On New Year’s Eve, the Prime Minister in his much-anticipated speech amongst other commitments made a vague announcement of a “nation-wide” scheme for maternity entitlements for pregnant women.
But the PM has not spelled out any specifics – neither the timeframe;budget nor its universal coverage as obligated in the National Food Security Act (NFSA) since2013. Clause 4B of the law already promises all pregnant and lactating women maternity entitlements of atleastRs 6000 for each child. But for three years, the central government didn’t honour this legal obligation. Though better late than never, re-packaging this legal right as the PM’s New Year gift is disingenuous.
Further media reports, from December indicate that the Finance Ministry may hike the budget by a mere 20 percent (instead of the sevenfold increase necessary for universalisation) and that too restrict the benefit to only women Below the Poverty Line (BPL). This would be in complete violation of the NFSA.
But there seems to bearecurring trend to subvert the law. For the last three years, this government continued with the pilot Indira Gandhi MatritvaSahyogYojana (IGMSY) in just 53 districts of the country despite repeated demands by civil society activists and women from across the country. This year, Right to Food Campaign activists from across India even sent postcards to the PM to remind him of the state’s obligation.
In September 2015, even the Supreme Court issued notices to the Centre on the non-implementation of maternity entitlements under the NFSA.
While the government did initially enhance the IGMSY allocations from Rs 4000 to Rs. 6000 to be in tune with the NFSA, neither the coverage nor the budget was enhanced which languishes at Rs. 400 crores. Instead to ensure that all eligible women are covered as per the NFSA, Rs 16,000 crores is necessary. A real test of the Prime Minister’s announcement will be in the fine print of the allocations in next month’s budget.