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Mainstream, VOL LII No 1, December 28, 2013 - ANNUAL 2013

Pension Reforms

Sunday 29 December 2013, by Bharat Dogra

COMMUNICATION

Pension reforms can benefit tens of millions of new beneficiaries, apart from pension coverage improving for existing beneficiaries. Most of these beneficiaries are elderly people, but some others will also benefit by broadening the criteria for pensions provided on the basis of ‘single women’ status and ‘disability’.

This optimistic outlook on pensions is based to some extent on documents of the Central Government, and to some extent on some sporadic efforts of the government. In addition a campaign by Pension Parishad (comprising several social organisations and activists) has been effective in focusing attentions on the pressing need for justice-based pension reforms.

The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had asked the Union Minister, Jairam Ramesh, to prepare the agenda for pension reform. In his note in March 2013 Jairam Ramesh emphasised the need for eliminating the APL-BPL divide so that better pensions can be paid for all deserving pensioners in a system of universal pensions. As the Central Government’s National Social Action Programme (NSAP) had earlier been paying pension to only BPL or below poverty line persons, such a reform, if and when, it takes place will make available pensions to a significant number of new deserving persons.

Government employees already have a fairly satisfactory system of pensions. Obviously rich households (identified among other indictors by income tax) do not need pensions. However, all other elderly people badly need access to justice-based pensions. There are about a 100 million such persons in India. All present less than 20 per cent of them are getting a monthly pension of Rs 1000. The remaining 80 per cent either do not get any pension at all, or get less than Rs 1000 per month.

Some State governments or Union Territories such as Goa, Rajasthan, Puducherry, Andaman Nicobar and Tamil Nadu have introduced limited pension reforms. Elsewhere the situation is very worrying, and State governments also need to contribute more pension reforms.

If the Union Government and State Governments work in close cooperation with each other in the near future on this important but neglected issue, tens of millions of needy people can benefit from pension reforms.

Emphasising the importance of this issue in several protest actions and dharnas, the Pension Parishad has asked for a pension of Rs 2000 per month which should be indexed to inflation. This should be provided on a fixed date every month to elderly citizens identified on the basis of the age of 55 years or so. The pension system should be administered with transparency and should have an effective grievance redressal mechanism. In addition there are recommendations for improving pensions for disabled people and single women. These demands of Pension Parishad are highly justified and should get wide public support.

Bharat Dogra
C-27, Raksha Kunj,
Paschim Vihar,
New Delhi-110063
Tel.: 011-25255303

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