Little Succor to Maharashtra’s Covid Widows
Kanchan, one of the 20000 Covid widows in Maharashtra
p.c. Heramb Kulkarni
Maharashtra government’s Women and Child Development Department has initiated a Mission Vatsalya for the widows whose husbands have died of Covid-19 and also for children upto the age of 18 years who have lost both their parents to the disease. This is the first step by the government to ‘converge’ the various existing schemes and provide assistance under a single roof, but beyond that the Mission fails to provide any real succor to Covid widows in Maharashtra who number between 15000 to 20000.
The Mission Vatsalya, according to GR issued on 27 August, works on the ‘Government at your Doorstep’ principle. The Mission has taken a bureaucratic approach by forming a thirteen-member Taluka-level Committee headed by the Tehsildar with the Child Development Project Officer as the ex-officio secretary which is assisted by village/ward level committees. The taluka committee is tasked with ensuring that the Corona widows and orphans are helped to access existing schemes already being implemented by various government departments and NGOs. Such schemes and programmes include pensions for families of deceased government officials and personnel, ration cards, Adhaar cards, LIC and other insurance benefits, access to bank accounts, birth/death certificates, caste certificates, property rights, Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Anudan Yojana, National Family Welfare Scheme, Shravan Bal Scheme, Gharkul Yojana, skill training, Indira Gandhi Old-Age Pension Scheme, Shubh-Mangal Samuhik Vivah Yojana, Antyoday Yojana, Individual Benefit Schemes implemented by the Tribal Development and Agricultural Departments.
The Mission Vatsalya has failed miserably to offer anything new to the Covid widows. Many Covid widows have struggled to pay exorbitant hospital bills and many have incurred massive debts. At the very least the Maharashtra government should consider a cash support to help them. In fact, Maharashtra is lagging behind states like Assam where the government has announced Rs.2.5 lakhs to each widow. Similarly the Rajasthan government has announced Rs. 1 Lakh to the woman plus a pension of Rs. 1500 per month irrespective of age or financial status, Bihar government which has announced Rs.4 lakhs to the family whose member has died of Covid apart from pension to the widow and Delhi government has announced Rs.50,000 to the lady apart from pension and other benefits.
The Corona Ekal Mahila Punarvasan Samity, a network of NGOs, which is at the forefront of the movement for relief and rehabilitation of Corona widows and children has demanded that Maharashtra government should extend Rs.5 lakhs to each widow. The Convenor of the movement Heramb Kulkarni says, “We welcome the Mission Vatsalya as it will give activists the scope to work with taluka committees, but as far as financial support is concerned, the government is not yet ready.”
Mission Vatsalya should also consider liberalizing the stringent terms and conditions imposed on the beneficiaries under the various schemes to include maximum numbers of Corona widows. E.g. the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Anudan Yojana is limited to beneficiaries whose total family income does not exceed Rs.21,000 per annum which is less than Rs.2000 per month. This amount is so low that a majority of beneficiaries remain outside the purview of the scheme. Other states like Bihar have a higher cut-off amount. Bihar government’s Laxmibai Pension Scheme, by comparison, provides relief to women whose family income is upto Rs.60,000 per annum.
Not only has the Mission arrived rather late in the day, the Vatsalya of Maharashtra government is distinctly lacking in warmth.
– Paromita Goswami