Campaigners for universal old age pension in the country have threatened to make it an election issue. There is a felt need for an early commitment from authorities on universal pension as old age is increasingly proving a period of misery and neglect for at least six crore of the ten crore population above the age of 60 years in the country, they said on Wednesday.
“We are going to make it a political issue in the coming elections to the State Assemblies and later in the Lok Sabha elections,” said social activist Aruna Roy talking to media persons here. “All ten crore persons who are above 60 years of age are voters,” she noted. Ms. Roy, who had been instrumental in pushing the path-breaking legislations on the right to information and employment guarantee, felt that old age is a curse in India. “Poverty and old age is on nobody's agenda.”
The campaigners, who are from 101 groups mostly from the unorganised sector and working in rural areas, coming together under the banner of Pension Parishad, had organised a five-day dharna in Delhi recently demanding enhancement of the existing old age pension from Rs.200 to Rs.2000 a month. “The tremendous response we got from pensioners at the dharna was a clear indication of the sufferings and drudgery faced by the old people. There were 3,000 persons from as many as 22 States,” said Nikhil Dey, an activist with the campaign. As such 12-13 political parties responded to the dharna while 90 Members of Parliament signed the memorandum supporting the concept.
“Union Minister Jairam Ramesh visited the dharna while we met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia in this connection. No one challenged the concept though some of the leaders we met felt the demand for hike in pension was too steep,” Mr. Dey said.
“We are not saying a provision for universal pension should be made in the current Union Budget. It can be done in the budgets later. They can think about a dedicated cess so that the burden of new taxes won't fall on common taxpayers,” he said. “We are asking for lifting of BPL and APL categorisation in deciding old age pension. The demand for a minimum Rs.2000 pension a month is on the basis of minimum wages – this would be about 50% of the daily minimum wages a month.” At present 2 crore people receive old age pension.
Mr. Dey said Brazil, South Africa and Nepal besides some other African countries at present provide universal old age pension. In India, Goa is one State providing universal pension while Haryana gives it to those who earn less than Rs.60,000 a year. When it comes to timely payment of old age pension, Orissa is the best. “In Orissa old age pension is paid on 15{+t}{+h}of every month without fail,” Mr. Dey noted. The campaigners are now planning State-wise programmes to mobilise public opinion in favour of universal pension. “First of the States to have a dharna is Rajasthan where it all started in the case of RTI and MGNREGS,” Ms. Roy said.