New Delhi: In what could be a major boost for gender equality and mothers in particular, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is likely hike allocation for the Ministry of Women and Child Development by 20 percent with an emphasis on universalising the maternity benefit scheme.
Arun Jaitley will present his third Union Budget on February 1, a month earlier than previous years.
The finance minister, continuing with his theme of addressing gender inequality, is expected to address critical issues faced by women, such as violence, through budgetary priorities and higher allocation during his budget presentation.
According to officials, Jaitley is likly to focus on universalise maternity benefit scheme that provides cash support to pregnant and lactating women belonging to BPL families.
Besides, they would be given free health check ups and nutrition advice, the officials added.
Currently, maternity benefits are extended to women in high burden districts, based on backwardness of the place and lack of basic facilities.
While raising the funds available to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Jaitley may specifically provide for higher allocation for implementation of the maternity benefit scheme.
"The new scheme will be for all BPL families across the country," officials added.
The Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY), a maternity benefit programme introduced in 2010, provides for conditional cash transfer scheme for pregnant and lactating women of 19 years of age or above for first two live births.
The scheme provides a partial wage compensation to women for wage-loss during childbirth and childcare and to provide conditions for safe delivery and good nutrition and feeding practices.
The budget for the IGMSY was almost doubled from Rs 230 crore to Rs 400 crore. It may further be hiked in the budget for 2017-18.
In 2013, cash incentives provided under the scheme were increased from Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000 to comply with the minimum maternity entitlement provision of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013.
Given the need for maternity entitlements to be universal, the current fund allocation (Rs 400 crore) is considered insufficient for implementing the scheme in all districts. The scheme is currently being implemented in 200 pilot districts.
In the Budget for 2016-17, Jaitley had provided Rs 17,408 crore for the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
The allocations included Rs 15,860 crore for the development of children which included additional Rs 415 crores and Rs 300 crores respectively under the World Bank assisted strengthening programme for ICDS and the National Nutrition Mission.
Higher allocation for the Ministry of Women and Child Development in the next budget would be for various centrally administered programmes including saving girls from death, supporting rape victims, better health and nutrition for mothers and daughters, incentives to allow girls to be born and nurtured.
With PTI Inputs