Sarika Santosh Ghode, a 30-year-old mother of eight girls, who works as a maid, has been trying to console her three-month-old daughter who was crying at a courtyard-cum-parking area of their one room. She along with her eight daughters and husband stays in this rented room at Ektanagar, a slum in Pashan area of Pune.
Sarika who got married in 2006 has since given birth to eight girls in the last thirteen years, looks malnourished and tired. She had delivered her eighth daughter in Sassoon General Hospital, a public hospital in Pune, three months ago. Sarika is visibly anaemic and had visited a private clinic three times during nine months of her pregnancy but she never took those iron tablets or underwent sonography.
Sarika’s husband Santosh wants to have a son, thus she has been delivering babies to fulfil his wishes. Sarika said, “Whenever I visit a government hospital to avail schemes for pregnancy or delivery, I am told schemes are available only for two deliveries. So I have to go to private clinics that charge in hundreds and I cannot afford it. So I have to travel 15 km by public transport to Sassoon Hospital.” Her neighbour Savita Gangawane who was nearby asked me to help Sarika receive government schemes’ benefits as her husband falls ill frequently.
Though as per National Family Health Survey 2016, Maharashtra’s fertility rate is 1.87 against national fertility rate is 2.2, many women across the state gave birth to more than two kids. Apart from the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojna (applicable for the first child) and State Government’s Human Development Schemes (applicable for two kids), all other government schemes meant for pregnant women and new mothers are available for all, regardless of the number of kids they have.
But whenever she visited Primary Health Care Centres at Pashan, she was told that she would not get a free checkup, sonography or free tablets for nine months that are guaranteed under Janani Suraksha Yojna to all pregnant women.
Sangita Limbole, a 25-year-old from Vadar community, who stays in a two-room house made of tin at Pashan, is seven months pregnant. This will be her third kid. Her husband makes a living by breaking stones. Sangita said, “Doctor told me to do sonography that costs ₹2000 and my husband cannot afford it. I have visited a government hospital but I am told that sonography is available for only two kids. I am going to the chief of hospital again to try if I can get free sonography.”
Sangita who is aware of Anganwadi or Asha workers, does not know that she is entitled to free health services during and after her pregnancy. Sangita is planning to go to her mother’s house in Bidar, Karnataka. She said, “I would go to the local government hospital where free sonography is available.”
As per a recently released Maharashtra Economic Survey, only 2.36 lakh mothers got the benefit of Janani Suraksha Yojna, 66,000 of Matrutva Anudan Yojna and seven lakh women got the benefit of Pradhanmantri Surakshit Matrutva Yojna followed by a 5.54 lakh of Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojna in 2018-19. And in general, over 20 lakh children are born every year, as per the UNICEF Report on Children in Maharashtra: Atlas of Social Indicators. The number of women not benefitting from these schemes is high.
Dr Archana Patil, director, Maharashtra State Family Welfare Bureau, says that all the schemes barring two are available for all mothers regardless of how many kids they have. She said, “I will look into the matter if the health centre is run by the state government or I will talk to Municipal Corporation if it is run by the corporation.”