‘What can we get for just Rs 600?’: In Bengaluru, maternity aid doesn’t cover costs

Two Union Government schemes – the Matru Vandana Yojana and Janani Suraksha Yojana – aimed at providing aid to mothers and newborns have seen poor implementation in Bengaluru.
A mother holding her baby
A mother holding her baby
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When Aisha, a homemaker from Bengaluru, became pregnant in 2020, she applied for financial aid under two Union government schemes — Matru Vandana Yojana that was implemented in January 2017, and Janani Suraksha Yojana that was implemented in April 2005. To avail the aid from the schemes, she had to register her pregnancy at an anganwadi centre and open a bank account for which she had to deposit Rs 2,000. Money was hard to come by as her husband, who is the only earning member in the family, works as a mechanic and earns around Rs 10,000 a month. But she somehow managed. 

While the Matru Vandana Yojana (MVY), which comes under the Ministry of Women and Child Development, is aimed at preventing malnutrition among mothers and provides Rs 5,000 for this in two installments, the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY), comes under the National Rural Health Mission and aims to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality, for which mothers are given Rs 600.

Aisha's child is now a year old. She has received Rs 600 under JSY but is yet to see a penny from the MVY scheme. “I have visited the anganwadi at least 10 times and all they keep saying is that the money will be transferred into my account. They don’t give me a specific date,” says Aisha.

According to Rani*, an ASHA worker who helped Aisha apply for the aid, the first installment of Rs 3,000 under MVY is supposed to be given when the woman is seven months pregnant and the remaining Rs 2,000 is given when the baby is three months old.

Aisha says that even the Rs 600 she received under JSY will hardly meet any expenses. “Rs 600 is not enough even for the medicines required for the child. The Rs 5,000 would have helped out a bit with all these medical and other expenses for the child, but I feel that too isn’t really enough,” she adds.

Saba, a 27-year-old homemaker also from Bengaluru, had the same problem as Aisha. She too only received the Rs 600 from JSY. When she enquired regarding when she would receive the Rs 5,000 from the MVY scheme, she was allegedly told that it has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her child is now eight months old. “The people in the anganwadi say it will definitely come but they don’t say when. They said they will have a meeting and discuss the issue with their seniors,” she adds.

Saba lives with her husband, child, and her parents. Her husband works as a car broker and her father makes sofas for a living. She said both their businesses took a hit during the pandemic. She wishes that the money from the scheme had come during that time, as it would have eased their situation a little. She asks, “What can we get for Rs 600 these days?”

Rani says that earlier under the JSY scheme, a kit consisting of essentials — soap, towels, blankets — for the newborn and mother used to be given.  “It would have been some help if we were given the kit instead. Now with this Rs 600 we really can't buy anything meaningful,” says Saba.

Widespread issue

Saba and Aisha aren’t the only new mothers in Bengaluru to face this issue. Many women TNM spoke to complained about not receiving the money under the MVY scheme — money that would have come in use as many of the earning family members had lost their jobs during the pandemic.

In several other cases, TNM found that the mothers had only received a part of the aid from the MVY and nothing from the JSY scheme. Deepa, a homemaker, gave birth in August 2020. “The hospital staff took all the details for the JSY scheme, but a year later, the money still hasn’t come in. For the other scheme I received Rs 3,000 but still need to get the remaining Rs 2,000,” Deepa says.

With her baby due any day, she had to run from pillar to post gathering the necessary documents, getting photocopies, and submitting them. All for nothing now, as she says that the Rs 3,000 she received hardly covered any expenses. Her husband, who does plaster of paris ceiling work, lost his job during the pandemic.

Vinushree is one of the few mothers who received the entire Rs 5,000 under the MVY scheme. But she says for working women who have to give up their jobs, while pregnant and in the early months of caring for their newborn baby, this money is hardly enough as the family will already be under financial strain. Moreover, she says that in a city like Bengaluru where expenses are high, Rs 5,000 is a measly amount. “What will Rs 5,000 suffice for? Just consider the medical expenditure. If we go for a scan we end up spending something around Rs 1,000,” she says.

When TNM asked officials why there were so many complaints from women saying they weren’t receiving the funds from MVY, Priyanka Mary Francis, the director of the Women and Child Welfare Department, said that there has been a delay in release of funds and as the Union government changed the scheme code, it takes time for e-payment to take place.

Earlier, the Karnataka government had a maternity scheme called Mathrushree, which gave pregnant women an allowance to meet their nutritional needs. It was started in 2018. “It was stopped in 2020-21 as it overlapped with the Union government maternity schemes,” says Priyanka Mary. For the MVY scheme both the Union and state governments share the cost. With both transferring funds to an ESCROW account. 

She further adds that the state’s Mathru Purna scheme which provides hot meals and rations for pregnant women continues.

According to the National Family Health Survey (2019-20), only 7% of pregnant women in urban Karnataka received funds from the JSY scheme over the last five years. TNM contacted health officials regarding this low number, but there was no response.

Laborious process

Rani told TNM that the process to receive this aid is very cumbersome as well, especially for those who are very poor — the intended beneficiaries of the schemes.

“To avail the scheme, the women should have a bank account of their own. They won’t be able to get the money even if they give their husband’s bank account details,” she says.

These women fail to receive the money from the schemes specifically because of the difficulty in creating a bank account. “First off, most don't have the documents like a PAN card needed to open a bank account. Many won’t have the Rs 2,000 to spare to open a bank account, and are not even aware that there are zero balance accounts,” she says.

Further, many of them are so poor they don’t have proper homes to give as addresses to register for the scheme.

“Our slums have migrant workers who come from places such as Kalaburagi and Bellary. They won't have much knowledge about all this. Even if we (ASHA workers) are willing to complete all the technicalities for them, they won't have an address at all as they, in many cases, live in temporary sheds,” she adds.

Rani says that the scheme would actually be more beneficial if the aid was given in cash directly to the woman. “In many cases, the husbands are alcoholic and take the money. If it is given as cash to the mother, it can actually be used to buy essentials for the child before it reaches the husband’s hands,” she says.

(*name changed)

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