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Fact Check: Modi Said Congress Looted Maternity Benefits, but What Is BJP’s Record?

Fact Check: Modi Said Congress Looted Maternity Benefits, but What Is BJP’s Record?

New Delhi: At an election rally on Wednesday in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an oblique reference to the Congress, said that there was a ‘Tuglaq Road Election Scam’. The BJP, he added, as ‘chowkidars, was alert to this.

In particular, he said, “The Congress has snatched away food from poor children, it has snatched away their meal and is filling the stomach of its own leaders. Congress is looting the money meant for pregnant women.”

But what is the record of the Modi government in distributing maternity entitlements?

Reports over the last few years show that the government has managed to drastically reduce the number of women who are eligible for these benefits and had proposed to reduce the amount of money due to them.

Also read: 2.6 Crore Live Births a Year, and Modi’s Maternity Scheme Reached Less Than a Lakh Women in 2017

Moreover, the scheme to give mothers money in order to take care of their nutritional and health needs, came about due to Supreme Court orders in 2001. It was then enacted into legislation by the Congress government in 2013. However, in 2016, Modi announced as a new scheme and named it the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY).

In 2016, academics wrote to Prime Minister Modi, asking him to recognise lapses in the provision of maternity benefits, and to fix them.

The maternity benefits scheme predates Modi government

In 2001, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court, asking for the right to food. The Supreme Court passed an order upholding this right.

In 2010, the UPA government started the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana, under which pregnant and lactating mothers in 53 districts were given an allowance of Rs 4,000.

In 2013, parliament passed the National Food Security Act, which prescribed a maternity benefit of Rs 6000 under section 4(b).

Also read: Modi Government’s Maternity Benefits Scheme Will Likely Exclude Women Who Need It the Most

But in 2016, Modi announced the maternity benefits scheme as a new oneVia a technicality, benefits were reduced from Rs 60,000 to Rs 5,000 – it was only meant for the first child, for women above the age of 18 years and for women who delivered their babies in a medical institution and not at home.

This was a violation of the 2013 Act.

Some states like Tamil Nadu and Telangana also run maternity benefit schemes that give far more money than the central government’s offering. In Tamil Nadu, the Dr Muthulakshmi Maternity Assistance Scheme provides pregnant mothers Rs 14,000 in cash and a nutritional kit of Rs 4,000 for the first two pregnancies.

The government has been reducing funds to the maternity scheme

A report in the Economic Times in 2017 said that the Modi government had halved its spending on the maternity benefit programme. One way in which this was done was by restricting the benefit only to first borns.

In 2013, the standing committee on food, consumer affairs and public distribution suggested that Rs 14,512 crore be earmarked for the implementation of the maternity benefits programme.

The BJP government has allocated just about one fifth of this amount to the women and child development ministry, for this scheme.

In 2015, the ministry of women and child development filed a “misleading affidavit” in the Supreme Court on this issue. They said they would be extending the already existing Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) from 53 districts to 200 districts, in 2015-2016 and to all districts by 2016-2017. However the government did not allocate more money to this and it remained the same amount of Rs 400 crore, from 2014-2015 to 2016- 2017.

As of September 2018, RTI responses from the government showed that no money was spent on the maternity scheme at all, in Uttar Pradesh. UP already has the second highest fertility rate in the country, after Bihar. In 2017-2018, UP got the largest allocation of this scheme, of Rs 336 crore, out of a total of Rs 2049 crore.

A shockingly low number of women have enrolled in UP for the scheme – just 184 women. 44 lakh women are apparently enrolled for the scheme around the country. West Bengal alone has enrolled 6.8 lakh women in the scheme, the highest in any state in the country. With such a high number of beneficiaries, West Bengal received Rs 102 crore, half of what UP did.

A report in Down To Earth last year, showed that mothers of 57% of newborns in India are not entitled to maternity benefits. Put another way, the government’s scheme excludes more women that it covers. Only 3.2 million pregnant women have received cash via the PMMVY scheme since 2017 whereas 25 million babies were born in India in the same period.

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