The child sex ratio in 2001 was 927 females for every 1,000 males. But a decade later, there are only 914 females for every 1,000 males. Thanks to this staggering dip, the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), which sets the social agenda for the UPA government, has questioned cash-incentive schemes that were launched by the State to check female foeticide, saying that the money is being used by families for perpetuating another social ill: dowry.
The NAC wants the government to re-evaluate such schemes to see whether they have any impact on the people or not. The Union government and 13 states have been offering cash incentives to poor families with twin objectives: save the girl child at birth and support her expenditure after she turns 18. While Punjab and Delhi give R1 lakh to the girl child, Madhya Pradesh offers R1.8 lakh. The money is kept as a fixed deposit plan in the name of the girl, with the hope that parents would use it for her education and growth.
While taking regular stock of all government schemes is advisable since it can help the State re-design and re-position an ongoing scheme, in this particular case, the NAC seems to be mixing up two issues.
True, as the NAC members suspect, there could be a link between cash incentives and dowry, but that should not be used to terminate such schemes. Even at the cost of sounding callous, it could be that the money was the only incentive for families to not indulge in foeticide. In any case, it is impossible to ascertain the end-use of the money doled out by the State in the name of different social schemes.
For example, can the State, in any way stop the misuse of unemployment doles? In fact, in some cases, the cash incentive scheme for the girl child has not found many takers. For example, Kanyadaan that was launched by the Pune Municipal Corporation has not done well. There could be a variety of reasons for it, the most important being the lack of public awareness. Instead, of shelving a scheme, these issues need to be resolved.
In any case, for a scheme like this it will be difficult to even justify what it has done for the girl child since no one will ever come forward and point out that only this scheme — and nothing else — pushed them into taking a positive view of the girl child.
Instead of dumping the scheme, the NAC must formulate a process that can ensure that the money from the scheme is used for something fruitful: maybe the payment could be linked to certain expenditures like education, health, skill development etc. At the end of the day, it will be difficult to find a 100% foolproof method of doing it, and the best way would still be using all possible ways of educating people and inculcating a sense of responsibility for the girl child.