NGOs allege foul play in maternity entitlement payments

Kolkata, Nov 21 (IANS) Inordinate delays in making payments towards maternity entitlement under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and insufficient budgetary allocation for the same have defeated the very objective of the scheme, civil society officials said on Monday.

Section 4B of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) provides for a universal maternity entitlement of at least Rs 6,000 for all pregnant and lactating women.

“We need Rs 15,000 crore to make it a reality. But even three years after the Act has been passed, this scheme is still confined to 52 districts as a pilot. Only Rs 400 crore has been allotted for it in 2016-17. The fund is insufficient,” said Anuradha Talwar, Advisor to the Commissioners of the Supreme Court.

“The payments for maternity entitlements are not being made in time, particularly at the time when pregnant and lactating women require such monetary support,” she said.

“I would have saved my son if I had got the money (entitlement) in time. My son died in a week after his birth as he was suffering from cold and cough,” said Sombari Mandi, living at Jamalpur block in West Bengal’s Burdwan district.

“I was also suffering from the same during the last few days of the pregnancy period and I had to work till the week before the delivery date,” she added.

Civil society organisations also demanded implementation of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 in the unorganised sector, as currently the Act effectively covers only 4 per cent working women, who work in the organised sector.

“The act has been amended in the Rajya sabha to provide 26 weeks of paid maternity leave and creche facilities to the women, who are employed in the organised sector.

The needs of 96 per cent of women, who are employed in the unorganised sector, remain unaddressed,” said Father Jothi SJ, who is associated with the Right to Food and Work Campaign, West Bengal.

Civil society organisations, including Karmajivi Mahila Parishad, Right to Food and Work Campaign, Shramajivi Swikriti Manch, Ashanghatit Khetra Sharmik Sangrami Manch and many others, will take out rallies across districts in West Bengal and observe the National Action Day on Tuesday.

These organisations also alleged “malpractice in rationing system” in tea gardens.

In at least 200 tea gardens, the management has been designated as ration shop dealer by the West Bengal government, they alleged.

“Under the National Food Security Act, Antodaya Anna Yojana rations of 35 kgs per family at Rs 2 are supposed to be given to them. The managements have now stopped their own rations, which they gave as part of the wages and is instead replacing them with the NFSA rations. Each worker is being deprived of about 33 kgs of food grains per month and a subsidy of about Rs 660,” Talwar pointed out.

“Across tea gardens, the management continues to deduct Rs 22.50 from daily wage of workers, but they provide only government ration,” said Anita Baxla working in Gayaganga Tea Garden in North Bengal.