Ten districts out of 161 have set an example by effectively implementing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) scheme through community engagement and strict implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act 1994.

The ten districts which were felicitated by the Prime Minister have been awarded for their contribution in the following three categories: (1) Effective community engangement (six districts awarded): Raigarh (Chhattisgarh), Sikar (Rajasthan), Bijapur (Karnataka), North Sikkim (Sikkim), Tarantaran (Punjab), Hyderabad (Telengana). (2) Enforcement of PCPNDT Act (two Districts awarded): Sonipat (Haryana), Ahmedabad (Gujarat). (3) Enabling education of girl child (two districts awarded): Jhunjhunu (Rajasthan), Udhampur (Jammu & Kashmir).

To ensure that the District Magistrates (DMs), who are the nodal officers of the BBBP scheme, stay motivated to effectively implement the scheme, Prime Minister Modi awarded the DMs of 10 best performing districts out of the 161 districts in which the BBBP scheme had already been operational. The Sunday Guardian spoke to the DMs to know what actions resulted in an improved Child Sex Ratio (CSR) in their respective areas.

Avantika Singh, collector of Ahmedabad district, Gujarat, that has been awarded for its efficient implementation of the PCPNDT Act 1994, told The Sunday Guardian, “It is a proud moment for the people of Ahmedabad who pro-actively engaged in improving CSR. The 2011 census had revealed a CSR of 898 girls per 1,000 boys in Ahmedabad. Today in 2018, our CSR is 904. In order to achieve the desired results, we conducted 42 decoy operations and nine sting operations on medical centres that were engaging in illegal gender tests. There are in all 111 court cases against doctors who were caught violating the law and three has been convicted so far. We also sealed 62 sonography machines that were being used for gender revelation of the foetus.”

However, Singh said that the conviction rate is still low. “The reason is a lack of efficient evidence. Even if we are conducting decoy operations, the doctors and hospitals often hire expensive lawyers to defend themselves and that makes things tricky for us,” Singh said.

Using decoy operations to encourage the general public to apprehend doctors violating the PCPNDT Act, L.N. Soni, the former DM of Sikar, Rajasthan, said, “We decided to award the people who participated in the decoy operations. A lady police constable, a pregnant woman and a social worker were often involved in a single decoy operation. We decided to award the women with Rs 2 lakh.”

Another women DM awarded by PM Modi was Shammi Abidi, Raigarh, Chhattisgarh. Raigarh was made part of the pilot list of districts in 2015 with 914 females to 1,000 males. In the year 2017-18, target was given to improve the status by 10 points from 928 to 938, but DM Abidi said that their CSR as of March 2018 fared even further than the target at 951. “One of our unique initiatives was to send a greeting card to the family which has given birth to a girl child, signed by the Chief Minister. The card would bear the photo of the mother and the child with basic birth details as well. Over 300 awareness camps, 10 women association meetings and 750 rallies on BBBP were conducted that led to the engagement of approximately of 1,00,000 citizens in the district. We also conducted mega tree plantation drives where 1,64,000 girls planted trees that were named after them. We also organised women sports events like wrestling, cricket, kabaddi etc.”

Narrating the challenges, former DM D.P.S. Kharbanda, Tarantaran, Punjab, said, “Punjab is a prosperous state, but still people have held on to the view of preferring a boy over a girl. So we decided to engage the religious heads of local places of worship. We invited gurudwaras and temples to talk about the relevance of girls in our society after Ardas and Aarti.”

While the community engagement and implementation of the PCPNDT Act has led to improved results in some districts, the challenges for BBBP on a national scale are abundant. 

While in districts like Sikar, where community engagement activities were done at a low cost without any wastage of funds, several districts in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have been criticised for diverging money meant for BBBP to fund other schemes. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report published in May 2017 on BBBP had revealed acute under-utilisation of the money that is to be used under various provisions of the scheme. 

Sikar’s former DM Soni said, “The money that was used for community engagement activities came out of the funds that we had collected from the people. But the award money that was given to the participants of decoy operations came out of BBBP fund. We took account details of the beneficiaries and transferred the money directly.”

Punjab’s former DM Kharbanda emphasised on the role of audits. “We sent our account for auditing. So whatever was spent on whichever activity is under vigilance. For any scheme, the role of audit is necessary to gauge the results and we did not hesitate away from it.”

BBBPS is a Centrally-sponsored scheme that provides 100% financial assistance to state governments to encourage education of the girl child. As per the guidelines, Rs 5 lakh were to be provided to each district for implementing the scheme. Overall, out of a total amount of Rs 43 crore that was set aside for BBBP in the fiscal year 2016-2017, only Rs 5 crore had been correctly utilised, according to the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development. BBBP emphasises on the importance of enforcing the PCPNDT Act at the national, state and district levels, but the CAG report had revealed that not all districts had an anonymous online complaint portal. 

An officer whose district won the award said, “The requirement of such a portal is well-placed. However, on the ground, we see that information about such medical centres is easily available, but proving their malpractices to get them convicted in court is the more difficult part.”

Rajan Chowdhary, a social activist based in Rajasthan, said, “Creating awareness and stopping foeticide and infanticide are two fronts on which BBBP has done well. But the girls that were not killed in womb need to be educated to survive these challenges. BBBP still has a long way to go to ensure 100% enrolment of the girl child in schools.”

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