The fund allocated in the 2017-18 Budget to Maternity Benefit Programme announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address to the nation on New Year’s eve is “inadequate”, despite a nearly seven-fold increase, considering it has been expanded to 650 districts, experts have pointed out.
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The scheme announced by Modi sets to expand the scope of the existing Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IJMSY), which provides Rs 6,000 to pregnant and lactating mothers, from the current 53 districts to 650 districts, thereby increasing its reach by over 12 times.
However, the Budget announcement has not stepped up funds for this scheme proportionately. An amount of Rs 2,700 crore has been set aside in this Budget, which is nearly a seven-fold increase as compared to Rs 400 crore last fiscal.
The funds for MBP scheme is a fifth of government’s own estimate of Rs 14,512 crores needed to execute this programme. “At the rate of Rs 1,000 per month for 6 months, the scheme expenditure towards maternity benefits to 2.25 crore pregnant and lactating women works out to be Rs 14,512 crore per annum,” said the Report of Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution in January 2013.
The amount promised in the Budget is a third of what the Women and Child Development Ministry, too, had estimated in its official statement last month.
“The Government of India’s share for 2017-2018 is Rs 7,348 crore,” it had said in a press statement. Questions have also been raised about the government’s estimate of 51.7 lakh beneficiaries, which activists says is a “huge underestimation”.
“According to Census 2011, approximately 30 million women in India are pregnant annually. Out of this 27 million women have live births. Further, about 50-60 per cent of them have the birth order 1 or 2. As the scheme is applicable only for first two births and for mothers above the age of 18 years, approximately 15-18 million pregnant women are entitled to this scheme,” says Aparajita Gogoi, Executive Director, Centre for Catalysing Change.
The scheme also has several pre-conditions. According to Aparajita Gogoi, a woman has to meet five pre-requisites– registering pregnancy within first 4 months, receiving iron tables and tetanus injection, et al– for availing the first installment of Rs 3,000 she is entitled.
Other 11 pre-requisites– registering child birth, taking various vaccines for the infant, getting the child weighed at least 2 times, et al– are needed to be followed for the remaining Rs 3,000 in the second installment. Experts say these conditionalities make the scheme exclusionary.
“Many of these services that women are meant to avail in order to qualify for the grant are not available in peripheral areas, hard-to-reach areas and in urban slums. As a result, there is an inherent contradiction when you say women can’t avail the scheme if they don’t use these services because many a times these health services are just not available,” says Jashodhara Dasgupta, CEO, SAHAYOG.
She is also opposed to the two-child norm. “Data from NFHS-3 says that the most vulnerable groups, which include the dalits, the adivasis, least educated and poorest wealth groups, are most likely to have more than two children. If you leave out the very social groups who need the cash support the most then how do you propose to improve maternal health and bring down maternal mortality,” Jashodhara asked.
While the objective of the programme is to compensate wage loss to pregnant and lactating women and to ensure better health and nutrition for them and the newborn, many say that an amount of Rs 6,000 is insufficient.
“Women should get a wage equivalent of six months and not merely Rs 6,000. The amount decided by the government should at least be based on minimum wages. For us the battle continues to ensure this economic and reproductive right,” says Jashodhara.
The scheme was launched by UPA-II in 2010 on pilot basis in 53 districts. However, its expansion across the country has been due since 2013 when the National Food Security Act came into being. The programme seeks to check maternal deaths, which is the highest in India at 17 per cent of the global maternal deaths.