New study confirms that Indian government's reduction of support for pregnant women is both tragic and unwise

Belgian Born Economist Dr Jean Drèze decries "Short sighted Giver-ment" Policy towards Pregnant Women

November 19, 2019, Aratupuzha, Kerala

Popular Academic & Social Commentator Sounds the Alarm on Behalf of Pregnant Women:
Economist Dr Jean Drèze is well known to writers who follow poverty and gender parity issues. His pointed editorial in the Hindu newspaper today (on the way maternity entitlements for women have been flouted and whittled down in recent years) are the latest warning that the Ministry for Women & Child Development should heed and act immediately upon. Since Tamil Nadu already operates a program for pregnant women that offers three to four times the national maternity entitlement, the government has a working model it can emulate.

The Jacha Bacha Survey conducted in the six Northern States of Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odissa and Uttar Pradesh gives Dr Drèze and other critics new and credible ammunition to make their case against the BJP government.

Poor Nutrition and Low Weight Gain for Pregnant Women in North India:

Overall, the study concluded than most of the sample households surveyed "were unable to take care of the special needs of pregnancy." The following observations came from women respondents who had delivered a baby in the preceding six months:

- Only 31 percent of these women said they had eaten more nutritious foods during pregnancy.

- The average weight gain for each woman who had given birth was just seven kilos on average. (The norm for women with low Body Mass Index (BMI) was just 13-18 kilos.

Provisions for pregnant women under the "Right to Food Act" passed by the Congress Government have been watered Down and made inaccessible:

Dr Jean Drèze points out that, under the National Food Security Act passed by the Congress Government in 2013 all pregnant women were entitled to maternity benefits of Rs 6,000 per child. He then castigates the National government for ignoring the maternity provisions of the Food Security Act till 2016. The benefits to pregnant women were then suddenly reintroduced without reference to the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in 2017 as the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY). Sadly benefits were reduced to Rs 5,000 and given only for the first baby born. The money was paid out in three installments that each had to be applied for by both father and mother in a cumbersome process that involved Aadhar cards and other tiresome documentation.

RTI Reply extrapolated to say that only 14 percent of pregnant women received full benefits:

Drèze also cites replies to an RTI query which confirmed that 80 lakh women received at least one PMMVY instalment between April 1, 2018 and July 31, 2019 and 50 lakh received all three. These figures suggest that only 22 percent of pregnant women received any funds under the Prime Minister's plan and 14 percent received full benefits. (Calculated on 270 lakh births in India (2017).

Funding for better nutrition has a big impact on the health of pregnant women who contend with malnourishment as well as the potential for enemia from iron, folate or B-12 deficiencies..

Some states like Chattisgarh and Tamil Nadu run effective maternity benefit schemes with Tamil Nadu offering pregnant women as much as Rs 18,000 per child for the first two births.

Trying to save money during pregnancy leads to low birth weight children, increases risk of birth deformities, impacts the neural and mental health of mothers and children. Please contact the Ministry for Women & Child Development and urge them to liberalize provisions for funding pregnant women as better nutrition and care will save the nation significant resources
 by producing healthier mothers and children.

Written earlier (and in much greater detail) on the same issue:

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