Continue extending maternity schemes: SC to Centre, states, UTs

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New Delhi, Nov 20 (UNI) The Supreme Court today, directed the Centre, states and Union Territories to continue extending the benefits of National Maternity Benefit Scheme(NMBS) to all the pregnant women belonging to Below the Poverty Line (BPL).

A bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat and S H Kapadia also directed that the financial assistance of Rs 500 per birth, irrespective of the number of children and the age of the pregnant women, shall be given to the latter eight to 12 weeks before the expected date of delivery.

The court in its 16-page judgement also noted, ''At this juncture it would be necessary to take note of certain connected issues which have relevance. It seems from the scheme that the beneficiaries are given the benefit, irrespective of the number of children they have.

''This, in a way, goes against the concept of family planning, which is intended to curb the population growth. Further the age of the mother is a relevant factor because women below a particular age are legally prohibited from getting married. The Union of India shall consider this aspect while considering the desirability of the continuation of the scheme in the present form after considering the afore said aspects and if need be, necessary amendments may be made.'' The court also directed all the governments to file affidavits within eight weeks from today, indicating the total number of births in the state, number of eligible BPL women who have received the benefits, number of BPL women who had home or non-institutional deliveries and have received the benefits, number of BPL women who had institutional deliveries and have received the benefits.

The court also directed all the governments concerned to regularly advertise the revised scheme so that beneficiaries can become aware of it and also to ensure that the funds, earmarked for the scheme are not utilised for any other purpose.

In case of diversion of funds, stringent action, as is called for, shall be taken against the erring officials responsible for the offence.

The court expressed unhappiness with abysmal implementation of the scheme, giving the examples of Delhi, where only 20 women had benefitted from the scheme during 2006-07, and Chandigarh with not even a single beneficiary. In most of the states, including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya and Dadar and Nagar Haveli only ten per cent have been given the benefit.

The scheme, however, has been fairly successful in Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Orissa and Mizoram, where the beneficiaries are over 75 per cent.

UNI

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