Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation on December 31, 2016, announced that Rs 6,000 will be transferred directly to the bank accounts of pregnant women who undergo institutional delivery/and vaccinate their children.
He even tweeted about it, claiming it was a new scheme.
We fact-checked his claim, and found that the provision of Rs 6,000 to pregnant women already exists as part of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013.
Therefore, his claim of the benefit being a new scheme is incorrect.
“The Act also has a special focus on the nutritional support to women and children,” according to the relevant provision of the NFSA. “Besides meal to pregnant women and lactating mothers during pregnancy and six months after the child birth, such women will also be entitled to receive maternity benefit of not less than Rs 6,000.”
The Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY), a maternity benefit programme introduced in 2010, provides for conditional cash transfer for pregnant and lactating women of 19 years or older for first two live births. It is operational in 52 districts as a “pilot”.
The cash incentive provided under the scheme was increased from Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000 in 2013 to comply with the minimum maternity entitlement provision of the NFSA.
Even after three years of the Act being passed, the benefit has not been implemented in any state except Tamil Nadu.
More than 60 academics and activists had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2016, and urged him to implement the maternity benefit under the NFSA.
“The nation is paying a heavy price for this violation of the Act,” the letter said. “Maternity entitlements are essential to address India’s staggering problem of low birth weights, poor maternal health and severe hardship during pregnancy.”
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu, in 1987, under former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran, launched the state’s flagship programme for pregnant women–Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy Maternity Benefit Scheme, named after the prominent women’s rights activist.
The first-of-its-kind scheme in the country initially provided an amount of Rs 300 to every woman below the poverty line to help cover the expenses incurred during childbirth.
The sum was increased to Rs 500 in 1995. A little over a decade later, the amount was raised more than ten-fold to Rs 6,000. Then, in 2011, the state government doubled the sum to Rs 12,000.
“Not a single state has implemented this important benefit mandated by NFSA till date. Tamil Nadu is the only state doing this,” Job Zachariah, who heads the field office of United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, in Chennai, told Scroll.in.
Tamil Nadu has the second lowest infant mortality rate (20 per 1,000 live births) among all states in India, only behind Kerala (12), according to data from the Registrar General of India.
The state’s maternal mortality rate is 90 per 100,000 live births compared to the national average of 178.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was considering a proposal to hike allocation for the ministry of women and child development by 20% with an emphasis on universalising this maternity benefit scheme, The Economic Times reported in December 2016.
Maternity entitlements can and should be designed to help improve maternal nutrition and pregnancy weight gain for a large fraction of the population, according to this 2016 paper by researchers from Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (R.I.C.E).
(Saha is a freelance journalist and MA Gender and Development candidate 2016-17 at Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.)