The much-talked about maternity benefit entitlement of Rs 6,000 per woman, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 31, 2016, has received a meagre allocation of Rs 2,700 crore. This is not even a quarter of the estimate drawn up by civil society groups that have been long demanding enforcement of this entitlement promised under the National Food Security Act way back in 2013.
The scheme grants Rs 6,000 to pregnant and lactating women who go for institutional delivery and vaccinate their children.
As per the scheme details, released by the Women and Child Development Ministry immediately after the PM’s announcement, state governments will have to pool in 40 per cent of the amount with the Centre providing the rest. The conditional cash transfer is applicable only to women above the age of 19 years and for up to two live children.
Ministry officials said the budget estimate of Rs 2,700 crore has been drawn up taking into consideration 90 lakh beneficiaries annually after factoring in all the exclusion criteria. “We will provide for 50 per cent of the amount for each of the 90 lakh women, which works out to Rs 2,700 crore,” said the official. However, the latest available figure for live births, as per the Civil Registration System (CRS) 2013 of the Home Ministry, is 2.6 crore.
Jashodhara Dasgupta, from the National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights, pointed out that as per an estimate by the think-tank Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, a total of Rs 16,000 crore is required for the scheme annually. This estimate has been arrived at after excluding women employed in the formal sector from the figure of 2.6 crore.
“It is inexplicable how they arrived at such a small amount of Rs 2,700 crore. It is either a gross under-estimation or based on substantial amount of disqualifications and exclusions due to the two-child norm and 19-year age cut-off. In our country, the women who have more than two children are disproportionately found among Dalits, tribals, the least educated and the poorest wealth quintile. It would be very unfortunate if majority of them, who require this assistance the most, are kept out,” said Dasgupta.
The programme, which was originally started by the UPA II government in October 2010, has so long been run on pilot basis in 53 districts through the anganwadi centres. The present allocation is merely Rs 400 crore. The NDA government had to, as per the National Food Security Act, 2013, long ensure universal coverage of the scheme.
India holds the record for the highest number of maternal deaths, accounting for 17 per cent of global deaths due to pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications, according to the UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2014. The scheme is meant to bring down the high maternal mortality rates by promoting institutional delivery, ensure proper nutrition of the child and mother and offset wage losses suffered due to pregnancy, especially by women in the unorganised sector, who make up 90 per cent of the country’s female workforce.
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