The government is likely to increase allocation to the Ministry of Woman and Child Development (WCD) in Budget 2017, a 20% increase from last year.
It will use a part of the funds to launch a maternity benefits programme, which will include all families living below the poverty line. Pregnant women will be provided with nutrition, free health check-ups and cash benefits.
“We are universalising maternity benefits for all BPL families. And for this, extra allocation will be made for the ministry of WCD, which will be responsible for rolling out this scheme,” a finance ministry official said on the condition of anonymity. “The allocation to the ministry of WCD is likely to be increased by 20%, so that the new maternity care scheme can be rolled out.”
Over half a lakh women die in India every year after childbirth, mostly due to malnutrition-related diseases. Chronic hunger compounds the problem further.
“It is in these cases that nutrition, timely health check-up and additional cash can help pregnant women fight preventable diseases,” said an official involved in developing the scheme, who did not wish to be named.
In budget 2016, the total allocation to the ministry of WCD was ₹17,408 crore. This included ₹413 crore for funding the national nutrition mission, which addresses maternal and child malnutrition.
At present, the government looks after pregnant women in what are called the high-burden districts of India, which are defined by their backwardness and lack of basic facilities. But the new scheme will be for all BPL families across the country, another ministry official said.
The scheme reinforces the Modi government’s focus on woman and child development. Finance minister Arun Jaitley announced a 15.3% increase in planned expenditure in last year’s budget towards initiatives in agriculture, health and woman and child development. Since coming to power in 2014, most of the government’s schemes have focussed on women and children. These include beti bachao beti padhao, LPG connections to women, and even Stand Up India, which was aimed to promote entrepreneurship among women and backward classes.