The Supreme Court has asked the government to reconsider the wisdom of extending maternity benefits to underprivileged women irrespective of the number of children they have, saying it would have an adverse impact on family planning.
“This, in a way, goes against the concept of family planning which is intended to curb the population growth,” a bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and S.H. Kapadia said. The bench also took exception to the government’s decision to extend the maternity benefits under centrally-sponsored schemes to women below 18, who are legally prohibited from marrying.
The bench, which had earlier observed that such schemes cannot be indefinitely funded at the cost of tax payer’s money without thinking of its impact on population problem, said: “The Union of India shall consider this aspect while considering the desirability of the continuation of the scheme in the present form,” the court said, adding “if needed necessary amendments may be made.”
The court, however, approved the Centre’s proposal to provide Rs 500 per birth irrespective of number of children and the age of the woman.
It asked the centre, the states and the union territories to continue with the National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS) and ensure that all below poverty line pregnant women get cash assistance eight to 12 weeks prior to delivery.
It asked them to file compliance reports within eight weeks indicating the total number of births, the number of eligible BPL women who received the benefits, the number of BPL women who had home or non-institutional deliveries and have received the benefit and the number of BPL women who had institutional deliveries and had received the benefit.
The court also asked them to furnish the total number of resources allocated and utilised for the period 2000-06.
Directing governments to regularly advertise the revised scheme to make the intended beneficiaries aware of its benefits, the court said: “It shall be the duty of all concerned to ensure that the benefits of the scheme reach the intended beneficiaries.”