BACKGROUND: One of the best indicators of the health of any civilization and Nation State is the way it treats its elderly. Although traditionally, we pride ourselves with respecting our elderly, their dire plight is a matter of great shame and concern. At 8.2% of the total population, they number close to10 crore, with one-sixth of the elderly living without any family.The large-scale migration that is now becoming the norm for working class people is leaving the elderly without the physical and financial support of younger family members. These socio-economic changes are not self-generated but result from the economic changes the State has championed. This calls for increased responsibility of the State to ensure that the elderly are able to lead economically secure, healthy and safe lives.
EXISTING GOVERNMENT SCHEMES: Currently, persons above 60 years get a pension of Rs. 200 per month, and those over 80 years get Rs. 500 per month under the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS) constituted by the Ministry of Rural Development. However this is limited to persons Below the Poverty Line. Of the total elderly population, only 1.97 crore are beneficiaries of IGNOAPS, which means that only about one in every five persons over 60 years old receives old age pension. Further, the amounts paid as pension to elderly people, ranges from a maximum of 1000 rupees per month in Goa and Delhi to a paltry 200 rupees per month in States such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha.
INTERNATIONAL PRECEDENTS: There are several low and middle-income countries that have instituted universal or near universal non-contributory old age pension systems. For instance, Bolivia with a per capita GDP about 40% higher than that of India pays a pension of about 1500 rupees per month. Lesotho, with a per capita GDP that is about two-third that of India’s, pays 2300 rupees per month. And Kenya with just half the per capita GDP of India pays over 1250 rupees per month. Even Nepal, with per capita GDP about one third that of India’s, pays a pension of 313 rupees per month to its elderly.
SKEWED ALLOCATION OF RESOURCES:Employment linked Pensions are restricted to the elderly in the organized sector or to those who are among the rich and upper middle class categories. But groups that are most in need of old age pension are largely in the unorganized sector. Between the year 2000 and 2010, the organized sector added less than 0.3% workers annually to the work-force, while the GDP of the country more than doubled, with an annual rate of more than 7.5%. It is clear that much of the contribution to this growth came from the workers in the unorganized sector. But, unlike the organized sectors, workers in the unorganized sector do arduous manual labour often in the most difficult physical circumstances and without adequate nutrition and rest. Forcing them then to work beyond the age of 55, in order to survive, amounts to a form of punishment. The demand for old age pension is thus not a demand for charity but a demand for recognition of their contribution to the economy. It is time we gave them the much-needed economic support and rest they deserve after a life-time of hard work.
In addition, there are other vulnerable groups such as the Primitive Tribal Groups [PTG], socially stigmatized communities such as sex workers, the transgender community, HIV positive people who are among the worst victims of lack of care and support. Their particular vulnerabilities go beyond age, as some of them cannot get work even at a younger age. These groups should also be considered for appropriate income support beyond what is guaranteed to others.
PENSION PARISHAD DEMANDS
- A Universal and Non Contributory Old Age Pension System to be established immediately by the government with a minimum amount of monthly pension not less than 50% of minimum wage or Rs 2000/- per month, whichever is higher.
- The pension to be an individual entitlement for all eligible citizens of India.
- The monthly pension amount to be indexed to inflation bi-annually and revised every two to three years in the same manner as is done for salaries/pensions of government servants.
- Any individual 55 years or older to be eligible for the old age pension.
- For women, eligibility age for pensions to be 50 years.
- For highly vulnerable groups (such as the Primitive Tribal Groups, Transgender, Sex Workers, PWDs), the eligibility age to be 45 years or fixed according to their particular circumstances.
- No one to be forced to compulsorily retire from work on attaining the age of eligibility for universal old age pension.
- A single window system for Old Age Pensions.
- APL / BPL criteria should not be used for exclusion.
- The payment of pension not to be used to deny any other social security / welfare benefit such as benefit under the Public Distribution System.
- Individuals whose income is higher than the threshold level for payment of income tax
- Individuals who are receiving pension from any other sources that exceeds the pension amount under the Universal Old Age Pension Programme.
We do realise that meeting these demands will entail large amounts of public money but there are various ways in which this can be done. For instance, it is not just the state exchequer that need bear this burden. Since it concerns the recognition of a life-time of work and contribution by unorganized sector workers, a cess could be levied on industries/ sectors where unorganized workers have contributed directly or indirectly. This could be an important source of funding and would cover a significant proportion of the amounts needed to provide pensions in the manner suggested above.
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