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Budget gives boost to women, child development schemes


New Delhi : Schemes to improve female literacy, credit support and microfinance to rural women as well as children’s heath and education have been given prime importance in the union budget announced Monday.

The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme – for providing health, nutrition and education services to children up to six years of age, pregnant women and nursing mothers – has been granted Rs.6,705 crore (Rs.67.05 billion) in the budget.

While presenting the budget in parliament, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said: “The government is committed to the universalisation of the ICDS scheme in the country. By March 2012, all services under ICDS would be extended with quality to every child under the age of six.”

Launched in 1975, the ICDS scheme is also the ruling United Progressive Alliance’s flagship programme.

In his speech, the minister also addressed the issue of the low female literacy rate (54.16 percent as per the 2001 census) and announced a National Mission for Female Literacy to tackle the problem in three years.

He said: “The low level of literacy continues to be a matter of grave concern. It has, therefore, been decided to launch a National Mission for Female Literacy. The aim of the Mission would be to reduce by half, the current level of female illiteracy, in three years. This mission will focus on minorities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other marginalised groups.”

Mukherjee said the government proposes to enrol at least 50 percent of all rural women in the country as members of Self Help Groups (SHGs) over the next five years and link these SHGs to banks.

He said: “The Women’s SHG movement is bringing about a profound transformation in rural areas and today over 22 lakh (2.2 million) such groups are linked with banks.”

As per the budget, more will be invested in the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh scheme that works on the facilitation of credit support and microfinance to poor women. The corpus of the scheme will be increased to Rs.500 crores (Rs.5 billion) from the existing Rs.100 crore (Rs.1 billion), the minister said.

The budget also allocated Rs.60 crore (Rs.600 million) for the proposed Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) for addressing the need for child protection through government and civil society partnership.

In all, the total amount allocated to the women and child development (WCD) ministry is Rs.7,420 crore (Rs.74.2 billion) – much higher than last year’s Rs.6,919 crores (Rs.69.19 billion), indicated in the 2008-2009 revised budget.