NEW DELHI–The Narendra Modi government’s flagship scheme for pregnant and lactating mothers, the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY), benefited only half the total number of women eligible for state support in 2018-19, show official data analysed by economists Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera.
Looking beyond the narrow condition of eligibility for the scheme—which, Dreze and Khera say, excludes nearly half of the total number of pregnant and lactating women by limiting state support only for the first child—the economists estimate that only 25% of all mothers received support once and just 12% did thrice as mandated.
These estimates are based on official data about the scheme’s beneficiaries obtained by the economists after filing multiple Right to Information applications with the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) as well as data about the estimated number of births in India.
“Using data obtained through a right to information application, we estimate that in 2018-19, only 25% of pregnant women got any Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana money: Economist Reetika Khera”
“Women in the unorganized sector have been completely invisible in the debate on maternity benefits. The meagre benefits (Rs. 6000 per child) that they are entitled to under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013, have been whittled down to almost nothing. In a violation of the NFSA, the PMMVY arbitrarily reduces it to Rs. 5000 for just the first child. The application process is complicated, and these problems are compounded by the Aadhaar payment system,” said Khera, speaking with HuffPost India.
“Using data obtained through a right to information application, we estimate that in 2018-19, only 25% of pregnant women got any PMMVY money,” she added.
Officials from the WCD ministry were unavailable for comment at the time of publishing this repo.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Flagship Scheme
On 31 December 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a new scheme for providing financial assistance to pregnant women. Under this scheme, women were assured payment of Rs 6000 per month by the Modi government. “This scheme will help reduce the maternal mortality rate in a big way. This will help ensure nutrition before and after delivery, and improve the health of mother and child,” Modi said on the eve of 2017.
At the time it was called the “maternity benefit programme”, a pilot version of which was earlier called the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana, and it was subsequently named the PMMVY. It excludes women who receive benefits as regular government employees or under other laws, like for instance the Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act which was amended in 2017 to raise the number of weeks of paid maternity benefits to 26 weeks.
In a statement put out by the women and child development ministry in September this year, it said the PMMVY scheme, “achieved a significant milestone by crossing one crore beneficiaries” since January 1, 2017. However, it did not put this figure in perspective by providing the total number of beneficiaries that ought to have received benefits as per the scheme.
Why Khera & Dreze’s Analysis Is Different
Khera and Dreze’s analysis of official data received in response to multiple RTI applications is different in this aspect. It reveals that, at least for the year 2018-19, an estimated 54.7% (67.30 lakh) of all eligible pregnant and lactating mothers received financial support once and 27% of them (33.20 lakh) received it thrice as mandated in the National Food Safety Act of 2013.
When pointed out that, as per this official statement, women get state support of Rs 6000 after the exchequer makes an additional provision under the Janani Suraksha Yojana, Khera explained why it is not the same as providing “maternity benefits”.
“At least for the year 2018-19, an estimated 54.7% of eligible pregnant and lactating mothers received financial support once (67.30 lakh) and 27% of them (33.20 lakh) received them thrice as mandated in the National Food Safety Act of 2013”
“The idea behind maternity entitlements is that women should be compensated for the work of child bearing and rearing. That is why women in the organized sector get 26 weeks of paid leave. By that principle, women should get 26 weeks of wages too. The provisions under the NFSA (Rs 6000 per child) are already too low. The Janani Suraksha Yojana is only a conditional cash transfer to encourage institutional deliveries. You cannot arbitrarily club JSY with PMMVY and pass it off as maternity benefits,” she said.
Poor implementation—as evident in the official data—of PMMVY and generous benefits under the Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act for those working in the formal sector have created two classes of women, the economists say.
A briefing note about their analysis states that “some women are more equal than others” as far as maternity benefits are concerned because “the most privileged women get maternity benefits using the wages compensation principle (as they should), but the most disadvantaged are entitled to niggardly amounts”.