An RTI query has revealed that the Government's maternity scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY), has managed to reach just under a third of its beneficiaries in 2018-19. The data was retrieved from multiple Right to Information (RTI) queries that economists Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera had filed with the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Under the scheme, pregnant women and lactating mothers are eligible for maternity entitlement of Rs 5,000, which is to be paid in three instalments. As per the RTI reply, 80 lakh women received at least one instalment of PMMVY funds between April 1, 2018, and July 31, 2019, while 50 lakh received all three instalments. The estimated population of 134 crores and a birth rate of 20.2 per thousand have been used to calculate the annual number of births in India to be around 270 lakhs – with little less than half being first births. Using these figures, the economists have deduced that only around 22 per cent of all pregnant women have received PMMVY money.
PMMVY: What is it all about?
The maternity scheme was first launched in 2010, as the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY), targeting women across 53 districts, with maternity entitlement benefits of Rs 6,000. In 2014, the scheme was renamed as Matritva Sahyog Yojana and in 2017, the previous Modi Government relaunched it as Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY).
The scheme provides a cash incentive of Rs 5,000 to pregnant and lactating mothers, 19 years of age and above. This is to compensate for the loss of wages and to ensure that women can take adequate rest during pregnancy and after the delivery of the first child. Apart from the Rs 5,000 provided as part compensation, Rs 1,000 is also provided under Janani Suraksha Yojana, after institutional delivery.
The cash assistance of Rs 5,000 is delivered in three instalments, with the first instalment of Rs 1,000 disbursed on early registration of pregnancy at an Anganwadi centre or approved health facility, the second instalment of Rs 2,000 disbursed after six months of pregnancy while the third instalment of Rs 2,000 is disbursed after the birth of the child gets registered, and the child has received the first round of immunisation.
The Jaccha-Baccha Survey:
The RTI data supplements findings from an earlier survey conducted by Dreze and Khera in 2017. Called the Jaccha Baccha survey, 706 women, with 342 pregnant and 364 nursing women, were surveyed across six states of north India - Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. The results were alarming – a majority of the households surveyed were unable to look after the special needs of pregnant and lactating women. Only 31 per cent of the women surveyed stated that they had been eating more nutritious food, while 22 per cent said that they had been eating more food during their pregnancy.
Further, the weight gain during pregnancy – which should ideally between 13 to 18 kgs for a low body mass index woman, was only 7 kgs. Alarming still, 39 per cent of the respondents in UP did not even have any idea whether they had gained any weight during their pregnancy or not, while 36 per cent had not even gone for any check-up during their pregnancy. Amongst the states, in only the relatively well off one of Himachal Pradesh did women take care of themselves during pregnancy.
The economists have listed factors such as reduced entitlement (Rs 5,000 instead of the earlier Rs 6,000), reduced coverage, a tedious application process which requires women to fill in pages of forms and submit numerous documents including their bank passbook, their’s and their husband’s Aadhaar card, whereby the details have to match, mother and child protection card, as factors that impede the scheme. Frequent technical glitches in the online application process and a non-existent grievance redressal system, add on to the woes.
Malnourishment: A vicious cycle
As per the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), in India, 38 per cent of children under the age of five are stunted, a form of under-nutrition which is responsible for nearly half of all deaths among children, globally. The northern part of the country is home to a large majority of stunted children - 52.6 million - or 80 per cent of the stunted children in India. Stunting is also associated with delayed growth and motor development and, in the long term, negative educational and economic consequences.
This year’s Global Health Index also throws a dismal picture - India’s child wasting ratio is the highest amongst all countries, at 20.8 per cent. It is also ranked an abysmal 102 out of 117 nations in the index and all our South Asian neighbours have gone ahead of us.
Malnutrition is a vicious cycle – women who are undernourished, suffer from malnutrition through their pregnancy, give birth to children who are malnourished, who then go on to suffer from the side effects of malnourishment throughout their lives.
All this points to the lack of awareness and education that large parts of the country suffer from and a general lack of preparedness on the part of the Government on tackling maternity-related and nutrition-related issues. Weak citizens can hold a nation back on all fronts - socially and economically.