Far from providing compensation, a policy aimed to alleviate the distress of expectant and new mothers, is becoming the reason for distress in rural Bundelkhand.
The Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) is yet another policy-level venture drafted by a group of men vainly trying to solve an issue relating to women. Ostensibly aimed at improving the poor levels of nutrition amongst “Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers”, the PMMVY provides a cash incentive of 5000 rupees to each such mother on the birth of her first living child, payable in three instalments subject to her fulfilling certain criteria at every stage. The idea is to provide partial compensation for any lost wages so that the new mother is not compelled to resume working soon after childbirth, and has adequate opportunity to rest and fully recover from the pregnancy. Being particularly aimed at women belonging to economically weaker sections or those residing in remote rural areas, the scheme is to be implemented through the existing network of Anganwadi Workers (AWW), ASHAs and ANM workers (Auxiliary Nurse & Midwife).
However, the women of Chhayan village of the Lalitpur district have quite a contrasting story to tell. Take the case of Usha, whose tale highlights a typical problem of our country – corruption. Rather than being paid the illusive cash prize under the PMMVY, Usha is being asked to pay money herself. “When I approached the ASHA to fill the form, she asked me to pay 500 rupees for my application to be processed. I objected saying that it’s a government scheme and nowhere does it say that we need to pay money to avail it, but she insisted that I pay her the 500 rupees.”
Besides implementation, the framework of the PMMVY itself is wrought with problems, most of which stem from a complete lack of sensitivity and understanding of the issues at hand. The scheme, for one, only extends to the birth of the first living child, and if the child does not survive, the woman is not paid the remaining instalments. Why and how the policy-makers concluded that bodily complications of pregnancy cease to exist upon the death of the child, is not a question anybody’s answering anytime soon
The mandatory requirement of the Aadhaar ID becomes another major hurdle for intended beneficiaries. Even as a tired-looking Ramdevi wearily gives an endless list of documents that she had to submit – Aadhar, Passbook, “bachcha card” (MCP Card), birth certificate – the local ANM cites incomplete documents as the reason for disbursements not being made. “There are discrepancies in their IDs, ration cards, and other documents – at least get your papers in order! How do they expect to be paid if their papers are not intact and they haven’t completed all the formalities?”
Yet another policy mandate requires the husband of the woman to give an undertaking that the child is the first living child of the family. The fact that this complicates matters for women trapped in physically and emotionally abusive marriages, not an uncommon occurrence, is not a consideration that seemed to have come up during the policy’s conception or implementation.
When the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Pratap Singh, was enquired about the reasons behind the delay, his words bring little relief as he, too, seems to be caught up in the formalities and the paperwork. “I ensure you they will all receive the promised money – but only once they have filed completed forms and documents. The moment these are uploaded on our website through the respective ANMs, the funds will be deposited in their accounts.”
Until then, the awareness around PMMVY amongst rural Lalitpur mothers seems to be a plus. For now though, it is not effective. In the words of Savita, another resident of Chhayan village, “About 20 to 25 of us had filled the forms, but there are no signs of the money arriving. The ASHAs are only concerned with getting the vaccination and immunization process completed, they are never around to give any updates on the money. There is no way for us to get any information whatsoever.” With the ASHAs seemingly not accessible, the situation continues to be bleak for the mothers of Chhayan, at least till the higher officials authorised to release the money continue to insist on all the formalities being completed.
This Khabar Lahariya article first appeared on Firstpost.