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Just 1% of targeted Indian women "receive" maternal benefit under Modi's aadhaar-linked Matru Vandana project

By Our Representative
A year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that the government would provide maternity benefit of Rs 6,000, under the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY), which succeeded the previous UPA government’s Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY), just about 1% of the targeted beneficiaries have so far been covered under the much-trumpeted scheme.
Revealing this, well-known Belgian-born Indian developmental economist Jean Deze, known to be a close associate of Nobel laureate Amarya Sen, has said in a blog that while RGMSY has been “discontinued”, the PMMVY has been “held up by a series of delays”, and, “according to a recent statement of the ministry of women and child development, only 10,000 women have received maternity benefits under PMMVY so far.”
Modi’s announcement, made on December 31, “possibly aimed at sweetening the demonetisation pill”, however, failed to mention is that the maternity entitlements of Rs 6,000 per child, which he referred to, was only “a legal right of all Indian women since 2013 under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), and that his government had done nothing about it”, Dreze writes.
“The finance ministry made a modest allocation of Rs 2,700 crore for maternity benefits in the 2017-18 Budget – a fraction of what is required for universal coverage as per NFSA norms”, says Dreze, who is visiting professor at Ranchi University and honorary professor at the Delhi School of Economics, adding, this was followed by the women and child development ministry designing the new scheme for this purpose, which came to known as IGMY. “Workshops were organised, guidelines prepared and software developed.”
Jean Dreze
“PMMVY involves a blatantly illegal dilution of women’s rights under NFSA”, Dreze says, adding, “Not only are the benefits conditional, as with IGMSY, they are also restricted to one child per woman. In fact, they are restricted to the first living child. This means that any woman who already has a child today is excluded from PMMVY.”
Calling it “illegal”, Dreze says, “NFSA clearly says that ‘every pregnant and lactating mother’ is entitled to maternity benefits of Rs 6,000”, adding, though the Act also states that maternity benefits are “subject to such schemes as may be framed by the Central Government”, but surely “that is not a licence to dilute the legal rights enshrined in the Act.”
In an affidavit to the Supreme Court, the Government of India admitted on April 3, 2017 that “all the pregnant women and lactating mothers would be given Rs 6,000 in instalments” (except those already covered in the formal sector), with retrospective effect from January 1, 2017. “Nothing of the sort is happening under PMMVY”, insists Dreze.
Pointing out that “an extraordinary gesture of stinginess” PMMVY is reducing the benefits from Rs 6,000 to Rs 5,000 per child, that too contingent on aadhaar, Dreze says, this is happening at a time when the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY), under which pregnant women currently receive cash incentives for institutional deliveries, “is due to be phased out.” He adds, “Aadhaar is mandatory at every step – not only the mother’s Aadhaar, but also her husband’s (every mother is presumed to have one)”.
“At every step, the main concern seems to be to save money”, says Dreze, adding, “With benefits … subject to a host of conditionalities, the government is all set to minimise the cost of PMMVY. Mothers and children, for their part, will continue to be deprived of the barest economic support in their time of need.”

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