Insufficient Allocation to Maternity Benefits Sector in the Budget?
The much-awaited scheme of maternity benefits entitlement of Rs. 6000 per woman, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last December, received very scant from the Union Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, in his Budget 2017 speech. This important scheme was just allocated a very meagre Rs. 2700 crores, as opposed to the earlier predictions of the allocations crossing RS. 10000 crores. This entire allocation does not match up to even a quarter of the estimate drawn up by civil society groups that have been demanding the enforcement of this entitlement that was initially promised under National Food Security Act, way back in 2013. Mr Jaitley, through this scheme, has granted a one-time payment of Rs. 6000 to pregnant and lactating women who would opt for institutional delivery and promise to vaccinate their children.
- Details of the Scheme
If we go into the details of the scheme, which were released by the Women and Child Development Ministry following the PM’s announcement on the 31st of December, it is mandatory upon the State Governments to pool in 40 per cent of the total budgeted amount with the Central Government pitching in with the rest of the resources. However, this scheme is essentially being billed as one with a conditional cash transfer as it is applicable only to women above the age of 19 years and for only those who have up to two live children.
Per the Ministry officials, the framework behind this budget estimate of Rs. 2700 crores has been achieved on the basis of a consideration of almost 90 lakh beneficiaries, after taking into account all the relevant exclusion criteria. Currently, there are provisions for 50 per cent of the amount for each of the 90 lakh women, which would mathematically come up to an aggregate of almost Rs. 2700 crores. But surprisingly, as a contrast, the latest available figure for live births, per the Civil Registration System (CRS) 2013, has been pegged at 2.6 crores.
- Civil Society Reaction
Jashodhara Dasgupta, from the National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights, has pointed out that an estimate from the think tank dealing with Budget analyses, Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, pegs the total resource allocation at a total of Rs. 16000 crores for the scheme to be nation-wide success. The think-tank projected this figure after factoring in all the exclusions from 2.6 crore, including all those women who are employed in the formal sector.
In fact, it is quite surprising how this mathematical figure of Rs. 2700 crore has been reached at. This can be grossly attributed to two considerations. Either the Government has grossly under estimated the overall allocation of funds required for implementation of such a large scheme at a national basis, or the factoring of the exclusions and disqualifications made possible due to the two-child norm and the 19-year age cut-off have made the necessary factorisation calculations faulty. This may have been possible because in India, generally, women who have more than two children are rather disproportionately found among Dalits, tribal peoples, the least educated or the poorest wealth quarter. The scheme would be a very disastrous failure if most of these women who require the assistance of this scheme the most, are left out of the generous purview of this rather well-intentioned policy initiative.
- Importance of the Scheme
This programme was in fact, first piloted by the erstwhile UPA-II regime at the Centre in October 2010. This pilot version of the program was in fact implemented in 53 districts throughout the length and breadth of the country through the existing Anganwadi centres. Because of this limited availability, the present allocation of resources is a meagre Rs. 400 crore. One of the stated objectives of the current NDA Government, as per the National Food Security Act, 2013, was to ensure the long availability and extended coverage of this program.
India holds the dubious distinction of highest number of maternal deaths, accounting for 17 per cent of global deaths due to pregnancy related medical issues or child birth related medical complications, per the UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2014. This scheme has made one of its stated aims to bring down the high maternal mortality rates by promoting institutional delivery, after ensuring proper nutrition of both the child and the mother and offsetting wage losses which are suffered due to pregnancy, especially by pregnant women who had previously been working in the unorganised sector, which amounts to almost 90 per cent of India’s gross total workforce.