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Beti Bachao Beti Padhao: More show, less substance?

Data from the Union Budget and RTI applications show funds for the scheme have been used more for media activities than initiatives in Haryana


A major focus of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) scheme has been Haryana — and not without reason. The north-western state recorded the worst child sex ratio of 830 girls for every 1,000 boys up to six years of age, according to the 2011 Census.

The BBBP scheme, launched on January 22, 2015, aims at “coordinated and convergent efforts… to ensure survival, protection and empowerment of the girl child”, according to its website. The scheme was launched by the PM at Panipat — a town in Haryana about 50 km from the Jindal Global University campus in Sonipat — as the state has been reeling from loss of girl children to malnutrition, illness, and sex-selective abortions.

As the documentation publicly available for the BBBP scheme in Haryana is nowhere near adequate, the writer of this story filed an RTI with the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, which coordinates the scheme, on February 24, 2020. Some of the questions asked were:

1. In fiscal years 2017-18 (FY18) and 2018-19 (FY19) actual spending on BBBP is short of Budget Estimates (BE) and Revised Estimates (RE). Why the shortfall?

2. In fiscal year 2019-20 (FY20) RE is short of BE. Why the downward revision?

3. How much of the Budget outlay from FY17 to FY20 was spent in Haryana?

4. How much of the Budget outlay in each year from FY17 to FY20 was spent in the district of Rohtak? What was the sex ratio of the district in these years?

Where does the money go?

India’s financial years begin in April of one year and end in March of the subsequent year. In FY17, the Union Budget allocated Rs 100 crore to the BBBP scheme. It was revised downward to Rs 43 crore. The following figure shows the budgetary allocation every year since FY16 for the scheme at the national level:

In Figure 1, the light blue line represents the Revised Estimates (RE); the RE for FY16 is available only in the FY17 Budget and has been represented accordingly.

In FY16, the Budget Estimate (BE) was Rs 100 crore, but the RE fell to Rs 43 crore. In FY17 and FY18, the BEs increased. The actual expenditure in both cases remained lower than expectations. In FY20, while the BE remained at Rs 280 crore, the RE was revised downward to Rs 200 crore. In FY21, the BE is Rs 220 crore — a slight improvement on the previous year’s RE, but way short of the FY20 BE.

In the RTI query, an answer for this shortfall was sought, but no clarity was provided. Instead the response said various promotional activities were carried out without expenditure through such means as co-branding with other state programmes and initiatives.

The RTI request had also inquired into a breakdown of BBBP funding under various heads. According to the response, in FY16, only 84.82 per cent of the allocated funds were spent. At least a third of this was on media activities (32.72 per cent). In FY17, 76.01 per cent of the allocated funds were spend, with 69.27 per cent on publicising the scheme and 6.74 per cent on state-led initiatives. In FY18, 80.1 per cent of the total allocation was spent, with 67.5 per cent on media activities and 16.6 per cent on other activities. Finally, in FY19, 80.83 per cent of the total allocation was spent, with 55.61 per cent on media activities and the remaining 25.22 per cent on other activities.

Haryana: Missing women, limping scheme

Haryana is the home state of this writer and Rohtak her home district, so there was special focus on this in her inquiry. As the poor child sex ratio shows, there is a preference for sons over daughters in the state. Young women also find themselves under a lot of pressure to give up their education and get married early in life. The BBBP scheme, which aims to save the girl child and get her educated, naturally, focussed on Haryana.

The publicity campaign for the scheme also focussed on the state. Freestyle wrestler and Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik is the brand ambassador of the BBBP scheme. (Haryana has produced several international woman wrestlers, including the Phogat sisters who inspired the 2016 Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal.)

Sunil Jaglan, the panchayat head of Bibipur village in the state also started the viral Facebook campaign #SelfieWithDaughter, by posting a picture with his daughter Nandini on June 19, 2015. He was praised by PM Modi in his weekly radio programme.

However, the state is also notorious for violence against women, as indicated by the “missing women” data from the National Crime Records Bureau:

The above figure shows the data of missing women for 2016, 2017 and 2018. The problem is not only because of rapes and murders but also sex-selective abortions.

Economics Nobel laureate Amartya Sen pointed out the “missing women” problem in the 1990s, demonstrating how the ratio of women to men in India was far lower than in developed countries. The declining sex ratio (number of women per 1,000 men) in countries like India and China also reflected the gross neglect of girls, according to Sen.

The declining child sex ratio in India provides ample evidence for this.

But, did Haryana — as a result of such intense focus — manage to set a shining example in implementing the BBBP scheme for the rest of the country? Well, not really. According to the response to our RTI plea, Haryana’s fund utilisation for the scheme has been rather poor:

Each year, utilization fell short of allocation, often being less than half. Some of the spending was on activities not even allowed in the scheme.

A look at Rohtak district makes matters even more clear:

Rohtak started off with almost full utilisation in FY16 but failed to do so in FY17 and the subsequent year.

More alarmingly, the sex ratio has remained pretty low — 868 women per 1,000 men in 2015.

Umang Ek Pahal — a lost opportunity

In Jhajjar, another district of Haryana which was cut out of Rohtak in 1997, an initiative called Umang Ek Pahal was launched in 2015 under the BBBP scheme. It aimed at reducing the female drop-out rate from schools by creating awareness about menstrual health.

The district administration provided sanitary napkins to adolescent girls for free to encourage them to pursue their education post-menarche. Money from the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) Innovation Fund was also used.

The campaign was implemented by the administration in 200 government schools, which were identified in the first phase, covering 5,550 girls over four months. In six months, sanitary napkins were distributed to 13,438 girls.

This program was also supposed to have provided employment to 22 women engaged in the production of sanitary napkins in Haryana.

However, there is little clarity on just how many napkins have been distributed and what happened to enrolment rates or drop-out rates or even employment to the women who were making the menstrual products.

The initiative was discontinued.