A PIB press release today states that the Government of India intends to initiate universal maternity entitlements as per the National Food Security Act from 1 January 2017. However, the figures don’t add up. India’s birth rate is around 20 per 1,000. The current population is around 130 crore. So the number of births per year must be around 26 million.
Thus, at Rs 6,000 per birth, universal maternity entitlements (assuming, optimistically, that 10% births are already covered under the formal sector) would cost Rs 14,000 crore per year.
However, in the plan presented in the PIB press release, the central government’s contribution for the next three financial years is only Rs 7,348 crore, or Rs 2,449 crore per year. With a 60:40 ratio for centre/state contributions, this means a total of barely Rs 4,000 crore per year.
This is a fraction of what is actually required, even assuming that only the first two births are covered by maternity entitlements.”Women’s organizations and the Right to Food Campaign called upon Prime Minister Modi to make maternity entitlements truly universal instead of the extremely weak announcement of cash benefits for pregnant and breastfeeding women on 31st December 2016. In a country like India where more than 90% of women are outside of organised sector employment, state-provided maternity support becomes a crucial tool for protecting the health of women and their babies.
Kavita Srivastava of People’s Union for Civil Liberties stated, “The Prime Minister on 31 December 2016 has announced a cash entitlement of Rs. 6000 for pregnant women across the country; presenting it as an original idea and also as if it is somehow to mitigate the hardships caused by demonetisation. However this is far from the truth. This entitlement was unanimously passed by the parliament in Septemebr 2013 under the National Food Security Act, but the government had so far not provided the budgetary allocations for the same.”
“Maternity entitlements are women’s rights, and not a reward for good behaviour,” said Jashodhara Dasgupta of SAHAYOG, a women’s organization. With the passing of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in 2013, a universal maternity entitlement of at least Rs. 6000 has been a legal entitlement for all pregnant and lactating women in the country.
Dipa Sinha, of the Right to Food Campaign stated, “The government, in complete violation of the Act, has failed to provide the required budget for its implementation. What is currently on the ground in 53 districts is the 2010 pilot scheme IGMSY (Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana) that provides Rs 6000 provided pregnant women meet certain criteria .
Sudeshna Sengupta of the Alliance for Early Childhood Development mentioned that despite repeated demands by women and civil society organisations across the country to provide universal maternity benefits in tune with the NFSA, neither the coverage nor the budget allocated for the scheme has been enhanced, despite the Supreme Court asking for an explanation for the delay in implementation.
Sejal Dand of the Mahila Kisaan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM) expressed the major concern regarding the inequity in the maternity entitlements available through the MBA (1961) amendments passed by the Rajya Sabha in the december 2016 session of the parliament which guarantees 26 weeks of paid leave to women in the formal sector which is only 5% of women workers in this country. For the largest number of women workers- namely women farmers and agricultural labour, we will now have a universal entitlement of a minimal 6000/- rupees.
Denial of this minimalist entitlement to women who though no choice of theirs bear children under the age of 19 years of age or have multiparous pregnancies will deprive the most at risk women, largely from the Dalit, tribal and poorest social groups from this essential support. There is an urgent need to ensure that technology is used for ensuring entitlements are made easily and timely available, rather than become one more hurdle to exclude the poorest"
The organizations expressed concern that the government already seeks to restrict coverage by imposing conditionalities on access to this entitlement; similar to the IGMSY. The Prime Minister in his speech mentioned that this is for women who have institutional deliveries and immunise their children. Dr. Vandana Prasad of the Working Group for Children Under 6 pointed out that such conditionalities are likely to further exclude the most marginalised women from much needed financial support, especially given poor availability of good quality maternity services.
The demand for universal unconditional maternity entitlements will be taken by campaigns throughout the year 2017 by the collective that issued this statement, including:Right to Food Campaign, Alliance for Early Childhood Development, National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human rights, Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch, women’s groups, trade unions and a number of other organisations working for the rights of unorganized sector women workers based in small-scale production, construction and brick-kiln workers, domestic workers, agricultural labourers and tribal women collecting forest produce, and so forth.