The Union Cabinet on Wednesday slashed the number of beneficiaries under its Maternity Benefit Programme by restricting the scheme to only firstborns. Earlier, the scheme was applicable for the first two live births.

Under the scheme, pregnant women and lactating mothers will now receive Rs 6,000, of which Rs 5,000 will be given in three installments. First, the mother will receive Rs 1,000 after early registration of pregnancy, then after about six months she will get Rs 2,000 and the rest after registration of child birth and confirmation that the newborn has received the first cycle of vaccinations.

However, regular Central or state government employees or those working with public sector undertakings, or those who receive similar benefits under any law are excluded from the scheme. Maternity Benefit Programme aims to bring down maternal mortality.

This comes as the Centre has reduced the funds estimated for the scheme by a huge margin, according to The Indian Express. The Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution in January, 2013, had suggested allocating Rs 14,512 crore for the implementation of the scheme. “At the rate of Rs. 1,000 per month for six months, the scheme expenditure towards maternity benefits to 2.25 crore pregnant and lactating women works out to be Rs 14,512 crore per annum,” the report had said. But in the 2017-2018 Budget, the government allocated only Rs 2,700 crore for the scheme.

Under the existing Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana, which has been in place across 56 districts since 2010, every pregnant and lactating woman above the age of 19 years is given Rs 6,000 each for two live births. On December 31 last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced its pan-India expansion and said that the scheme would cover all blocks and districts from January 1, 2017.

Social activists have criticised the move and said most women would not benefit from the scheme. “The government should concentrate on good, quality care for pregnant women and make available the benefts to every woman who reaches a government health care centre,” Tania Sheshadri, an independent community health researcher in Karnataka, told PTI. National coordinator of White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood Aparajita Gogoi, too, believes that the scheme will deprive many mothers. “Reducing the scheme to firstborns will deprive many mothers from getting the benefits of the welfare scheme,” she told the news agency.