Union Budget 2018 - Maternity Benefit Schemes Need a Boost

There is a boost for maternity schemes under the Union Budget 2018-2019. This includes the expansion of the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana from just 56 districts to all over the country. There is expected to be increased funding for this.

Rs.6,000 is offered to pregnant women and lactating mothers in India under the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) programme for the birth of their first offspring. In the 2017 Union Budget, the Ministry of Women and Child Development had sought for Rs.2,700 crore for the PMMVY programme but the amount was revised to Rs.2,500 crore. This year, the ministry has not asked for an increase in the amount, instead, they have put forth a request for the same amount (Rs.2,500 crore) as last year.

In December 2017, activists and 60 economists in India had written to the Union Minister Arun Jaitley about the need for all pregnant women and lactating mothers to get Rs.6,000 cash benefit under the scheme, not just the mothers of first-borns. They pointed out that Rs.2,700 crore was just a third of what is needed under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 which does not adequately benefit all.

Under NFSA, all pregnant and lactating mothers are entitled to receive Rs.6,000 (not just mothers of first-borns), except for government employees. Unfortunately, the PMMVY programme restricts the benefits to the mothers of a first living child. This ‘one woman per child’ restriction excludes any woman who already has a child from benefiting under the PMMVY programme. It is reported that NITI Aayog opposed the benefits restriction to only the mother of first-borns. However, their opposition did not have any sway over the central government as much as the cost factor of funding the scheme.

Pan-India Expansion of the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana

Until 31 December 2016, the maternity benefit scheme was implemented only in 56 districts. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on the same day that the maternity benefit scheme will be expanded to benefit women across the country as a pilot project.

  • The PMMVY was approved by the Union Cabinet in May 2017 to be effective from 1 January 2017.
  • Under the PMMVY scheme, a pregnant or lactating mother of a first child will receive Rs.5,000 in 3 installments.
  • Under the Janani Suraksha Yojana, the remaining Rs.1,000 will be given after institutional delivery.
  • As of 15 January 2018, out of 51.6 lakh women, only 96,460 women have received cash transfers under the PMMVY scheme.

96,460 women are below 2% of the total beneficiaries that the government had aspired to help annually. Due to the low number of beneficiaries from last year, the government will have to now provide benefits to more number of women in the next fiscal year whilst the previous year's budget lapses. As the number of women who have to benefit under the scheme will no doubt double, it makes sense for the ministry to seek double the funds allocated in the previous year.

The funds for the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) which was first implemented by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2010 (the central government's maternity benefit programme) has increased to Rs.21,000 crore in 2017-18 from Rs.400 crore in 2016-17. The Modi government has raised expectations for women empowerment through several schemes. Therefore, there are expectations of increased funding for women and child development in Union Budget 2018.

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