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MP: Most Ladli Behna Beneficiaries Feel the Pinch of Inflation

Many beneficiaries feel that the sum of Rs 1,000 is insufficient to aid their financial situation amid rising costs of everyday things.
Madhya Pradesh Laadli Behen Yojana

Bhopal (recently in Sidhi): Annu Jaiswal from Sonvarsha village in Madhya Pradesh's Sidhi district was overjoyed when she received Rs 1,000 in her account on June 10, 2023, under the Ladli Behna Yojana. The scheme offers Rs. 1,000 per month to women between the ages of 21 to 60 years.

Annu Jaiswal borrowed Rs 200 from her husband, who works in a private company and purchased an LPG cylinder for Rs 1,200 to cook for her family of seven. She had been cooking with firewood for months and was excited to have access to cleaner fuel. 

When Rs 1,000 was credited to her account, she returned the borrowed money to her husband. The remaining amount was Rs 800, along with her other savings; then she paid Rs 2,700 as admission fees for her two children in a government school.

"The government is offering Rs 1,000 to provide relief in the soaring inflation, but it isn't sufficient considering the burden of inflation," said Annu Jaiswal, a mother of four. 

"Electricity, vegetables, cooking oil, flour, rice and other household things are incessantly on the rise, and the salary (of her husband) is on the decline," she told NewsClick.

Her husband works in a private company and earns Rs 10,000 a month.

She said she had heard Congress's  promise of giving Rs 1,500/month under the Nari Samman Yojana and LPG at Rs 500 to counter the Ladli Behna Yojana.

"I have four children to feed, so I will vote wisely this time," she said.

Jaiswal is among the 1.26 crore women covered under the scheme, with a total budget outlay of Rs 10,800 crore.

"Under the scheme, the government has distributed Rs 2,418 crore to 1.26 crore beneficiaries. After the reduction in age limit, we are expecting another 18 lakh new beneficiaries," said RR Bhosle, Commissioner WCD (Women and Child Development) department, who is overseeing the scheme.

In power for the past 18 years, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government which opposes the 'revdi' culture (freebies) coined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, launched the scheme seven months before the Assembly elections to woo women voters.

"Ladli Behna Yojana is not a freebie but a social revolution. The standard of nutrition will improve. The education and basic needs of the children will be fulfilled," said Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on June 10, 2023, while giving out the first instalment under the scheme. 

"Rs 1,000 would be revised in a phased manner to Rs 3,000 after arranging 'sufficient funds',” he had said.

The scheme covers over 1.26 female voters out of 2.60 crore women voters in the state, which is 48% of MP's total 5.39-crore electorate, according to the State Election Commission. 

Projecting it as a ‘game-changer’ scheme for women and an antidote to counter inflation, unemployment and anti-incumbency in the election year, the Chouhan government, which approved Rs 8,000 crore for the scheme in the budget session, has allocated Rs 2,800 crore in the supplementary budget passed on July 12, 2023, on the second day of monsoon session of the Assembly. 

"Women are the dedicated BJP voters who were shifting toward Congress feeling the pinch of inflation and corruption, suggests the 2018 Assembly data," a poll strategist who worked for BJP, told NewsClick.

According to government sources, the instalment will be increased by Rs 250 on Raksha Bandhan, taking it to Rs 1,250. This will then again be increased to Rs 250 on the eve of Bhaidooj, taking the total amount to Rs 1,500, similar to what Congress is offering.

"To sway women voters, the Ladli Behna Yojana was conceptualised," he added.

Like Ladli Behna Yojana, four months before the previous Assembly elections in July 2018, the government launched Sambal Yojana with much fanfare focusing on 38% of the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) population. The objective of this scheme - from birth to death - was to provide social security to the poor and SC/ST beneficiaries.

The scheme offered financial assistance of Rs 2 lakh to the beneficiaries on untimely death, Rs 4 lakh on accidental death, Rs 2 lakh on permanent disability and Rs 1 lakh on partial permanent disability. 

After the beneficiary's death, there is a provision to provide assistance of Rs 50,000 for last rites and assistance for upgrading small businesses to the family. The scheme has 1.56 crore registered beneficiaries, of whom close to five lakh got the scheme's benefits, according to the MP government's Sambal Yojana Portal.

NewsClick spoke to dozens of Laldi Behna Yojana beneficiaries, the majority of whom belong to the marginalised class, to know how this money is making a difference in their daily lives and would this impact their votes.

Most Ladli Behna beneficiaries said they spend their money on buying LPG cylinders, admission of their children at school, mobile recharge, medicine and daily expenses.

Jaiswal's next-door neighbour Savita Rajak (45), too, received Rs 2,000 in two instalments under the scheme. She also purchased the LPG cylinder after borrowing Rs 200 from her husband, who is a labourer, recharged her phone, which cost Rs 250 and spent the remaining amount buying medicines after she fell ill.

"Besides, the unstoppable inflation, rampant corruption, and costly electricity is making the lives of the marginalised difficult," said Rajak.

She is also worried about adulterated ration under the public distribution system (PDS).

"I receive 20 kg of rice every month under the PDS. Since it's highly adulterated and looks unhealthy for human consumption, I sell it for Rs 10/kg and buy a week's ration from that money. Many women of our village offered Rs 1,000 to officials (as a bribe) to add their names to the PDS scheme. Some of the names were removed while some continued like mine,” she told NewsClick.

Savita Rajak and Annu Jaiswal are also part of a Self Help Group (SHG) formed in 2019 under the 'Aajeevika Mission' launched to provide employment to rural women.

Jaiswal says the village has over half a dozen SHGs, most of which are dysfunctional due to a lack of training and funds.

"Aajeevika Mission officials ask women to come to Sidhi for training and work. Since Sonvarsha village lies 12 km west from Sidhi town and it costs Rs 40 a day to travel there, none of the women go for training because they neither have money for transportation nor someone to look after their children.” she added.

Since Sonvarsha village falls under the Sidhi Assembly seat, represented by BJP's Kedarnath Shukla for the past two decades, the opposition Congress' presence is weak, and the villagers are unfazed by Congress' Nari Samman Yojana.

To counter the Ladli Bahna Yojana, Congress announced the scheme in June 2023 and launched the registration promising Rs 1,500/month and domestic gas cylinders for Rs 500 if voted to power.

Sonvarsha's Rajbati also bought an LPG cylinder and spent the remaining amount on groceries.

When asked about the Congress poll announcement, she said, "We will vote for the government which is giving us houses, ration and money for LPG."

After a break of 10 seconds, she quickly added, "I have heard about Congress' announcement. But, we will vote for the one providing for us now. We will vote for them when they do it."

Mamta Jaiswal, another SC woman from Sonvarsha, said she also spent her Ladli Behna money on LPG and medicine.

"My husband is a labourer and suffers from a lot of diseases. Hence, the money left after buying LPG goes to buy costly medicines," she added.

Mamta Jaiswal said she was also feeling the pinch of inflation after her name was omitted from the PDS ration list, which was added after allegedly paying Rs 1,000 to an official five years ago.

"After getting ration for 5-6 months, my name from the PDS ration list was omitted even though I paid the bribe,” she added.

She is also in a debt of Rs 50,000, which she took from a moneylender to marry off her daughter.

Raj Kumari (32), a domestic help from Chhindwara and mother of two, said the Ladli money was a financial assurance for her family after she got separated from her alcoholic husband who used to assault her. She used that money for the education of her two children.

Kusum Bai (38), who lives in the slums of Bhopal's Gandhi Nagar, also refilled her gad cylinder with the money and recharged her phone. But her neighbour Rama Bai (52) is anguished after her name didn't appear on the list of beneficiaries.

"Despite filling up the form, my name didn't appear in the list of beneficiaries," said Rama Bai. 

"I have filled out the form for Congress' Nari Samman Yojana," she added.

Many women were anguished as their names were not added to the list of Ladli Behna beneficiaries. 

The government needed over Rs 15,000 crore to continue the scheme in the current fiscal year. But even after the first supplementary budget, Rs 10,800 has been allocated to the scheme, which is Rs 4,200 crore less than the assessment.

The financial burden of this scheme is expected to rise by nearly three-fold in the coming months, with the government announcing that the money credited every month will gradually be increased from Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,000.

"The BJP is desperate to woo women voters back. If Rs 1,000 fails to create a momentum in their favour, the government may increase the monthly aid to Rs 1,250 from next month by taking loans or transferring funds from another department," said a senior official of the WCD Department headed by CM Chouhan.

Many women who are beneficiaries of other much lesser paying schemes, such as widow pension and handicapped pension of Rs 600, are not eligible for Ladli Behna Yojana. 

According to officials, these women will also be given Rs 1,000 by adding Rs 400 from other schemes taking their monthly pension at par with Ladli Behna Yojna. For instance, Neha Rajak receives Rs 600 as widow pension, so she is ineligible. For her, it is a daily battle to ensure the upkeep of her three children. Similarly, Tara Jaiswal, getting Rs 600 as a handicapped pension, is ineligible to receive Ladli Behna benefits.

"Look at inflation, the prices of tomatoes, oil, LPG cylinder. Considering all this, Rs 1,000 is nothing. We don't even realise when the money comes and when it’s gone. We would instead like to do some work through which we could get steady income to make ends meet," Rajkumari Yadav told NewsClick.

The registration process to add new beneficiaries to Ladli Behna Yojana started on July 25, 2023. 

While BJP leaders have been terming the scheme a potential ‘game-changer’, economists see it as a bad move for the state's financial condition.

Speaking to NewsClick, Prof. Shumaila, an economics professor at Bhopal School of Social Sciences College, pointed out, "It's called the domino effect in economics when the government fails to control inflation (the rates of power, transportation, LPG, petroleum, vegetables, grocery items are skyrocketing) and offers pennies to counter public anger. The inflation is persistent, but the scheme is launched in the wake of elections because the government only worries about votes, not its finances."

She said the state's financial condition was already in bad shape. Borrowing is increasing, and the state pays 25% of its GDP as interest every year.

"If we continue to pay this for the next 20 or 30 years, we can't pay the interest," she added.

Expressing concern over the financial burden on the state, Shumaila said, "When all the options to take loans are exhausted, states take loans from the Reserve Bank of India. It's the last avenue, and we are already taking massive loans from the RBI every month."

When asked about the impact of poll announcements of both parties, she said, "The successive government would be in a debt trap. They will take loans to fund welfare schemes but can't repay them as the state already has such a high loan to pay. If we continue to pay 25% of GDP as interest for the next two decades, we can't pay the debt."

However, there are some beneficiaries, like Shyamawati Jaiswal from Sidhi, who have a cynical view of the scheme. 

"They are offering Rs 1,000, but inflation is increasing four times. We understand that the government announced the scheme because elections were around the corner," she said.

"The women are more inclined toward the current government as they are paying, while the Congress is only making promises," she added.

To counter BJP's Ladli Behna Yojana with Nari Samman Yojana, a Congress MLA from Ratlam, Harshvijay Gehlot, claims he has devised a “unique idea” to win over women voters.

Speaking to NewsClick, he said, "Apart from filling up the Nari Samman Yojana forms, we are convincing women voters by drawing parallels with both schemes. We explain to women that the BJP is offering Rs 1,000, and by adding Rs 200, they will buy an LPG cylinder. But with Congress' Rs 1500, you can buy LPG at 500 and yet can save Rs 1,000."

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