The West Bengal government has widened the reach of its flagship women welfare scheme ‘Kanyashree’ by lifting the ceiling on annual family income. As per the scheme, unmarried girls above 13 years are offered cash incentive for remaining unmarried till 18.

The extension of the scope of the scheme will cost the state exchequer an additional ₹200 crore, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Tuesday. The State had incurred an annual expenditure of ₹1,200 crore under the scheme last year.

Kanyashree was launched in 2013 to prevent child marriage in economically weaker sections with an annual household income of ₹1.2 lakh. Successful applicants got ₹1,000 a year scholarship from 13 to 18 years and an one-time grant of ₹25,000 on remaining unmarried till 18 years.

Trump card

Beyond the social objectives, the scheme became a hit among the electorate and is considered to have played a role behind the ruling Trinamool Congress’s spectacular results in 2016 Assembly election.

By opening the scheme to anyone and everyone, irrespective of family earning, Banerjee may have wanted to capitalise on the success of the scheme in 2019 general elections. “I am lifting the ceiling today; everyone will stand to get the Kanyashree benefit,” Banerjee said on the fifth year celebrations of the scheme here today.

So far, 50 lakh beneficiaries are enrolled under the scheme in the state.

‘Dream project’

Banerjee also spoke about the need for setting up a ‘Kanyashree Viswa Vidyalaya’ to ensure higher education for the girl child.

“I want the Women and Child Development and Social Welfare department to work on setting up of a Kanyashree Viswa Vidyalaya. All beneficiaries of the scheme should be granted assured admission here,” she said.

Calling this a ‘dream project’, Banerjee also asked the technical education and training department to impart special skill training to the girls to ensure employment opportunity.

It is to be noted that in June last year, the United Nations had awarded the West Bengal government the first place for Public Service for its ‘Kanyashree’ scheme.