Cash transfers help Bengal women take financial decisions, says study

But issues such as child marriage, domestic violence require special attention, says the Pratichi Trust study; it says 85.55% of women say they decide on spending the money; the State gives ₹1,000 to women from SC/ST group and ₹500 to others

Updated - December 24, 2023 09:07 am IST

Published - December 24, 2023 12:30 am IST - Kolkata

A tableau showcasing Lakshmir Bhandar scheme during Republic Day celebrations in Kolkata in 2023.

A tableau showcasing Lakshmir Bhandar scheme during Republic Day celebrations in Kolkata in 2023. | Photo Credit: DEBASISH BHADURI Debasish Bhaduri

A study by Amartya Sen’s Pratichi Trust on Lakshmir Bhandar, one of the flagship schemes of the West Bengal government, points out that the cash incentives have increased the women beneficiary’s ability to make financial decisions and position in the family, but larger issues of child marriage and domestic violence require special attention.

“From the gender perspective, although issues of security, dignity, and freedom of choice for women are being addressed to a certain extent through Lakshmir Bhandar, larger background realities like child marriage, and domestic violence still need special attention,” the report by Pratichi Trust said.

The study published recently pointed out that 85.55% of women report that they decide how to spend the money themselves, followed by joint decision-making with their husbands at 10.76%.

Another interesting figure that the study points out is that the majority of the respondents report that their position in their family is enhanced due to Lakshmir Bhandar (Yes=61.07%, No=38.93%). The picture across social groups is also mostly equitable (though the perception of STs might demand more probing).

Lakshmir Bhandar, a flagship programme to provide financial assistance to women from economically weaker sections of society in the 25-60 age group, provides ₹1,000 every month to women from SC/ST households and ₹500 per month for other categories. The scheme was announced by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in February 2021 during the the Assembly election campaign. The West Bengal government annually spends over ₹15,000 crore for the scheme and the number of beneficiaries has increased to about 2 crore.

The study published recently points out that from the “policy point of view, it is important to ensure that there is conversation and awareness regarding the conflicting realities of domestic violence, child marriage and gender-based discrimination on the one hand and the benefits or freedom that accrue to women as a result of direct cash transfer programmes on the other”.

Child marriage an issue

Despite schemes such as Lakshmir Bhandar and Kanyashree (scheme providing cash incentives for school-going girls) child marriage continues to be a challenge for the policy makers in West Bengal.

In its report, the researchers of the Pratichi Trust have pointed out that Lakshmir Bhandar has presented before women of “modest background considerable promises for making a difference to their quotidian lives”. The study emphasised that entitlement, however, small but regular and steady has a multiplier effect on the lives of the beneficiaries.

“How ‘small’ an amount is may not be measured only in terms of its quantity, but also with respect to its qualitative potential. One indication of this far-reaching potential of the scheme that we have gleaned from the grassroots is that some of the recipients talk about their entitlements to both welfare and workfare,” the publication added.

Sabir Ahamed, national research coordinator of Pratichi Trust, who has been part of the study said that recommendations on the study include that women from similar economically deprived backgrounds particularly those from the OBC category and Muslims be treated at par with SC/ST category as far as the cash entitlement is concerned.

Mr. Ahamed also added that there should be an attempt to enhance ST participation in the scheme.

“Primary survey shows that the enrolment of STs in this scheme is still low in comparison to the proportion of their population. Concerted efforts need to be taken to augment their participation. Duare Sarkar outreach programmes may be arranged in tribal settlements to address the issue of their spatial isolation,” the study points out.

The Pratichi Trust set up by Mr. Sen has held studies and come up with reports on Duare Sarkar (an outreach programme of the West Bengal government) and the grievance redressal cell of the West Bengal government.

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