‘Pension is a recognition that everyone contributes to the economy’

‘Pension is a recognition that everyone contributes to the economy’

NEW DELHI, 19/12/2013: Nikhil De and Aruna Roy (L) at a press conference by National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) on Lokpal Bill and Whistle Blowers Protection Bill in Press Club of India in New Delhi on Thursday. Photo: Monica Tiwari
NEW DELHI, 19/12/2013: Nikhil De and Aruna Roy (L) at a press conference by National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) on Lokpal Bill and Whistle Blowers Protection Bill in Press Club of India in New Delhi on Thursday. Photo: Monica Tiwari  

Pension Parishad coordinator explains as 10,000 elderly people from across the country gather in the city to put forth their demands

More than 10,000 elderly people from across the country will gather for a protest rally in Parliament Street on Sunday, under the banner of Pension Parishad. They are demanding a universal pension of at least ₹3,000 per month, which is half of the minimum wage. Pension Parishad coordinator Nikhil Dey explained that as 15% of the voting population, they expect political parties to take note of their demands.
You have just released a report on the State of Pensions in 2018. How many people in India actually get pensions today?
Roughly 22 million get pensions from the Central government and then there are a combination of State schemes and other organised sector pensions…In many States, only those on the BPL list get pensions under the Central scheme. Put it this way: we estimate that about 50 million people don’t get pensions. Out of a 110 million people above 60, about half don’t get any pension.
Those who do get pensions, how much do they get?
The base is ₹200 a month. As the Minister said a few years ago, ₹200 is a cruel joke, and it is getting crueller and crueller. This amount has not been revised since 2007. To get the same purchasing power today, you would have to give ₹400. That’s not an actual increase, it is just keeping pace with inflation.
That is what is given under the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension scheme. It is a Centrally sponsored scheme which says the States are supposed to give at least a matching amount and actually many States give more than that. The range is from some of the North-eastern States which only give ₹100 more to Goa, Delhi and Haryana, which give a total of ₹2,000 (including the Central contribution). But the low coverage in both Delhi and Goa is an issue. There are States who have higher coverage, such as Rajasthan and Telengana.
What is the demand of the Pension Parishad? Who should get pensions, and how much should they get?
Whoever needs it should get it. We are saying anyone who does not get at least half of minimum wage as pension should get it. That is, they should get at least ₹3,000 per month. That is the bare minimum.
This is absolutely not a dole. It is a part of your working wage that is supposed to be put away for old age. It is a recognition that everyone works, everyone contributes to the economy, whether they earn a wage or not. Working-class women work inside and outside the house as well, both unpaid in many cases.
What we are doing through Pension Parishad is to say it is a universal right, wherever you get your sources of income. These are workers’ rights, but also citizen’s rights.
People ask, where would we get this money? Out of our GDP, the Central government is spending 0.04% on this pension scheme. And whether you look at BRICS countries or even poorer developing countries like Nepal or Bolivia, India is far below them on this standard.
In contrast, for government servants and public sector [pensions], we are spending ₹2 lakh crore, that is 2% of GDP, for 5% of the population. If that amount were divided for the rest of the country, it would be enough to give everyone half of minimum wage as a pension.
What percentage of voters are senior citizens? Are they a voting bloc?
They are close to 15%, but have never been seen as a bloc. We are attempting to build an alliance of the economically deprived elderly and the slightly better off elderly, who face their own set of problems.
In that solidarity that is getting built — we have reached out to Helpage and to others getting formal pensions — we are saying that independent income through a universal pension is the first requirement for all.
During elections, the elderly are the ones who vote in large numbers. Just one or two percent vote swing changes elections in many constituencies. We are going to watch every party. If they do not address the issues of the elderly, then the elderly will address them.
There is probably no other voting group of this size which government spends less on.
Probably not. That is why 10,000 people are coming from all over the country for two days. We are not coming just with a demand. We are coming with statistics, we are coming with people, we are coming with case studies, with documentation. On Monday, we have called leaders of all political parties. Those who don’t come, we will begin to notice there. We will make this an electoral issue as well as an ongoing dialogue.

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