The long wait for maternity benefits

GS Paper II

Topic: Government policies and interventions

Prelims: The Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana

Mains: benefits, issues with Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana

What’s the News?

  • The Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana announced three years ago offered a lifeline to pregnant mothers.
  • However, in Gujarat’s tribal district of Dahod, mothers are struggling to receive their entitlements as the scheme gets entangled in a bureaucratic maze of paperwork.

Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY):

  • It is a maternity benefit programme being implemented in all districts of the country with effect from 1st January, 2017.
  • It is a centrally sponsored scheme being executed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
  • Those who receive similar benefits from their employers and government employees are excluded from the scheme.

Benefits under the Scheme:

  • Beneficiaries receive a cash benefit of Rs. 5,000 in three installments.
  • The benefit is provided only for the first live birth and the money is to be credited to the beneficiary’s Aadhaar-linked savings account in different intervals over a period of nearly 14 months.
  • Each instalment is paid after the mothers meet certain conditions —
  1. The first instalment after early registration of pregnancy;
  2. The second instalment after six months of pregnancy on the completion of at least one ante-natal check-up;
  3. The third instalment after the registration of child-birth and the first cycle of immunisation of the child.
  • The government has clubbed this with the Janani Suraksha Yojana, which provides a benefit of ₹700-₹1,000, to claim that women will get “on an average” ₹6,000 for every first child.

Issues in the scheme:

  • Cash Crunch: According to the testimonies of village-level health workers at Juni Bedi Health Sub-Centre, no cash benefit has been provided to beneficiaries after August 2018.
  • The scheme does not fulfil the purpose: Beneficiaries get the money at least four months after childbirth, but in almost all cases that never happens.                  
  • Low coverage: the scheme failed to reach at least 49% of total 123 lakh mothers who are estimated to have given birth to their first child and, therefore, it was able to benefit only 31% of its intended beneficiaries.
  • Inadequate awareness: Only 66% of pregnant women and 69% of nursing women knew about the scheme.
  • Patriarchy at play:
  1. A woman has to be married and living with her husband to avail the benefits under PMMVY.
  2. If she is abandoned and she returns to her natal family, she can’t provide her husband’s Aadhaar card and she is left out of the purview of the scheme.
  3. When a woman is pregnant, it is visible to everyone. She should be able to provide her own Aadhaar card and demand the cash incentive owed to her.
  • Arduous process:
  1. Applicants have to also submit at least nine other documents for verification. These include an Aadhaar card (or enrolment slip when there is no card), an identity proof, a voter ID card (as age proof).
  2. The process is tedious and makes it very difficult for women to claim the benefits.
  3. Those few who are able to finish the documentation work have to often wait for several months, at times for years after their child is born, before they receive the cash benefit.

Way forward:

  1. The PMMVY needs to be brought in line with the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, by removing the arbitrary restriction that permits a cash benefit only for the first-born.
  2. There is a need for higher awareness among the pool of beneficiaries.
  3. there is also the need to pay greater attention to the special needs of pregnancy — good food, extra rest and health care.
  4. The amount of cash benefit also needs to be increased: Both of the above are violations of the NFSA. In fact, the government should emulate the example of Tamil Nadu, which offers ₹18,000 under its State scheme.
  5. Mandatory use of Aadhaar should be removed: Any government identity document should be acceptable so that beneficiaries are not forced to run from pillar to post. Instead, make the banking system more robust and widespread.
  6. NEFT is an effective way to transfer money electronically, whereas linking Aadhaar with bank accounts has created new problems.

The PMMVY could have been a lifeline; instead the scheme is lost in a maze of bureaucracy.


The high cost of raising trade walls

GS Paper III

Topic: Indian economy, multilateral agreements, WTO

Prelims: Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs)

Mains: Concerns with trade agreement

What’s the News?

India has often failed to gain from trade agreements hence Indian policymakers have become cautious about pursuing new trade agreements in recent years.

Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs):

Most of the world is now divided into regional FTAs, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for North America, the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR for its Spanish initials) for South America, the EU, the Eurasian Economic Union (Russia and neighbours), the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) FTA in West Asia, and now the biggest of them all, RCEP, which minus India, represents a third of the world’s population and just under a third of its GDP.

  • The WTO defines RTAs as “reciprocal trade agreements between two or more partners”.

CONCERNS

  • While some policymakers and economists see RTAs as building-blocks to a multilateral trading system, RTAs also face criticism for being detrimental to the spirit of multilateral free trade as countries that are not part of a regional agreement find themselves at a disadvantage.
  • India’s existing agreements with South Korea, Japan and the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) are often deemed to have benefited the partner countries at India’s expense.
  • The import-export ratio with these countries deteriorated in the years following the implementation of the trade agreements. Even as partner countries have benefited, Indian exports to these regions have remained lacklustre.
  • This has often led countries to seek counter agreements to try and level the playing field.
    • For instance- India signing a free trade agreement with South Korea in 2009 spurred Japan to seek a similar agreement with India.
    • This is because the FTA with South Korea would have endangered Japan’s Nippon Steel Corp. The FTA would have allowed South Korean makers of steel plates to export to India without tariffs while Nippon would have still had to pay a 5% tariff.
    • Eventually, India’s FTA with South Korea came into effect in 2010, while that with Japan came into effect in 2011.

Thus, while trade agreements might not lead to any increase in trade, they might still be pursued by countries prompted by fears of being locked out of preferential agreements.

This is especially true in an era of rising protectionism and uncertainty.

Steps needed:

  • India’s inability to gain market share in these regions may be partly explained by its lack of competitiveness in exports.
  • Unless India removes the structural bottlenecks hurting its exports, it is unlikely to make big gains in the world market.
  • The focus needs to be on where India can promote its exports; it does not necessarily mean entering into regional trade agreements.
  • India needs to be careful in weighing each trade deal on its own merit. When it comes to free trade agreements, no deal may be better than a bad deal.

Conclusion:

  • India’s demographic might is certainly attractive for international investors, but only if that vast market has purchasing power and is not driven by social unrest and instability.
  • Historically, the decline of colonial powers and more ancient empires can be traced to times when they turned inward and disengaged from foreign trade.
  • It flows logically that in the modern, economically interconnected and technologically inseparable world, India’s global rise cannot but be accompanied by an open mind on trade as well.

Mains question:

‘’India has often failed to gain from trade agreements hence Indian policymakers have become cautious about pursuing new trade agreements in recent years.’’ In the light of this statement analyse the reasons why India failed to benefit from free trade agreements?