The catchy Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao slogans are hard to miss, but, as it turns out, there’s been too much of messaging and too little of action on the ground since the inception of the scheme in 2014-15. Much of the criticism in a report by a parliamentary committee is reserved for the massive overspending — nearly 80 per cent of the funds — on advertising, and not on the proposed sectoral interventions in health and education. The decline in child sex ratio cannot be addressed merely by generating awareness, which has been hugely prioritised despite the clearly laid-down formula on spending. Improving the efficiency of welfare services requires visible change in terms of delivery.
The blame for both the ‘dismal’ utilisation of funds and the allocation imbalance lies with the states, which are meant to implement the scheme, and the Centre, which provides 100 per cent assistance and is expected to monitor and give direction to the countrywide project. Of the Rs 446.72 crore given to the states between 2016 and 2019, a whopping 78.91 per cent was spent only on media advocacy, the panel notes, while questioning the release of additional money despite funds pending with the states. The nodal ministry, Women and Child Development, has also been faulted for ‘no disaggregated information on the spending by the states/UTs on education, health and other interventions’.
As recommended, course correction is urgently required, and the strategy has to be revisited. The scheme may have succeeded in its task of awakening national consciousness towards valuing the girl child, but loses meaning in the absence of any life-altering transformation for the intended beneficiaries. Hoardings and jingles play a role, without a doubt, but the focus has to shift. Other verticals have to be provided adequate financial provisions for measurable outcomes related to education and health.
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