In a survey conducted in six states, it has been found that in the absence of any awareness, only 22% of the nursing women reported that they had been eating more than usual during their pregnancy and only 31% said that they had been eating more nutritious than usual.
The Jaccha-Baccha Survey (JABS) was conducted in at least 10 randomly selected Anganwadi spread over two blocks in six states — Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh. Within the six states, Uttar Pradesh, which is India’s most populous, performed the worst, while Himachal Pradesh, performed the best.
The survey was conducted under the guidance of Ranchi University professor Jean Dreze, and IIM-Ahmedabad associate professor Reetika Khera. Their team surveyed a random sample of 706 women, 342 of whom were pregnant and 364 nursing.
The main reason for not eating more is that many pregnant women feel unwell or lose appetite. The proportion of nursing women who reported eating nutritious food (e.g. eggs, fish, milk) “regularly" during pregnancy was less than half in the sample as a whole, and just 12% in UP. The survey also found that 36% of women in UP did not get a single check-up at a primary health centre across different schemes. Additionally, in Uttar Pradesh, 39% of the respondents had no idea whether they had gained weight during pregnancy, and 36% had gone through pregnancy without a health check-up.
The survey found that only 39% of mothers got the first instalment, 17% of nursing mothers received the second instalment. Nearly 30% of women borrow or sell assets to meet the expenses of the last delivery.
This is in contravention to the National Food Security Act, under which all pregnant women are entitled to maternity benefits of ₹ 6,000, the central government ignored it to launching the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) and under it they have restricted benefits to one child per woman and she will get only ₹5,000. A budget provision of ₹2,700 crores was made for it in the 2017-18— a fraction of the ₹15,000 crores required for the full-fledged implementation of maternity benefits.
Causing even more complications for women attempting to access the PMMVY benefits is the Aadhaar dependency. In this case, they need not only the mother’s but also that of her husband’s so that she gets the entitlements. And in several cases, Aadhaar verification doesn’t work. “Data glitches such as typos in Aadhaar number, misspelling of names, wrong date of birth on Aadhaar, the mismatch between Aadhaar card and other records can all lead to the PMMVY application getting rejected or delayed,” the survey notes.
They also found that there was widespread ignorance about the scheme — only 66% of the eligible beneficiaries interviewed said they were aware of the scheme, while only 60% applied.
Odisha, which also was covered under the JABS survey, did better than UP because the state has its own maternity scheme – Mamata. At least, 88% of those eligible for Mamata benefits had applied, and 75% had received at least one of the two instalments. The Odisha state scheme, with ₹5,000 per child, covers two births.
According to an RTI response obtained by Khera and Dreze, 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. If this were to be extrapolated to 12 months, it would correspond to 60 lakh and 37.5 lakh partial and full beneficiaries respectively in 2018-2019 financial year. 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.
This implies that in 2018-19 only around 22% of all pregnant women received any PMMVY money, and around 14% received the full benefits.
The economists underscore that poor implementation of the PMMVY and generous benefits under the Maternity Benefits (Amendments) Act for those in the formal sector have created two classes of women.
Interestingly, according to a report in The Print, the Women and Child Ministry under Smriti Irani has on cue denied that a huge number of pregnant women were left out of the scheme. The WCD spokesperson Monideepa Mukherjee said the minister on Sunday stated that “the PMMVY today has 10 million or 1 crore beneficiaries”.