With weeks left for the Union Budget, several eminent economists have written to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to draw his attention to the fact that maternity benefit scheme is far from being operationalised. The letter has been signed by 60 economists and academics.
These include Ajit Ranade (chief economist, Aditya Birla Group), Jean Drèze (economist and academic), Naresh Saxena (retired Secretary, Planning Commission), Reetika Khera (IIT, Delhi), Himanshu (Jawaharlal Nehru University) Jayati Ghosh (JNU) S. Mahendra Dev (director, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai) and Sukhadeo Thorat (professor emeritus, JNU), among others.
The letter said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, on December 31, 2016, announced that the Centre will comply with the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, and provide universal maternity benefits. But the Women and Child Development Ministry has still not made ‘Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojna’ operational, it said.
Under NFSA, legal entitlement of every pregnant and lactating mother (except those covered under the formal sector) is Rs 6,000 per child. In last Budget, however, the government allocated Rs 2,700 crore — a third of what is required. The rule, issued later, by the WCD Ministry restricted the benefits to Rs 5,000 for just one child per woman.
The letter also urges the Finance Minister to increase entitlement of social security pensions for senior citizens under the National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS) from the existing Rs 200 per month per person to at least Rs 500. Similarly, monthly widow pensions should be raised from Rs 300 to Rs 500, the academics suggested.