Shree Mulay


On March 8, 2008, International Women’s Day, Renuka Chowdhary, the Minister for   Women and Child Development, launched the ‘Dhan Laxmi,’ (female as a treasure) scheme with Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) to remedy the scandalous decline in sex ratios of girls.  This is not the first time India has experimented with a scheme to protect girls.Hopefully the Dhan Laxmi scheme will have better success than previous such schemes.


Despite the ban on use of ultrasound to detect the sex of a fetus, sex-selective abortions have left India with approximately 0.5 million missing girls per year during the last two decades  (Lancet, January 21, 2006). This novel scheme appears to be well thought out and anticipates the temptation by the populace to circumvent and beat the system by insisting on certain benchmarks. According to the scheme, parents will receive up to Rs. 2 Lakhs  ($ 5,000) for raising a girl child; it will provide parents, preferably the mother of a girl child, with a certain amount of money as she achieves certain landmarks. For example when a girl child is born, the family will get money upon registering the birth of the girl, immunizing her against childhood diseases, enrolling her in school, completion of school education and for delaying marriage until she attains the age of 18.  The girl will be insured for a sum of Rs 1 lakh at the time of birth.


The program will be run as a pilot project in eleven backward blocks of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Ten crore rupees ($ 25 million) have been allocated for this phase of the project and it will benefit   over 100,000 girls and their families. Another novel aspect of this scheme is to print social messages on female feticide, child marriages, the curse of dowry, and domestic violence etc. as a part of the public awareness messages on the back of railway tickets. In addition another five crore rupees ($ 12.5 millions) have been allocated for upgrading skills of women, especially destitute women through private public partnerships.


This is not the first time India has experimented with a scheme to protect girls. In 1997, the then Prime Minister IK Gujral had started the “Balika Smridhi Yojna” (Girl Protection Scheme) that was never implemented in the capital where it was launched with a great deal of fanfare, let alone in the more backward places of Bihar, Punjab and Haryana. One would be quite right in being skeptical about the scheme for upgrading the skills of destitute women through private-public partnerships because many such schemes have been launched in the past and they probably will continue to be dusted off shelves for a new reincarnation and none have had any success because the programs are very flawed.


Hopefully the Dhan Laxmi scheme will have better success than previous such schemes. Women’s organizations who in the past successfully lobbied the Government to completely ban use of ultrasound by the passing of the Pre-Natal Diagnosis Test (PNDT) in 1994, have been disheartened by the continuing decline of female sex ratios due to female feticide and infanticide because thus far only one doctor was charge under the PNDT act in its fourteen years of existence in 2007! These Women’s Organizations have a role to play to ensure the success of the scheme. They must insist that the Dhan Laxmi scheme is implemented; and monitored and appropriate measures are taken in timely fashion.


For one thing targeting only the poor through this scheme misses the significance of the wide- scale practice of sex selective abortions in the middle-class urban population in some of the economically well-to-do provinces. Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat have some of the lowest sex-ratios in the country so eventually the scheme has to address the middle class as well. In the final analysis, it is the deep-seated patriarchal values that have to change!


(Dr. Shree Mulay is the former director of the McGill Center for Research and Teaching on Women:

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