Falter slur on would-be mom cash
New Delhi: Several health rights groups on Tuesday accused the Narendra Modi government of reneging on its pledge to pay a one-time Rs 6,000 to specified pregnant women to support nutrition requirements mandated under a law passed by Parliament nearly five years ago.
The National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights (NAMHHR) and other groups said the Centre's own figures showed 96,460 women had received cash transfers under the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) since September 2017, although over five million women are eligible.
Modi, in a New Year's Eve speech on December 31 2016, had announced his government would give Rs 6,000 to each pregnant woman, expanding an earlier scheme that had provided financial assistance of Rs 4,000 to women in only 53 districts across the country.
The Centre had last year specified that the PMMVY would provide Rs 5,000 to pregnant women, saying the earlier Janani Suraksha Yojana scheme to encourage institutional deliveries would provide the balance amount. The government had also specified that women giving their first births would be eligible for the scheme.
The Rs 6,000 benefit is intended for all women who are registered with the local anganwadis, or mother-and-child centres, and are not employed in the government or public sector organisations. Women in the private sector who receive maternity benefits are not eligible.
"What we're seeing is wilful and insensitive denial of an entitlement," said Vandana Prasad, a community paediatrician with the non-government Public Health Resource Network.
"We're seeing a lack of political will, a lack of commitment to poor women of India."
The National Food Security Act passed by Parliament in 2013 grants pregnant women a benefit of Rs 6,000 each.
The Union women and child development ministry had told Parliament in December 2017 that the PMMVY was intended to provide partial compensation for wage loss to enable the woman to take adequate rest before and after the delivery of her first child.
The ministry, which had estimated the number of beneficiaries to be about 5.1 million women, earlier this month said payments through direct cash transfers had been successfully made to 96,460 beneficiaries as on January 14, 2018.
"This is fresh evidence of continuing budgetary neglect of maternal and child health," said Jashodhara Dasgupta, coordinator for Sahayog, a group working on women's health rights and a member of the steering committee of the NAMHHR.
The NAMHHR and the Right to Food Campaign have called on the government to increase its budget allocation for the PMMVY from Rs 2,700 crore last year to Rs 8,000 crore.
"Poor nutrition in pregnant women and lactating mothers is a major factor that contributes to low birth weight and mortality among newborn," said Dipa Sinha, co-convenor with the Right to Food Campaign.
Mamta, a Delhi resident, is among the women who have applied by submitting a form to local mother-and-child care workers but are yet to receive the Rs 6,000.
"It would have helped buy more food," she said on Tuesday at a news conference organised by the NAMHHR. "I'd have liked to eat an egg every day, but it is difficult."