The Centre is trying to make the maternity benefit programme, which has been marred by delay, 'fully functional' by February-end, a senior official said on Monday.
The top economists of the country wrote to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley last month flagging the delay in the rollout of the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY), which promises pregnant and lactating mothers Rs 6,000 for the birth of the first living child.
In his address to the nation on New Year's Eve last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the pan-India expansion of the maternity benefit programme which was being implemented on a pilot basis across 53 districts.
Secretary, Women and Child Development Ministry, R K Shrivastava, acknowledged that the implementation of the programme has been slow and attributed it to "initial hiccups" faced in executing a new scheme.
"We are trying that the scheme becomes fully functional by February end. There has been some delay as there were initial hiccups and we were making efforts to streamline procedures," Shrivastava told PTI.
"Now that the discipline of escrow account has been enforced, we hope the scheme will reach the people within the next two months," he said.
The Centre had asked state governments to open an escrow account so that funds can be transferred there instead of the state treasury. The move will allow the Centre to ensure that states use the money for the scheme it is meant for instead of diverting it to another programme.
"Many states have taken time to open an escrow account. For instance, Delhi opened it on November 28, while we asked them to do so on May 19," Shrivastava said.
He said, so far, the benefits of the scheme have reached 10,000 women approximately.
The total beneficiaries are estimated to be 51.6 lakh but only 2.1 lakh have been registered with the government as per official data.
In May last year, the Union Cabinet had approved the scheme but restricted the benefit to the birth of the first child, down from two live births during the pilot project.
Shrivastava explained that operationalising a new scheme like PMMVY involves several procedures which are time-consuming.
These procedures include preparing a master list of beneficiaries, getting those details whetted by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), sharing information with the central government's Public Financial Management System, which sends information back to the state nodal agency.
The senior official said states such as Tamil Nadu and Telangana
have been late starters as they have their own schemes and wanted to continue running them with central funds.
"We have told them to run those schemes separately," Shrivastava said.