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Beti Bachao Beti Padhao | Is Media Advocacy Overshadowing Real Progress?

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao | High on Publicity, Low on Ground Reality? Allocations and on-ground improvements show a disconcerting gap.

By Jayanta Bhattacharya
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Beti Bachao Beti Padhao
A girl holding the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao chalkboard | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

In a country that worships goddesses as the confluence of power and launches initiatives like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, it is ironic that people preferred boys over girls and went to the extent of infanticide, even foeticide, if the baby was female.

To stop the abortion of female foetuses, the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act was passed by Parliament in 1994. Then, on January 22, 2015, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao initiative was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Panipat, Haryana, to address the declining child sex ratio (CSR) and related issues of the empowerment of girls and women over a life cycle continuum.

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CSR is the number of females per 1,000 males in the 0-6 age group. This number is calculated on a decadal basis by the Registrar General of India through the Census, which was last conducted in 2011. Thus, an intermediary target – Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB) – has been set as a parameter for the progress of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao initiative.

Saying that there are rays of hope for the country, the sixth report of the Committee on Empowerment of Women (2021-2022) on action taken by the government observed that “there is still a long way to go to reach anywhere near the standard healthy Sex Ratio at Birth set by the World Health Organisation, which is 952 females for every 1,000 males.”

The committee, chaired by BJP MP Heena Vijaykumar Gavit, found that “with consistent efforts, the States are beginning to show positive results. This is evident from the latest Sample Registration Survey (SRS) Report 2018, wherein the overall Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB) is seen to have recorded a 3-point improvement, from 896 in 2015-17 (SRS) to 899 in 2016-18 (SRS).”

The available report from the Health Management Information System (HMIS) of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suggests there has been an “improving trend of 15 points” across India, which rose from 918 in 2014-15 to 933 in 2022-23 (the latter being provisional data).

This was shared by WCD Minister Smriti Zubin Irani in the Lok Sabha on August 11 while answering a query (Unstarred Question No. 3863) from BJP MP from Sriganganagar (Rajasthan), Nihal Chand.

The figures differed in Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 1589 of July 28, where DMK MP from Salem (Tamil Nadu), S.R. Parthiban sought to know about beneficiaries under the scheme.

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“Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB) has improved by 34 points from 903 in 2014-15 to 937 in 2022-23. {Source: Health Management Information System (HMIS), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) (April-March, 2014-15 & provisional 2022-23)},” the minister then stated.

Another anomaly was mentioned in the fifth report of the Committee on Empowerment of Women (2021-2022) – on Empowerment of Women Through Education with Special Reference to the Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao Scheme – placed in Parliament on December 9, 2021.

Paragraph number 1.19 of the report noted: "The proportion of funds spent on the advertisement of the BBBP Scheme over the last three years, as given in a reply to the Rajya Sabha on 05.03.2020, is as follows:"

S. No Financial Year Proportion of advertisement fund to total funds released
1 2016-17 91.10 %
2 2017-18 80.25 %
3 2018-19 65.38 %

In the subsequent paragraph, it stated: "However, in a written reply to the Committee, the Ministry of Women and Child Development provided the details of the year-wise ratio of the amount spent on Media Advocacy campaigns under the BBBP Scheme, which is as follows:"

Sl.N0. Financial Year Funds Allocated(Amount in Crores) Expenditure on Media advocacy campaign by the Ministry (Amount in Crores) Percentage of expenditure for Media Advocacy Campaign against funds Allocated
1. 2017-18 200 135.70 68%
2. 2018-19 280 160.13 57%
3. 2019-20 200 23.67 12%

Observing that “out of a total of Rs. 446.72 crore released during the period 2016-2019, a whopping 78.91% was spent only on media advocacy," the committee recommended, “It is time to focus on other verticals by making ample financial provisions to help achieve measurable outcomes related to education and health envisaged under the scheme.”

Take the case of Haryana, where, after the launch of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao initiative, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced in December 2016 that the state’s SRB had improved to 903 — the first time in a decade that it crossed 900. Haryana went on to touch an SRB of 927 in 2020-21. However, the state subsequently slid to 920 in 2021-22 and to 918 in 2022-23 (provisional data) as per the Health Management Information System by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

In the Centre’s reply (Unstarred Question No. 344) in the Lok Sabha on July 21, the decline in SRB was evident in 13 states and Union Territories across the country over the last three years.

Among the states and Union Territories that witnessed a gradual decrease through 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23 are Bihar (SRB of 917, 915, and 895 respectively), Himachal Pradesh (944, 941, and 932), West Bengal (949, 943, and 932), and Delhi (927, 924, and 916). All data for 2022-23 are provisional.

Some of the states and Union Territories that registered growth were Assam (942, 944, 951), Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu (883, 889, 914), and Gujarat (918, 927, 928). Uttar Pradesh (932, 934, 936) and Jammu & Kashmir (933, 940, 950) also recorded a steady climb.

The parliamentary committee mentioned that there was a need for a more efficient allocation and release of funds. It pointed out that between the inception of the scheme in 2014-15 and up to 2019-20, the total budgetary allocation under the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme was Rs. 848 crore, excluding the period of the Covid pandemic financial year of 2020-21. During this period, an amount of Rs. 622.48 crore was released to the states.

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“However, to the Committee's dismay, only 25.13% of the funds, i.e., Rs. 156.46 crore have been spent by the states, reflecting a not up-to-the-mark performance of the scheme,” the report noted. The committee has recommended that the WCD ministry immediately take up the issue with states and Union Territories to ensure proper utilisation of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao funds for the benefit of the girl child. In an unrelated development, until 2016, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) published data for foeticide separately. In 2016, this number stood at 135. However, it has since been merged with miscarriage, infanticide, and abandonment.

As India strides towards becoming a global power, the unsettling chasm between its centuries-old reverence for the female deity and the ongoing gender disparity is a stark reminder of our collective moral obligations. The varying figures and the disconcerting focus on media advocacy, rather than tangible on-ground actions, spotlight the quintessential challenges of bureaucracy and implementation. While it's commendable that measures like the BBBP are put in place to rectify the skewed sex ratio, one can't help but ponder: Is the emphasis on image-building overshadowing the core purpose of the initiative?


Jayanta Bhattacharya is a journalist with over three decades of experience with many national and international media organisations. He writes on politics, conflict and agriculture. He has extensively covered Afghanistan and many Southeast Asian countries.

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