From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Nothing much
Mains level : Maternal health
Maternity benefits in India are a non-issue. The governments are clueless about their legal, financial and political aspects.
- Maternity Benefits Act – Maternity benefits are generous for a small minority of Indian women employed in the formal sector and covered under the Maternity Benefit Act.
- NFSA – Under the National Food Security Act, 2013, all pregnant women (except those already receiving similar benefits under other laws) are entitled to maternity benefits of ₹6,000 per child.
- Maternity benefits scheme – a maternity benefit scheme was rolled out in 2017: the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY).
- The majority left out – The vast majority of pregnant women, however, are left to their own devices.
- Jaccha-Baccha Survey (JABS) was conducted in six states of north India — Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh.
- Unable to meet pregnancy needs – due to lack of knowledge or power, most of the sample households were unable to take care of the special needs of pregnancy, whether it was food, rest or health care.
- Food needs – Among women who had delivered a baby in the preceding six months, only 31% said that they had eaten more nutritious food than usual during their pregnancy.
- Less weight gain – Their average weight gain during pregnancy was just seven kg on average, compared with a norm of 13 kg to 18 kg for women with a low body-mass index. In Uttar Pradesh, 39% of the respondents had no clue whether they had gained weight during pregnancy, and 36% had gone through it without a health check-up.
- HP presents a better picture – only in Himachal Pradesh, rural women are relatively well-off, well-educated and self-confident. The special needs of pregnancy received significant attention.
Need for maternity benefits
- Reduce hardships – Maternity benefits could help to relieve these hardships and give babies a chance of good health.
- PMMVY: The modalities of the scheme violate the NFSA: benefits are restricted to the first living child, and to ₹5,000 per woman. The budget provision of ₹2,700 crores is a fraction of the ₹15,000 crores required for the full-fledged implementation of maternity benefits as per NFSA norms. The actual expenditure was barely ₹2,000 crore.
Performance of PMMVY
- Less number covered
- 80 lakh women received at least one instalment of PMMVY money between April 1, 2018, and July 31, 2019, and 50 lakh received all three instalments.
- Based on an estimated population of 134 crores and a birth rate of 20.2 per thousand, the annual number of births in India would be around 270 lakh. Of these, a little less than half would be first births.
- These figures imply that in 2018-19 only around 22% of all pregnant women received any PMMVY money, and around 14% received the full benefits.
- Ruined in steps
- Reduced coverage – The coverage and benefits were reduced compared with NFSA norms. Had the benefits been higher and universal, the scheme would have been a hit.
- Tedious procedure – The application process is tedious. From filling a long-form for each instalment, women have to submit a series of documents, including their ‘mother-and-child protection’ card, bank passbook, Aadhaar card and husband’s Aadhaar card. Essential details in different documents have to match, and the bank account needs to be linked with Aadhaar.
- Technical limitations – There are frequent technical glitches in the online application and payment process. When an application is rejected or returned with queries, the applicant may or may not get to know about it.
- Rejected payments due to mismatch between a person’s Aadhaar card and bank account.
- More than 20% of the respondents mentioned that they had faced difficulties because the address on their Aadhaar card was that of their maika, not of their sasural.
- Less number covered
Examples of T.N., Odisha
- Some State governments have put in place effective maternity benefit schemes of their own.
- Tamil Nadu – Under the Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy Maternity Benefit Scheme, pregnant women in Tamil Nadu receive financial assistance of ₹18,000 per child for the first two births, including a nutrition kit.
- Odisha – Odisha’s Mamata scheme also covers two births with lower entitlements — ₹5,000 per child, as with the PMMVY.
- The JABS survey suggests that the Mamata scheme is working reasonably well: among women who had delivered in the last six months, 88% of those eligible for Mamata benefits had applied, and 75% had received at least one of the two instalments.