating fiscal space to address some of the challenges and disparities. While aspects of this were evident in the Budget, many others need to be addressed through tangible initiatives in the future. We take a quick look at India’s interim Budget 2024, to examine its responsiveness to addressing gender-based needs and challenges, along with aspects related to nutrition and education see some aspects of fiscal spending on sectors like gender, nutrition, and education.

This year, fiscal consolidation has been prioritised, containing the deficit at 5.8 per cent for this year, and projecting a further reduction to 5.1 per cent in the next fiscal year. Emphasis on this approach might lead to reduced allocation for social welfare programmes, impacting vulnerable populations and social development. The claimed 50 per cent increase in average real income overlooks the unprecedented circumstances caused by the pandemic, the ensuing economic slowdown, and the already low base year due to these effects.

How gender responsive was the budget?

The overall gender budget indicated in the Gender Budget Statement (GBS) for 2024-25 was nearly 6.5 per cent of the total public expenditure estimated this fiscal, which was higher than the proportion in previous years. Some of the schemes for women in particular are discussed below.

The combined allocation for the rural and urban housing schemes[1], which mandates that houses given under the scheme are owned by women or jointly with males, constituted 71.8 per cent of the total Part A allocation of the Gender Budget Statement (GBS). (Part A includes schemes with 100% allocation towards women.) This inflates the total gender budget, and thus the actual share that will reduce gender inequalities is lower.

The Lakhpati Didi scheme which aims to empower women within Self Help Groups by enhancing their skills for livelihood intervention, has increased the beneficiary target from 20 to 30 million in term of beneficiaries (two to three crore). However, it’s crucial to evaluate whether it’s effectively supporting these women in attaining long-term empowerment. The recent increase in female labour force participation (reaching 37 per cent in 2022-23 while still below 2020 levels pre-pandemic) also appears to be driven by an increase in self-employment among rural women, specifically in the categories of unpaid helpers and self-employed workers. Apart from these self-employment initiatives, no new targeted interventions can be ascertained in the interim budget to boost women’s employment.

Tracking allocations for individual schemes has been difficult since restructuring of schemes in 2021-22. The overall allocation for Mission Shakti, an umbrella scheme focusing on the safety, security and empowerment of women has remained stagnant, compared to 2023-24 . Low allocations, underutilisation of funds pose challenges to the implementation of schemes for women’s safety.


The initiatives aimed at improving nutritional outcomes, Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0 are integrated nutrition support programmes aimed at combating malnutrition among children, adolescent girls, pregnant women, and lactating mothers.  They have experienced reductions in funding compared to the revised estimates of the previous year. Funding for these initiatives decreased by 1.77 per cent in real terms when adjusted for inflation. Poshan Tracker launched two years ago, to monitor the program’s progress is a positive effort in improving transparency and efficiency in delivering the program.  While using technology for monitoring delivery of services is important, addressing underlying issues requires a more comprehensive approach by prioritizing adequate budgets to enhance the effectiveness of interventions.

The Early Childhood Care and Education-ECCE program, Poshan Bhi Padhai Bhi (Education along with nutrition) launched in 2022 is in alignment with the objectives of the new education policy. This programme offers daily pre-school instruction and nutrition to children under the age of 6 while also developing a network of Anganwadi centres (childcare centers providing  services).  While providing these services to children for their holistic development, recognition of the anganwadi workers services in operating the centres and delivering the services is essentially is vital to addressing the pressing demands of Anganwadi workers for an honorarium increase. Inadequate compensation can negatively impact these frontline workers’ willingness to perform. Despite their longstanding demand, the budget speech announced extending insurance cover to beneficiaries for hospitalisation and treatment.

While POSHAN-2 emphasises the inclusion of millets and 100 percent fortified rice in the meals component of the program, it remains unclear if these measures adequately tackle concerns about meal quality and dietary diversity. The new guidelines focus primarily on defining roles and responsibilities for duty holders, overlook the necessity of a comprehensive framework with adequate budgets for improving implementation. Despite numerous sensitisation activities, sustaining efforts to promote infant and young child feeding practices remain challenging, due to lack of adequate budget for training Anganwadi workers who play a key role in counseling mothers.

In conclusion, while the increase in size of gender budget is noteworthy, it necessitates an objective evaluation of its effectiveness in mitigating the exacerbated gender inequality in India due to the pandemic. To remedy the situation, we would need to understand what exactly is driving gender inequality in its diverse dimensions.  Despite these gaps, some positive aspects in terms of labour market participation are shining light on where things can be improved. The nutrition outcomes that persisted even after the pandemic have not been adequately addressed in terms of the budget allocated for flagship programs like POSHAN and Saksham Anganwadi. One hopes to see a more comprehensive approach to addressing gender equality and nutrition challenges in the full budget to be presented in July.


[1] The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) is a government initiative that works towards providing ‘Housing for All by 2024’. PMAY-G will provide houses of 25 sqm to be built under the PMAY-G scheme. The PMAY rural scheme beneficiaries are identified using the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC).


Image by AkshayaPatra Foundation from Pixabay

Written by Happy Pant, Policy Engagement Lead & Sarah Farooqui, Senior Policy Analyst

Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), Delhi

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