Labouring on the Fields During the Ninth Month of Pregnancy

Schemes benefitting poor women are disbursed to them through bank accounts. But a large number of the beneficiaries do not even have access to banks.

Like any new mother, Mamta Choudhary dotes on her infant and is loath to part with her. Yet poverty compels her to go out as a daily wage labourer. An adivasi woman living below the poverty line, she works in agricultural fields to earn a living, even as she is nursing. “I had to go to work even in the last month of my pregnancy,” she says to Chetan Salve, a Community Correspondent from Maharashtra’s tribal-dominated Nandurbar district. But she shouldn’t have to–three schemes designed to reduce maternal and child mortality should have paid her over 5000 rupees to ensure that she and her child would be healthy and stress-free.

In Lakkadkot village of Nandurbar district, Mamta and 69 other pregnant and nursing women had not received any of these benefits since 2015.

The Janani Suraksha Yojana incentivises deliveries at government institutions, paying the mother 700 rupees when she opts to have her baby at a government health facility. This nation wide programme is the largest conditional cash transfer welfare scheme in terms of the number of beneficiaries. The Matrutva Anudan was started by the Maharashtra state government to ensure all pregnant women receive regular ante-natal medical checkups and receive treatments like the requisite vaccines. It pays women four hundred rupees to ensure they access this care. The Manav Vikas Mission, also a state government scheme for those living in backward districts, gives 2000 rupees to women in the last month before pregnancy so they can stay at home instead of having to work. Another 2000 rupees is given to them after they deliver at a government hospital to incentivise institutional births as well as ensuring that the nursing mother is not separated from the infant due to need to earn. But in Lakkadkot village of Nandurbar district, Mamta and 69 other pregnant and nursing women had not received any of these benefits since 2015.

Hearing about this gross violation of rights Community Correspondent Chetan Salve made a video on the issue and invited the Taluka Medical Officer for a visit. Dr Rajendra Pendharkar not only visited, but seeing the seriousness of the situation immediately set about getting the women their dues. Dispelling the myth of the apathetic and lax government babudom, he promised to resolve 75% of the cases immediately. However, he hit a roadblock: the benefits are disbursed through direct cash transfers to banks or through cheques to the beneficiaries. Most of the women did not have bank accounts. Only nine could immediately avail the promised cheques.

While the benefits could not be disbursed with the promptness Dr Pendharkar had initially promised, Chetan is happy to report that things have since moved in the right direction. The frontline healthworker at the local Anganwadi Centre has been suspended because she never showed up. The new auxiliary nurse midwife appointed in her place has ensured that all women are getting requisite medical checkups, vaccinations and the iron and folic acid pills. Further, the government officials have assisted the women in opening their accounts at the nearest nationalised banks. “Within two months of making the video and informing the officials, 95% of the women received the pending cash from the three schemes,” Chetan reports. Government apathy and corruption have become a byword in disbursing social welfare, particularly in rural India. This video shows how easily that can change when the community comes together to demand action and are met by a responsive government functionary.

Article by Madhura Chakraborty

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