New Delhi: Three civil rights activists, who had held a press conference last week to declare that the coverage of maternity benefits under the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) Scheme was not in tune with the claims, have accused the Ministry of Women and Child Development of false “refutation” of the figures revealed by them, despite these being released by the ministry itself.
They have now spoken out about a few media organisations are accusing them of “spreading lies”.
In a detailed statement on the issue, the activists, Jean Dreze, Reetika Khera and Anmot Somanchi, said that the “central Government is in denial on low coverage of maternity benefits”.
Bringing up their earlier media interaction on the subject, they stated that “last week, we released some estimates of the coverage of maternity benefits in India. Some confusion emerged after that, partly due to inaccurate media reports (later corrected in most cases), and partly due to the Ministry of Women and Child Development’s alleged ‘refutation’ of our figures”.
Estimates of PMMVY coverage in line with final figures revealed by ministry
The activists insisted that “there was nothing wrong with the estimates of PMMVY coverage” released by them at the press conference on November 18 and quoted in an article by Drèze that was published in the Hindu the following day. They stated that these estimates were based on the ministry’s response to an RTI query which was received by them in August 2019.
However, on the day of the press conference itself, November 18, the activists said they received a response to a follow-up RTI query with 12-month figures for the financial year 2018-19 that allowed them to update these estimates. However, they said, there was “little difference” between the earlier figures and the updated estimates.
Some instances of little difference in data
Pointing to these differences, they said the PMMVY coverage (in terms of “at least one instalment”) in 2018-19 as a proportion of all births was estimated at 22% based on the first RTI, and became 25% on the basis of the follow-up RTI.
Similarly, they said “some reports claimed that the Ministry had ‘refuted’ our estimates, quoting a figure of 1 crore for PMMVY coverage from a recent speech by WCD minister Smriti Irani. That figure, however, seems to be a cumulative total of PMMVY beneficiaries since the scheme was launched, as an earlier statement of the Ministry makes clear.”
They also stated that the figures in the table should be read bearing in mind that a small proportion of pregnant women (perhaps 1 or 2 %) were already supposed to be covered under the Maternity Benefit Act and related legislations in the formal sector.
‘No proactive disclosure by MoWCD, delay in response led to confusion’
The activists said the root cause of this confusion was the MoWCD’s failure to display this information pro-actively on a regular basis, as required under Section 4 of the RTI Act. Moreover, the ministry took 12 months to respond to the first RTI. They said there was “deep lack of transparency in PMMVY, which has contributed to the scheme’s poor performance.”
How the all-India coverage of PMMVY for 2018-19 looks now
The activists have pointed out that the number of PMMVY beneficiaries for 2018-19 who were paid at least one instalment stands at 67.3 lakh as against 60.4 lakh as per earlier figure. As a percentage of first births the figure is now 55 lakh in place of 49 lakh earlier, and as a percentage of all births it is now 25 lakh instead of 22 lakh.
Likewise, beneficiaries who received the third instalment stand at 33.2 lakh as per revised figure in place of 38.3 lakh earlier. As a percentage of first births the revised figure is 27 lakh in place of 31 lakh and as a percentage of all births it is 12 lakh in place of 14 lakh earlier. So the number of these beneficiaries has gone down.
In the footnote to this data, the activists said the number of births is estimated at 270.5 lakh, based on 2017 data for India’s population (133.9 crore) and birth rate (20.2 per thousand). Of these, 123 lakh are counted as first births, based on a total fertility rate of 2.2 children per women (implying that 45.5% of all births are first births). They said this information on number of beneficiaries was received from MoWCD on November 18, 2019.
In response to the earlier RTI, MoWCD had provided figures for the 16-month period from April 1, 2018 to July 31, 2019, and these were put on a 12-month basis by assuming uniform distribution of beneficiaries over that 16-month period.
Second RTI reveals state-wise estimates of PMMVY coverage
The activists have released the state-wise estimates of PMMVY coverage, that have come through the second RTI.
As per this data, the PMMVY beneficiaries in 2018-19, as a proportion (in %) of all births and first births were 67.6 and 108.2 for Himachal Pradesh; 59.1 and 94.5 for Andhra Pradesh; 47.2 and 127.6 for Madhya Pradesh; 43.1 and 73.2 for Kerala; 39.3 and 86.4 for Haryana; 36.6 and 58.5 for Punjab; 33.6 and 53.8 for Jammu & Kashmir; 33.3 and 86.6 for Rajasthan; 32.9 and 55.9 for Karnataka; 31.6 and 53.7 for Maharashtra; 31.4 and 59.6 for Uttarakhand; 26.6 and 64.0 for Chhattisgarh; 25.5 and 56.2 for Gujarat; 21.9 and 54.7 for Jharkhand; 20.8 and 33.3 for West Bengal; 20.4 and 61.3 for Uttar Pradesh; 18.8 and 43.2 for Assam; and 7.8 and 24.8 for Bihar. The All India figure stood at 25% and 55% of all births and first births respectively.
The footnote to this data stated that “beneficiaries” refers to women who have received at least one instalment of PMMVY money. It also notes that states have been ranked in descending order of PMMVY coverage as a proportion of all births.
So as per this data while Himachal Pradesh performed the best, Bihar clearly lagged on this parameter. Also, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Telangana were not been included in this data as they have their own maternity benefit schemes.