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Large Number of Women Do Not Have Access to Maternity Benefits: Survey -Ditsa Bhattacharya

-Newsclick.in

The paper by economists Jean Dreze, Reetike Khera, and Anmol Somanchi is based on the findings of the Jaccha Baccha Survey (JABS), a survey of pregnant and nursing women in rural India conducted in June 2019.

A large majority of Indian women are still deprived of maternity benefits they are entitled to under the National Food Security Act, 2013, according to a recent paper by economists Jean Dreze, Reetike Khera, and Anmol Somanchi. The paper is based on the findings of the  Jaccha Baccha Survey (JABS), a survey of pregnant and nursing women in rural India conducted in June 2019. The survey, conducted by student volunteers, took place in six states: Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh, constituted as many as possible interviews of the pregnant and nursing women registered at the anganwadis.

India’s Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act in 2017 was widely celebrated, as it increased the maximum duration of paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks. However, the paper pointed out, this provision effectively applies to a tiny fraction of women workers – mainly among those employed in the formal, organised sector. It said, “In fact, that law has been used to create a misleading perception, in some international forums, that India has some of the most generous maternity leave provisions in the world. Some women are more equal than others in this respect: relatively privileged women get maternity benefits based on the wage compensation principle (as they should), but the most disadvantaged are entitled to measly amounts. This stark asymmetry is barely noticed.”

In 2013, maternity benefits became a legal entitlement for all Indian women except those already receiving similar benefits as regular government employees or under other laws, under Section 4 of the National Food Security Act (NFSA). It said that every pregnant woman and lactating mother will be entitled to maternity benefits of at least Rs 6,000. In 2017, the central government finally formulated a new maternity benefit scheme under Section 4 of NFSA, the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY). An allocation of Rs 2,700 crore was made for this in the Union Budget 2017-18. According to the paper, this is only a fraction of what is required; universal maternity entitlements of Rs 6,000 per child would need at least Rs 14,000 crore per year.

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