Fe­tus Death of Ma­ter­nity Scheme

Naren­dra Modi gov­ern­ment’s ma­ter­nity scheme has con­di­tions that de­feats its pur­pose

The Day After - - CONTENT - By dAn­FEs

The draft rules for ma­ter­nity en­ti­tle­ments un­der the Na­tional Food Se­cu­rity Act (NFSA) have been cir­cu­lated to state gov­ern­ments for com­ments and are avail­able on the web­site of the Min­istry of Women and Child De­vel­op­ment (MWCD). The NFSA, passed in 2013, states that all preg­nant and lac­tat­ing women, ex­cept those work­ing for gov­ern­ment or in pub­lic sec­tor un­der­tak­ings, shall be en­ti­tled to not less than `6,000 as ma­ter­nity en­ti­tle­ment, and sub­ject to such schemes as maybe framed by the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment.

The Gov­ern­ment of In­dia took al­most four years to frame such a scheme, thereby deny­ing lakhs of preg­nant/lac­tat­ing women to a ma­ter­nity en­ti­tle­ment that they were legally en­ti­tled to. Only women in 53 dis­tricts, where a pi­lot ma­ter­nity ben­e­fit scheme has been im­ple­mented since 2011 were in­cluded. Here, the amount of cash trans­fer was in­creased from `4,000 to `6,000 to meet the re­quire­ments of the Act.

It took five months since the an­nounce­ment by the Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi in his speech on De­cem­ber 31, 2016, for a scheme to be for­mally ap­proved by the Cab­i­net in May 2017. The Prad­han Mantri Ma­tru Van­dana Yo­jana (PMMVY) whose guide­lines were fi­nal­ized in Au­gust 2017 is now the scheme through which the en­ti­tle­ment un­der the Na­tional Food Se­cu­rity Act is to be de­liv­ered. The PMMVY is ap­pli­ca­ble from Jan­uary 1, 2017. There are se­ri­ous con­cerns with how this scheme lim­its the scope of ma­ter­nity en­ti­tle­ments and is in vi­o­la­tion of the spirit of the Na­tional Food Se­cu­rity Act.

While the Act clearly states that “sub­ject to such schemes as maybe framed by the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment, ev­ery preg­nant woman and lac­tat­ing mother shall be en­ti­tled to ma­ter­nity ben­e­fit of not less than ru­pees six thou­sand…,” the PMMVY ben­e­fit is only of `5,000. In a typ­i­cal bu­reau­cratic man­ner, the rules and guide­lines ad­di­tion­ally state that

on an av­er­age women will get `6,000 be­cause a num­ber of them will be el­i­gi­ble for the cash in­cen­tive un­der Janani Su­rak­sha Yo­jana (JSY). JSY is an in­cen­tive for in­sti­tu­tional de­liv­ery of `1,400 in low­per­form­ing states (LPS) and `700 in high per­form­ing states (HPS). JSY is a scheme that was launched in 2005, with dif­fer­ent ob­jec­tives and a spe­cific pur­pose. And it is not right to merge the two. Isn’t the right of each woman who is get­ting only `5,000, not be­ing vi­o­lated? Does some women get­ting more than `6,000 com­pen­sate for oth­ers get­ting less? Since when is it okay for le­gal rights stat­ing in­di­vid­ual ben­e­fits to be de­liv­ered on an av­er­age?

The Prad­han Mantri Ma­tru Van­dana Yo­jana is re­duc­ing the amount that was al­ready be­ing given in the pi­lot dis­tricts and which is promised in the Act and is less than what some states are al­ready do­ing. Tamil Nadu, which is giv­ing `18,000 to preg­nant and lac­tat­ing women un­der the Dr Muthu­lak­shmi Reddy Ma­ter­nity Ben­e­fit Scheme and the Odisha gov­ern­ment, is giv­ing `6,000 un­der the Mamta scheme. Both these states give these ben­e­fits to the first two births whereas the na­tional scheme is re­stricted to only one birth. While the two-child norm ex­cludes some of the most vul­ner­a­ble women, lim­it­ing the scheme to the first birth alone makes over 50 per cent of preg­nant women. The scheme fur­ther ex­cludes women who are less than 19 years of age. Both these el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria are pe­nal­iz­ing women who are them­selves vic­tims.

If the gov­ern­ment were se­ri­ously con­cerned about child mar­riages and fam­ily plan­ning the fo­cus would rather be on a num­ber of other in­ter­ven­tions such as pro­vid­ing good qual­ity se­condary ed­u­ca­tion, en­sur­ing ac­cess to health care in­clud­ing con­tra­cep­tives, im­prov­ing ma­ter­nal and child health over­all and so on.

One of the rea­sons why ma­ter­nity en­ti­tle­ments were in­cluded in the NFSA is to pro­vide an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment for ex­clu­sive breast­feed­ing for chil­dren less than six months. By re­strict­ing ma­ter­nity ben­e­fits to only the first child, the Prad­han Mantri Ma­tru Van­dana Yo­jana is not only vi­o­lat­ing the rights of women but also of chil­dren who are not first-borns.

It must be re­mem­bered that such cash ma­ter­nity en­ti­tle­ments serve mul­ti­ple pur­poses. They can pro­vide bet­ter nu­tri­tion and make ac­cess to health­care more af­ford­able for women, dur­ing a cru­cial pe­riod in their lives. If ad­e­quate amount is pro­vided ac­com­pa­nied by ad­di­tional ef­forts to pro­mote ex­clu­sive breast­feed­ing, they can con­trib­ute to bet­ter child and ma­ter­nal health out­comes.

In a con­text where more than 90 per cent women are in the in­for­mal sec­tor and out­side the purview of the Ma­ter­nity Ben­e­fits Act (MBA), such ben­e­fits must also play the role of giv­ing wages com­pen­sa­tion for women dur­ing preg­nancy and childbirth. For this they need to be linked to wages. It is in­deed un­for­tu­nate that rather than us­ing the op­por­tu­nity pro­vided by the NFSA to move to­wards com­pre­hen­sive and univer­sal ma­ter­nity en­ti­tle­ments, the new scheme by the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to get around hard-won le­gal guar­an­tees by re­ly­ing on the law of av­er­ages.

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