Cash transfers boost women's health, inclusion in Odisha

Babada (Odisha), Sep 17 (IANS): Mukta Mallick, a resident of Babada village in Boudh district, about 270 km from the state capital Bhubaneswar, continued to work as a daily wager after the birth of her first child. It came therefore as a blessing when, before the birth of her second child, she received Rs.5,000 in four instalments.

She not only gave birth to a healthy baby girl but also obtained the necessary health services for herself and the baby. "It was a great help. I also learnt how to operate a bank account," a proud Mallick, 36, told IANS.

A conditional cash transfer scheme launched in Odisha two years ago has promoted the financial inclusion of thousands of women, except those who have central or state government jobs, besides helping them improve their health and that of their children, officials and beneficiaries said.

"This scheme has been well received by the public and the beneficiaries. The awareness about this scheme is also quite high," S. Aswathy, a director at the state's women and child development department which implements it, told IANS.

The Odisha government rolled out its Mamata (literally motherly love) Scheme in September 2011 to provide monetary support every year to poor women, especially those who are forced to continue working during pregnancy and lactation. Some Rs.3.5 billion has so far been disbursed under this scheme, for which some one million women have registered.

Ninety-seven percent of the beneficiaries, who are helped to open zero balance savings accounts in the nearby banks, belong to the rural and tribal areas. District level officials involved in the work said this was the first time that direct electronic transfer of funds to the accounts of the beneficiaries has been attempted on such a large scale in the state in any social sector programme.

Initially there was a challenge because of availability of banks and the women were not familiar with banking operations. Local officials facilitated their travel to banks and in some places bank officials conducted camps.

Woman aged above 19 are eligible for the benefit for the first two live births after opening a bank account, registering the pregnancy with local authorities, going for regular antenatal check ups and regularly consuming medicines and vitamin supplements.

The last instalment is given after the immunization schedules are over and the infant completes nine months.

Nearly half a million beneficiaries have successfully exited the scheme with all four tranches. Most of them, however, continue to operate their bank accounts, an official said.

Odisha is home to about 42 million people. Half of them are poor and mostly live in rural areas. The state once had the dubious distinction of having the country's second highest infant mortality rate of 65 per 1,000 births after Madhya Pradesh's 67 in 2009. This has now been brought down to 57. The maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births is 237 against the national average of 212.

The state has yet to evaluate the impact of the scheme but many involved in its implementation feel it has helped combat infant and maternal mortality.


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