The girl child is up for grabs in Maharashtra which has posted among the lowest male-female ratios, according to the latest census - a full 3.26% behind the national average.
After the discovery of aborted female foetuses in western Maharashtra and Marathwada some weeks ago, an alarmed Varsha Gaikwad, Maharashtra Minister for child and social welfare, came up with the Savitribai Phule Sukanya Yojna to save the girl child.
According to the scheme, every girl child will receive a deposit of Rs5,000 to be placed in the State Bank of India at the time of her birth. When she is 18 years of age she will thus receive Rs 40,000 in hand, provided she at least passes her secondary school exams. Gaikwad thought to increase the financial benefits by also simultaneously placing Rs 21,000 with the Life Insurance Corporation of India at the girl child's birth which again, on maturity, would increase several fold by the time the girl-child turns 18, so that she can finance her further education or marriage if she so wills.
The entire scheme was expected to cost Rs900 crore annually and while it was appreciated by chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, it was shot down by finance minister Ajit Pawar who asked Gaikwad to bring it forward again in the next financial year as he could not find funds for it in the current fiscal.
However, Gaikwad was shocked when Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and a close Ajit Pawar supporter, Vinayak Mete, announced an identical scheme a few days later. Only, he called it the Ajit Balika Suraksha Yojana, naming it after, of course, Ajit Pawar.
Now, more than the fact that Gaikwad's brainchild was taken from her, what is emerging is the much-talked about rift within the NCP and particularly the Pawar family. For, Ajit's cousin and Sharad Pawar's daughter, Supriya Sule, has launched a high-profile campaign that promotes herself as the saviour of the girl child. The Marathi channels are full of ads showcasing her life and accomplishments and the highway from Pune to Satara is plastered with her hoardings. Accordingly, she is setting off on a padyatra from August 25 that will cover three districts of western Maharashtra appealing to the people's conscience. Her campaign is under the aegis of the Yashwantrao Chavan Pratishthan, controlled by the Pawar family in various capacities. But Mete beat her to it by launching his scheme on August 21.
However, without referring to Sule whatsoever, Mete told the Hindustan Times, "Speeches and awareness programmes are not our style. We are more action-oriented."
Accordingly, though Mete's scheme will be limited to Marathwada where he says the ratio is worse than anywhere else - 700 girls to per 1000 men in Beed district alone, he has borrowed from Gaikwad's scheme to deposit Rs5,000 in SBI at the birth of the girl child (though not the LIC) and precede this with a lot of measures for mother and child mortality, again all in the name of Ajit Pawar. "It is shameful that our ratio is so poor, hence I was moved to take up the cause of the girl child," Mete said.
Mete's programme will run for between three to five years in Marathwada region alone by when he expects the balance of the sexes to be restored (Gaikwad's scheme was to cover all Maharashtra for all times). Since Ajit Pawar has already said he cannot find the funds, the scheme, to be undertaken by two NGOs run by NCP leaders, will be funded with donations from philanthropists - and they have already received several lakhs for the purpose, said Mete.
Meanwhile, denied of funds, Gaikwad is setting out on her own to the villages (in Vidarbha this weekend) to rope in anganwadi sevikas to create awareness through door to door. Asked why she did not push for ownership of her scheme, Gaikwad said, "I do not have any marketing skills." Sule was unavailable for comments.