17th January 2014
In a study done on 102 elderly struggling for pension for the last two years, it was found that 40% of the respondents were seriously underweight with a Body Mass Index as low as 18.5 and 14% could be classified as bordering on starvation stated Dr. Vandana Prasad, Public Health Resource Network and ex-member, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)
Delhi, 17 January, 2014: Around 200 elderly and marginalized communities from 18 states – Delhi, UP, Rajasthan, Haryana, Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Gujarat, MP, Jharkhand, Ladakh, Haryana, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir – participated in the Public Hearing/Jan Sunwai on the Destitution among the Elderly held at the Constitution Club today.
The Jury included Ms. Lise Grande, UN Resident Coordinator, UNDP Asha Menon, Member Secretary, National Legal Services Authority, Dr. Prabhat Patnaik, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Shri Mathew Cherian, Shri JR Gupta, Helpage Dr. Vandana Prasad, Shri Girish Nikam, Senior Journalist, Wajahat Habibullah, former Information Commissioner, Aruna Roy to name a few.
The key demand that was voiced by the social activists was that the government was duty bound to implement the recommendations of the Mihir Shah Task Force Committee on Comprehensive National Social Assistance Programme (Pension). Members of the Committee led by Dr. Mihir Shah included Renana Jhabvala, Harsh Mander, Gayathri Kalia, KP Kannan, Vijaya Srivastava, Sandeep Dash, SM Vijayanand and K Raju.
The key recommendations of the Task Force were increase central assistance under IGNOAPS with effect from financial year 2013-14 and revise eligibility norms for Widow Pension scheme by reducing minimum age from 40 years to 18 years and to extend it to single never married women above 40 years and divorced/abandoned/separated women above 18 years. In addition, the Task Force stated that since there are women whose husbands are ‘missing/disappeared but not formally proved to be dead, such ‘half widows’ should be treated at par with widows.
Addressing a group of elderly people who have come to Delhi for the Jan Sunwai Dr. Mihir Shah, Member, Planning Commission stated that the Task Force Committee had made very basic and minimal recommendations to the government and even this was done keeping in view the complete support for these changes from the Cabinet as a whole.
Speaking on behalf of the Pension Parishad, Aruna Roy stated that, “despite having reservations about some of the recommendations of the Task Force Committee we feel that this is the very least that the government can do considering the fact that the recommendations emerged from a government constituted Committee.”
Allocating just around Rs 5000 crore annually for old age pensions under IGNOAPS, the centre has been neglecting the demand for universal old age pension for unorganized sector workers citing unavailability of funds as the main reason. To make matters worse the Ministry of Finance have been directing the various ministries to return unspent sums to show reduced expenditure in order to improve India’s fiscal deficit figures and investment credit rating. The Rural Development ministry budget has been slashed by Rs.20000 crores. Commenting on this, Professor Prabhat Patnaik, Jawaharlal Nehru University stated that “what is shocking about the decision is the fact that it is being taken at a time when the economy is experiencing what in economic parlance would be termed as demand deficit or strapped, with absolutely no growth happening in key sectors such as manufacturing and given this lack of economic logic, we can safely assume that what is driving this decision is the ideological imperative of the State to be accountable only to financial institutions and monopolists with the distant hope that all this will in the long run lead to the trickle effect.”
Deposing before the Jury, elderly persons shared heartrending tales of destitution and neglect. The spirit of the Public Hearing was best represented by the grit and determination shown by Mohammed Iqbal from an organization working on disability called People’s Action Group for Inclusion and Rights. Suffering from acute locomotor disability, Mohammed Iqbal has made his way to the Capital with the “hope that all the tireless procedures such as income certificate, proof of BPL status and other documents that disabled, elderly and the poor have to furnish to get the paltry pension of Rs. 200 to Rs. 400 should be done away with immediate effect so that the elderly and poor get what is due to them.”
The elderly from other states be it Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi shared the same tales of woe and destitution. 75 year old Urmila, a widow from Kathihar Bihar shared that the widow pension of Rs 200 is both paltry and irregular and even at this stage she is forced to work and is surviving on the work she gets from NREGA and when out of work, toils in other people’s fields gets paid in kind and with no meet to meet her daily needs.
Speaking on behalf of Sahariyas, a highly neglected tribe from Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh, Chhoti Devi shared about how most of them were deprived of pension and other schemes and often exploited by unscrupulous middlemen who extort money from them on the false promise that they will get the scheme for them and for the few that have got the scheme, pension is paid only once in six months and causes untold suffering.
Disappointed by the promises made by political leaders, 80 year old Moorthi, from Janta Mazdoor Colony continues to struggle to get her pension. “I have often gone to the local MLA and local politicians; every election they come and promise to help people like me to get Old Age Pension but nothing has happened till now. And I don’t know how to apply or who to meet in this regard.”
None of these people are isolated or unheard. The Pension Parishad has ensured that all socially marginalized communities and unorganized workers are represented and given voice. Every gathering by the elderly at Jantar Mantar has increased the groundswell of support and policy makers have been forced to pay attention to the collective voice of the elderly.
The demands of the Pension Parishad developed from the experiences and needs of various marginalized communities, indigenous communities, internally displaced, dalits, cycle rickshaw pullers, forest dwellers, agricultural workers, construction workers, waste pickers, re-cycling workers, daily wage workers, NREGA workers, rural artisans, salt pan workers, domestic workers, sex workers, transgender, disabled, MSMs, street vendors, fish workers people living with HIV and innumerable other workers in insecure and precarious employments who live a hand to mouth existence.
The Pension Parishad, a coalition of nearly 200 civil society organization, has held dharnas at Jantar Mantar during 6 Parliament Sessions demanding for the immediate establishment of a Universal and Non Contributory Old Age Pension System with a minimum, dignified monthly pension of not less than 50% of the minimum wage or Rs 2000/- per month, whichever is higher.