From empowering women to promoting women as principal stakeholders in India’s development marks a major shift in policy approach. The Interim Budget 2024-25 reinforced the government’s commitment to ‘women-led development’ — one of the six focal points of India’s G-20 presidency.

Nari Shakti (women power) for accelerated economic development was recognised as one of the four pillars of Prime Minister’s policy agenda. The other three are: uplifting Garib (poor) out of poverty; ensuring that Yuvas (Youth) develop their fullest potential; and raising income levels of the Annadata (farmers). Together the four GYAN pillars denote the key thrusts for future policy making.

Of these four pillars, Nari Shakti, received special attention in the Interim Budget. Buoyed by the success of Lakhpati Didi scheme, which enabled one crore women to earn over ₹1.0 lakh annually, the target has been raised from two to three crore women. The scheme relies on the agency of 83 lakh Self Help Groups, which have over nine crore women members. The success of Lakhpati Didi scheme has encouraged the SHGs to extend their activities to other promising areas like natural farming, running of community services centres, commercial bank intermediaries and operation of drones.

Financial access

These initiatives along with the success of financial inclusion programme have contributed in empowering women entrepreneurs specially in India’s rural areas.

Access to financial services betters women’s control over household resources, and is the route to access credit and insurance, and receive benefits from government schemes directly into their bank accounts.

In her Interim Budget speech, Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman also expanded the Ayushman Bharat’s medical insurance to all Anganwadi and Asha workers.

In June 2023, World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, ranked India 127 out of 146 countries, highlighting the need for India to combat the problem of ‘missing women’ from the workforce. These rankings will improve with female enrolment in higher education increasing by 28 per cent over the last decade. The Periodic Labour Force Survey of June 2023 reports that female labour force participation rate improved from 23.3 per cent in 2017-18 to 37 per cent in 2022-23.

The reservation of 33 per cent parliamentary constituencies for women marks a major step in this direction.

Initiatives like ‘Ujjwala Yojana’ reduce the drudgery of daily household work for women. Success of the ‘Swatch Bharat Abhiyan’, and implementation of programs like ‘Har Ghar Nal Se Jal’, have helped raise the self-esteem of women and reduced their back-breaking work load. Higher enrolment in tertiary education, along with measures that provide greater time from household chores, will further improve female participation in the workforce.

Under the PM-Kaushal Vikas Yojana, until mid-2022 over 59 lakh women have been certified, comprising of about 40 per cent of the total certifications. Under the PM-Mudra Yojana about 70 per cent of loans have been sanctioned to women entrepreneurs; and around 80 per cent of Stand-Up India scheme beneficiaries are women.

For accomplishing Digital India’s ambitious targets, 53 per cent of beneficiaries of Rural Digital Literacy Campaign were women. Under PM-AWAS Yojana (Gramin), 26 per cent of the completed houses, are exclusively in women’s name and 69 per cent are jointly in the name of wife and husband.

The Interim Budget shows that good economics can also be good politics. Let’s hope that this starts a much needed new trend in budget making.

Rajiv is Chairman of the Pahle India Foundation (PIF), Delhi. Chavi is Visiting Fellow at PIF