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Universal maternity benefit: Govt of India allocates "fraction" of what is actually required, say experts, activists

By Our Representative
The Government of India's (GoI's) allocation of Rs 7,348 crore over the next three financial years as universal maternity entitlement has been termed as a “fraction of what is actually required”, even assuming the only two births are covered under the Maternity Benefit Programme (MBP), announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his new year speech.
Strongly objecting to the amount, officially declared by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on January 3, Jean Dreze, Belgian-born Indian development economist and activist who is known to be a top follower of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, has said that, at the current birth rate of 20 per 1,000 in India, and the GoI's allocation “doesn't add up.”
Says Dreze, who is visiting professor at Ranchi University, the current population is around 130 crore, so the number of births per year must be around 26 million. And, if India really wishes to implement the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, by providing Rs the benefit of Rs 6,000, allocation should be Rs 14,000 per year.
“At Rs 6,000 per birth, universal maternity entitlements (assuming, optimistically, that 10% births are already covered under the formal sector) would cost Rs 14,000 crore per year”, Dreze says.
“However”, he adds, in the plan officially released, “The Central government’s contribution for the next three financial years is only Rs 7,348 crore, or Rs 2,449 crore per year. With a 60:40 ratio for centre/state contributions, this means a total of barely Rs 4,000 crore per year.”
Dreze's objection comes close on the heels of analysts declaring (click HERE to read) that Modi’s claim of “new” maternity benefit scheme of Rs 6,000 to be transferred directly to the beneficiary was “misleading”.
“We fact-checked his claim, and found that the provision of Rs 6,000 to pregnant women already exists as part of the NFSA, 2013”, says an analysis, adding, “Therefore, his claim of the benefit being a new scheme is incorrect.”
Meanwhile, right to food activists have objected to the Ministry of Women and Child allocating only 60% per cent of the amount, leaving the rest to the states to allocate the remaining 40%.
Quoting official sources, Sejal Dand, founder-director, Area Networking and Development Initiatives (ANANDI), which has been working with rural poor women of Gujarat, says, earlier, only day to day implementation and administrative matters were to be be the responsibility of the state governments.
While starting implementation of the NFSA, 2013, a Women and Child Development letter to all state secretaries on November 13, 2013 said that the Act's provision was being extended from select 59 districts to all Indian districts, with the Centre contributing 75% and states 25%. However, on February 3, 2014, the Government of India turned it into a 100% Centrally-sponsored scheme.
Under the scheme, all pregnant women and lactating mothers, excluding the Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers who are in regular employment with Central or State governments or Public Sector Undertakings, or those who are in receipt of similar benefits under any law are eligible for the cash benefit of Rs 6,000.

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