Two arrests in a backward district of Assam has exposed the vulnerability of the safe-motherhood project of the UPA’s flagship health programme.
Police in central Assam’s Nagaon district arrested two officials working under the Rs 11,930 crore National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) for usurping Rs 20 lakh.
Much of the money —received for Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY), a scheme integrating cash assistance with delivery and post-delivery care — was made from fictitious pregnancies and childbirths.
Under the scheme, all women in rural areas who deliver a child in a government or accredited hospital get Rs 1,400 each.
While women living in urban areas get Rs 1,000 each for hospital delivery, women living below-poverty-line get Rs 500 each for home delivery.
Two officials who were arrested — programme officer Debajit Bhuyan and accountant Pradip Bora — had been assigned the Barapujiya Primary Health Centre.
Their job included signing cheques and handing them over to the beneficiaries as well as bonuses for rural health workers assisting in childbirth.
From the 2008-09 allotment, the two officials encashed three self cheques - two of Rs 9 lakh each and one of Rs 2 lakh.
“The withdrawal aroused suspicion, but the two said they had distributed the money to the beneficiaries and had the necessary vouchers. Action was taken when they failed to produce the vouchers,” said Nagaon district's NRHM Joint Director Babul Saikia.
According to the mission’s director J.B. Ekka, this could be the tip of the iceberg.
“We have launched a thorough investigation to find out if there are similar cases elsewhere in Assam,” he told HT on Friday. “We have terminated their contracts and asked the police to take necessary action.”
Health officials though said the Nagaon blot did not reflect on the mission’s performance chart in Assam.
The state in 2007-08 had a budget of Rs 867 crore, a fourth of which was for reproductive and child health programme.
The Janani Suraksha Yojana subsequently saw the number of beneficiaries increase from 17,523 in 2005-06 to 327,894 in 2008-09. Institutional deliveries also saw a 50 per cent increase during this period.
The arrests come at a time when the national investigation agency is probing the diversion of tribal council funds to militants via some non-governmental organsiations.
Almost simultaneously, the state’s Anti-Corruption and Vigilance Cell has disclosed cases against 127 bureaucrats who have pocketed a whopping Rs 3,911 crore over the years.
The courts have given verdicts against only 16 of these.