Funds crunch hits maternity benefit programme
As per the scheme, pregnant and lactating mothers are provided a cash incentive of Rs 6,000 upon fulfilling several preconditions.
New Delhi: The Maternity Benefit Programme (MBP), which was part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's televised address on New Year's Eve, will now benefit only the birth of the first child due to lack of funds under the recent Budget announcement.
Top ministry sources confirmed that the amount of Rs 2,700 crore set aside for MBP in the Union Budget 2017-2018 was insufficient and, therefore, the scheme will be revised to cater to the birth of the first child alone. Earlier, it was applicable for "the first two live births".
Ironically, this downward revision is accompanied by plans to universalise the scheme, necessitated by the Right to Food Act, 2013.
In his address to the nation on December 31 last year, Modi had announced pan-India expansion of the existing Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana which was being implemented across 56 districts on pilot-basis since 2010.
As per the scheme, pregnant and lactating mothers are provided a cash incentive of Rs 6,000 upon fulfilling several preconditions. This is meant to compensate women for loss of wages and also aims to provide them adequate nutrition and rest before and after delivery as well as enable them to breastfeed the newborn.
"This is clearly a cost-cutting measure. It is completely discriminatory against those who happen to be born as second or third children because clearly they will be deprived of the kind of maternal care, breastfeeding and all the other entitlements they should get.
"This is a really disastrous step for India to take given that India already has severe child nutrition and child survival problems. It is a shocking disregard for maternal health concerns because they will get support only for their first pregnancy," says Jashodhara Dasgupta, CEO, SAHAYOG.
An official statement issued by Women and Child Development Ministry days after Modi's speech pegged the total expenditure for the Maternity Benefit Programme to be Rs 12,661 crore, out of which Centre's share was Rs 7,932 crore.
However, in the recent Union Budget announcement the ministry received only Rs 2,700 crores -a third of its calculation.
The amount granted to the ministry for the programme is also a fifth of what was arrived at in the Report of Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution in January, 2013. The committee had then determined an amount of Rs 14,512 crore for implementation of MBP.
"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.
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