Legal Correspondent

Supreme Court says it is implemented to a bare minimum level

  • It is a Centrally sponsored scheme
  • PUCL claims that poor women have not benefited

    New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday pulled up the Centre and the States for tardy implementation of the National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS).

    The NMBS, a 100 per cent Centrally sponsored scheme, provides for financial assistance at the rate of Rs. 500 a birth for the first two live births to women who are 19 years or above belonging to Below Poverty Level families.

    A Bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S.H. Kapadia, hearing an application from People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), asked the Centre and the States to file their response in four weeks to the suggestions contained in the application.

    The petitioner brought to the notice of the court that the "NMBS benefits continue only on paper and lakhs of poor women in the rural areas have been denied the benefit. The State governments have implemented the scheme to a bare minimum level, and are left with huge unutilised funds, despite the fact that they receive dwindling outlays by the Government of India every successive year."

    The PUCL submitted that the Centre not only failed to effectively monitor the scheme but also contributed to the poor performance of the State governments through cumbersome procedures of sanctioning funds.

    Quoting figures released by the Centre, the PUCL said: "According to Government of India's own estimation each year 55.2 lakh BPL pregnant women give first two births. To cover this estimated population of expectant mothers, a sum of Rs. 1,389.50 crores was required in a five-year plan period. However, the allocation is only Rs. 500 crores and only 10.60 lakh beneficiaries are covered annually. Not only is the allocated fund inadequate, but also it is hardly utilised by the State governments. Between 2001-2002 and 2003-2004, on an average only 38 per cent of the allocated fund was utilised by the States."

    For proper and effective implementation of the scheme, the PUCL sought a series of directions to the Centre and the States, including giving wide publicity to the scheme; simplifying the procedure for availing of the benefit and evolving a monitoring system and to raise the NMBS amount to Rs. 1,600 and peg it to inflation.