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India’s General Budget 2020: A Roadmap for Sustainable Economic Development

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Pooja Paswan
January 26, 2020

“Sustainable development is the pathway to the future we want for all. It offers a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strengthen governance.”
~Ban Ki-moon (8th Secretary-General of the United Nations)

India’s General Budget 2020 comes in the midst of declining GDP growth rate to 4.8% in FY20 from 6.1% estimated in October 2019. The labor market, a vital indicator in a country with a population of 1.4 billion, is vulnerable. The unemployment rate has climbed to a 45-year high of 6.1%. There is an urgent need for policymakers to grasp the untapped potential of the strategic rural investment sector.

The Dawn of the Decade 2020

The year 2020 is a milestone for India in a myriad of ways. The country has a remaining ten years to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) commitments.

The 2020 general budget comes after roughly three decades of the 1991 economic reforms, which were introduced with the goal of making the economy more market and service-oriented, and expanding the role of private and foreign investment.

The 1991 economic reforms looked outwards for support to bolster and boost the economy. However, the budget of 2020 will require an inward approach to navigate through and strengthen the twin engines of growth: consumption and investment.

Do We Need a SDGs Sensitive Budget?

The current administration must channel the ethos of the 17 SDGS and structure an economic reforms model targeted specifically for a holistic continuous development.

End Poverty in All Forms Everywhere

The end of poverty can only be achieved with the end of, “Gender-based discrimination,” and, “Rural based discrimination.” All over the world, gender inequality makes and keeps women poor, depriving them of basic rights and opportunities for well-being. Poverty comes with many risks and discrimination leaves women less resilient to these risks.

In an economic downturn, poor women, particularly in rural areas, are less likely to have savings and abilities to make up for lost income. Poor girls are more than twice as likely to marry in childhood as those who are wealthy. They then face potentially life threatening risks from early pregnancy, and often lose hopes for an education and a better income.

The policymakers have often confused urbanization with development. There is a dire need to acknowledge the rural economy as a potential arena for investment by mapping its diverse consumption pattern. Rural income transfers should help much more immediately in terms of consumer spending.

Health and Food Security

Rural healthcare industry is an untapped sector. This includes coverage for reproductive health and communicable diseases. This leave a lacunae in the medical insurance sector restricting the healthcare demand for need and emergency basis. This is further narrowed down to prioritizing healthcare access for males and very few women only.  

These inequities can render women more susceptible to sickness and less likely to obtain care, for reasons ranging from affordability to social conventions keeping them at home. Among women of reproductive age worldwide, AIDS is now the leading cause of death. Not only are women biologically more susceptible to HIV transmission, but their unequal social and economic status undercuts abilities to protect themselves and make empowered choices.

Despite these constraints, women play a critical role as stewards of the land, comprising much of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. They are the primary collectors of resources such as wood for fuel, as well as wild foods and herbs for medicines. Their knowledge about traditional practices that are inherently sustainable, however, is often excluded from decisions about sustainable ecosystems. This is a loss in terms of prospects for sustainable ecosystem use, which also depends on gender equality in all other dimensions—access to land, livelihoods and natural resources, and a say in how these resources are shared. Women, particularly indigenous women, need to be included in decisionmaking on ecosystem use at all levels, as essential players in creating a sustainable economic model.

Coexistence of Education and Gender Parity

Education is a right. It empowers individuals to increase their well-being and contributes to broader social and economic gains. Improved education accounts for about 50% of economic growth in Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development countries over the past five decades. About half is due to more women entering higher levels of education, and greater equality as to the duration men and women spend in school. The stark gender disparities remain in economic and political realms. While there has been some progress over the decades, on average women in the labor market still earn 24% less than men globally.

Infrastructure and Energy Security

Sustainable modern energy fuels development, from the light that allows a child to do her homework to streetlamps allowing women to travel safely home at night. Universal access requires energy to be affordable and reliable. Generating it must not irreversibly harm the environment.

In households, women are often the primary energy managers. When modern sources are not available, they spend hours each day collecting fuel to cook and heat their homes. Many suffer poor health through indoor air pollution generated, for example, by a rudimentary stove that smokes heavily as it burns wood or animal dung. Some indications suggest that women are more likely than men to conserve energy—using up to 22% less, including through a greater willingness to alter everyday behaviors.

However, women are largely absent in the industries that produce modern sources of renewable energy, comprising only 20% of the workforce. As primary energy managers in households, women could play powerful roles in extending sustainable modern energy. All elements of energy planning and policymaking need to factor in gender dimensions and actively advance women’s leadership.

The onset of the new decade will require a strong political will on the part of the current government to overhaul the conventional pattern of identification and allocation of resources. A well charted rural finance and investment growth module needs to be prepared to effectively tap the rich vein of the rural economic sector. We must remember a holistic development towards a secure future can only be achieved when we, “Leave no one behind.”  


Author: Pooja Paswan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India. She has Ph. D in Public Administration and specializes in Public Policy. She was recipient of the ASPA 2019 Founders Fellow. She has worked extensively in the area of development administration and policy. She can be reached at https://jmi.academia.edu/PoojaPaswan and [email protected]. Twitter @poojapaswan

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