1. State schemes can cast a lifeline to this welfare plan: Five years since its introduction, there is vast scope for improvement in the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana

Context: Review of the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) after five years of its inception.

Facts about Childbirth in India:

  1. India accounts for a fifth of the total childbirths in the world, with a maternal mortality rate of 113 per 1,00,000 live births. 
  2. 260 lakh women who deliver on an average a child each year in India.

About Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY):

  1. The Scheme: It was rolled out on January 1, 2017, where a ‘cash incentive of ₹5,000 is provided directly to the bank/post office account of pregnant women and lactating mothers for the first living child of the family (subject to fulfilling specific conditions relating to maternal and child health)’.
  2. Exception: Those under Regular employment – Women with paid leave/maternity benefits from their employers in the government(state/centre/PSUs) sector or those who are in receipt of similar benefits under any law are not eligible.
  3. Objective:
    • Cash incentives provided would lead to improved health seeking behaviour amongst PW&LM.
    • Providing partial compensation for the wage loss in terms of cash incentives so that the woman can take adequate rest before & after delivery of the first living child
  • State participation: It is implemented collaboration with the state governments: 60:40.
  • Section 4 (b) of the National Food Security Act: every pregnant and lactating mother would be entitled to “maternity benefit of not less than Rupees six thousand”.
    • The scheme has retained the condition that the woman must not have more than 2 living children. Several civil society organisations have asked for such conditions to be removed so that the scheme could be truly effective.

Problems in the Performance of the scheme:

  • Since its inception, the PMMVY has covered 2.01 crore women nationally, disbursing a total amount of ₹8,722 crore.
  • Large Exclusion: the annual estimate of the targeted beneficiaries by the Government of India has remained the same over the years. While the estimated eligible population of pregnant and lactating mothers in India was 128.7 lakh for 2017-18 (as in a report by the Centre for Policy Research 2019-20), the target set by the Government was 51.70 lakh beneficiaries, which is only 40% of the eligible population. Exclusion error of at least 60% since 2017, as the target has remained unchanged over the years.
  • Downfall in disbursement during COVID: the enrolment and disbursements under the scheme have witnessed a downward fall in the last two years, as in the data provided by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) in response to my parliamentary questions. In 2020-21, more than 50% of registered beneficiaries did not receive all three instalments and there was a 9% drop in enrolment under the scheme.
  • Reduced Budget: The overall budget for women and child development was reduced by 20% for 2021-22. Additionally, Budget allocation for the PMMVY has also been slashed as it has been clubbed under SAMARTHYA along with multiple other schemes such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Mahila Shakti Kendra and Gender Budgeting/Research/Training. The overall budget of SAMARTHYA is ₹2,522 crore, which is nearly equivalent to the budget of PMMVY alone in the previous financial years.

States show the way

  • While the Centre rolled out the PMMVY scheme at the national level, States such as Odisha, Telangana and Tamil Nadu, respectively, chose to implement State-specific schemes for maternity benefits.
  • Telangana’s KCR Kit (2017): which has items such as baby oil, soaps, mosquito net and dresses, 
  • Tamil Nadu’s Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy Maternity Benefit Scheme (MRMBS) with relatively increased coverage and higher maternity benefits.
  • Odisha’s MAMATA(2011) or the maternity entitlement schemeIt has been offering a conditional cash transfer of ₹5,000 as maternity benefit for up to two live births for more than a decade now.
    • In a comparative analysis between the PMMVY and MAMATA for 2020-21, the PMMVY shows poor performance with a 52% drop in the number of beneficiaries covered while MAMATA showcased a 57% increase in women who received all the instalments.

Way forward for PMMVY:

  • Extend the maternity benefit under the PMMVY to the second live birth.
    • The predecessor scheme, the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana was applicable for two live births. Of the total live births in India, 49.5% comprises first-order births and 29.9% are second-order births, as per Sample Registration Survey 2018.
    • It is imperative to include second live birth under the maternity benefit cover particularly for women in the unorganised sector who are more vulnerable to economic shocks and nutrition loss for all child births.
  • Increase in the maternity benefit amount. Since the primary objective of the PMMVY is to provide partial wage compensation, we need to revisit the maternity benefit amount offered under the scheme.
    • Most women continue to work during and post-pregnancy since they cannot afford to lose wages; additionally, they also spend on out-of-pocket expenses during pregnancy.
    • The current entitlement of ₹5,000 provided over one year amounts to one month’s wage loss (as per the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act wage rate of ₹202).
    • In line with the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 which mandates 12 weeks of maternity leave for women with two or more children, pregnant and lactating mothers should receive 12 weeks of wage compensation amounting to ₹15,000.
  • Simplify the process Eliminate correction queues.
    • Reducing implementation gaps: These gaps stem from a lack of awareness within targeted beneficiaries and process level challenges.
    • The current registration form requires a mother and child protection (MPC) card, husband’s Aadhaar card, bank passbook and registration form for each of the three instalments, resulting in delayed, rejected or pending applications.
    • A simplification of the process can result in increased registration of beneficiaries.

Conclusion: To fulfill India’s commitment towards the Sustainable Development Goal of improving maternal health, an ambitious Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nourishment (POSHAN) Abhiyan and a national maternity benefit scheme are promising initiatives by the Centre.

However, targets can be achieved only if we revisit the design and implementation of this scheme, drawing lessons from States such as Odisha which are successfully prioritising maternal health and nutrition in a pragmatic manner.


2. From selective to universal engagement: In 2021, Indian diplomacy was characterised by a readiness to deal with friends and foes alike

Context: The remarkable hyper activism of Indian foreign policy will be the legacy of 2021, though the COVID-19 situation, high-level meetings on sensitive matters and protocol.

  • At a time when diplomacy had retreated behind laptops, Mr. Jaishankar unhesitatingly undertook extensive journeys, making him the most visible face of India last year.

Priorities handled in 2021

  • US Policy Change: Coping with the change from President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden and the consequent changes in U.S. policy were big enough to keep the world leaders on tenterhooks.
  • The COVID Fiasco: India initially became the epicentre of the tragedy after a relatively easy period which gave it the honor of being the pharmacy of the world. The exposure of the inefficiency of India’s health system and the panic caused by pictures of unattended funeral pyres put the country in the defensive and weakened its credibility as it tried to contribute to the resolution of global issues.
  • Chinese incursions: For India, the biggest preoccupation of 2021 was the effort to get China to disengage in areas in Ladakh. Dialogue, military preparedness and economic pressure met with limited success. The sooner we achieve disengagement in the remaining sectors, the better it will be for India to be more effective in the other areas of concern. Much of the time for dialogue with others must have been spent on establishing the rationale of our position on the border.
  • Afghanistan turned out to be a bigger crisis than expected, with the Taliban’s walkover in Kabul. India appeared to be the sole defender of the Americans against Pakistan, China, Iran, Russia and others. Bringing some civility to the Taliban in Kabul became a high priority in the face of a Pakistan-China-Taliban axis with some support from Russia and Iran. Wherever the Prime Minister and EAM appeared either in person or on virtual platforms, priority was given to Afghanistan and anti-terrorism rather than Chinese expansionism.
  • Climate change: India threatened to stand out of the line on the matter of net-zero emission target years, but succumbed to the pressure to commit more on promoting renewable energy and phasing down of coal.
  • UN reform: It was not going anywhere and there was no need to concede on our position on expansion of the Security Council.
  • Charges against flawed Indian democracy: the Prime Minister’s assertion that India is the “mother of democracy” and the EAM’s primacy of governance went uncontested at the political level.
  • The Foreign Secretary’s visit to Myanmar to engage the military junta at a time when Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders are in prison may raise eyebrows in many countries, but this is another instance of India’s readiness to engage those in power to explore possibilities of friendship and co-operation. The intention is to prevent China from having a field day in Myanmar.

A distinct change of style of openness and readiness to deal with friends and foes alike.

  • From selective alignment, India moved to universal engagement, even to the extent of convening meetings with antagonists.
  • Engagements with the U.S. went beyond familiarisation with the new government to increased commitment to Quad and acceptance of AUKUS and formation of the ‘western Quad’, with the U.S., Israel and the UAE.
  • The engagement with China at the level of commanders and diplomats was intense, and ministerial interaction continued even when China tore up many fundamental agreements that sustained the dialogue for many years.
  • Major agreements were signed with Russia, despite the American threat of CAATSA against S-400 missiles and the Russian inclination to align with China in the days to come.

ON Afghanistan:

  • Patience, diligence and firmness rather than succumbing to concessions: India attended a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting, where a sub-group led by China took its own decisions on Afghanistan. We also attended a meeting of Russia, China and India. Such an approach demanded high-level personal involvement at the senior levels.

UN Presidency:

  • Perhaps because of the unique geopolitical situation, India gave particular importance to its presidency of the UN Security Council in August 2021.
  • Unprecedented in the history of the UN, an event at the Security Council was chaired by the Prime Minister.
  • India also brought global issues of particular importance to the agenda of the month. Significant inputs were provided during discussions on issues like maritime security, peacekeeping and anti-terrorism for active consideration in the future.  India’s diplomatic capabilities and its commitment to the UN were demonstrated yet again.

Two major challenges

  • China has not shown willingness to disengage in Ladakh and withdraw to the previous positions behind the Line of Actual Control. But the expectation is that China will take a more reasonable approach once the current convulsions end with the beginning of another term for President Xi Jinping. He cannot afford to show any sign of weakness in his external and internal policies at this critical time.
  • Afghanistan: the haul may be longer, given the stubbornness of the Taliban and its proclivity to endanger its own people for the purity of faith. The international community is already moving in the direction of rescuing the regime by providing humanitarian assistance even without any change in the repressive regime. India has a formidable challenge in Afghanistan, regardless of its open and universal engagement with all concerned. But India’s new style of diplomacy will have an impact in shaping the world of the future.


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