Analyzing the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana

    • By,
      Rashad Khan- Academic Associate, Kautilya

Wage compensation is an important component of maternal entitlements which has been recognized by most countries and appropriately institutionalized. In the case of India, paid leave is provided to women undergoing pregnancy in the formal sector. However, only 6.5% of the Indian workforce is employed in the formal sector, with only 5.9% of the female workforce engaged in this sector, so we see that this provision is only available to a select few. Women participating in the informal sector and women undertaking the labour required to ensure social reproduction at home are not covered by formal-sector benefits.

One must recognise the immense financial burden imposed upon families at the time of pregnancy due to there being no universal coverage by public health systems and very little support from the state for the underprivileged. Mohanty and Kastor have stated in their research that large out-of-pocket health expenditures incurred on medicines, tests, hospital stay, and transportation at the time of pregnancy and delivery are a major source of monetary loss. While caste decides access to healthcare systems, it also plays a significant role in the remuneration one gets for labour. Maternity entitlements are thus, especially important for Dalit and Adivasi women. Sabharwal and Sonalkar, using National Sample Survey (NSS) data for 2009–10, find that in rural areas, only 9.8% of working Dalit women were employed as regular salaried workers. About 52% of Dalit women in the labour force worked as agricultural wage labourers.

Keeping all these facts in mind, there was widespread jubilation at the announcement of the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 with its aim of providing partial wage compensation for women and improving the standards of health and nutrition among women and children. The law has been used to promote India as a country sensitive to the needs of the underprivileged women from the working class even though this is far from reality.

While the provision for universal maternity entitlements in India was a historic move, the PMMVY has not been able to address the structural issues that are present in the Indian context. Unlike what most political commentators want the public to believe, it is not that maternity entitlements are very expensive, as India spends less than 0.01% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on the PMMVY, and even our estimate of the cost of actual universalization at NFSA rates ( Rs 14,000 crore) is less than 0.05% of India’s GDP. The Jaccha Baccha survey (JABS) was done in order to see how the PMVVY was ensuring better health and nutrition for the overall welfare of pregnant women. The JABS highlights the fact that pregnant women’s basic needs for nutritious food, proper rest and healthcare were rarely satisfied in rural India. The payment of maternity benefits on a universal scale would help them to tackle the various costs (also including delivery costs) that arise to a certain extent. However, support in the form of compensatory wages must be supplemented with other measures such as nutrition and health services and efforts to question the patriarchal norms that put pregnant women in such a difficult situation. Women in the process of pregnancy are still expected to fulfil their domestic roles which leads to the maintenance of the domestic sphere. This lack of rest during the time of pregnancy and an additional lack of proper diet leads to the diminishing health of women. Additionally, under the PMMVY, women who get their delivery done outside any medical institution would not be eligible for the final transfer amount. This creates huge problems as the medical infrastructure in India is extremely poor, and lack of access to these spaces either due to cost or location is a big factor that inhibits women from receiving proper maternal compensation. As the JABS revealed, many women who would be single mothers or living with other men in the family would not be able to receive any benefits. The PMMVY also limits itself to only the first child, which is strange as India does not have a one-child policy and no such condition exists in the formal sector, further worsening the class divide.

A policy must be situated in its respective structural context and framed after doing a thorough analysis of the various infrastructural, social, and economic challenges that are present. In this case, the access to proper medical infrastructure, restructuring of power within the sphere of the domestic space and family, and proper valuation of work done by women in the domestic sphere and different workplaces are all factors that remain unchanged, leading to the persistence of the problem.