Sunday, 21 April 2019

Pension scheme does little for today’s seniors – BusinessLine

In an attempt to include the unorganised sector in the social security net, a pension scheme — ‘Pradhan Mantri Shram-Yogi Maandhan’ — was announced in the Interim Budget 2019-20, which involves adults till the age of 40 contributing a stipulated monthly sum for at least 20 years to reap monthly pension benefits after turning 60.

Interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal clarified that persons between the ages of 18 and 40 would be eligible to enrol. For example, if an 18-year-old working as a street vendor or as a construction worker or as a rag picker contributes ₹55 per month for 20 years, the Centre will contribute an equal amount, and the person will receive ₹3,000 per month after turning 60.

Similarly, a person who enrols in the scheme at 29 years of age will have to contribute ₹100 a month. There is still no clarity on whether the amount of contribution will vary with age.

“The scheme will be implemented by the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC). We expect 10 crore people to come on board, and ₹500 crore has been set aside for this. Eeligible beneficiaries will be determined using Socio-Economic Caste Census and Labour Bureau data,” Goyal said in a press meet post-budget.

Additional burden

Activists point out that the announcement is not the same as the cry for demanding universal pension, which took off nearly seven years ago. “Universal pension meant that every person will get a pension after retirement. When a worker has toiled for years, s/he has already earned the right to receive pension. Here, the government is expecting someone who is already in need to make an additional payment. This, especially at the time when there is substantial unemployment and a hand-to-mouth existence among most workers,” said Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association and Polit Bureau member of CPI(ML).

Also, the average life expectancy of an Indian is 68.5 years. But for those working in the unorganised sectors, it will be much lower, considering the harsh conditions and occupational hazards that are involved. Krishnan argues that asking a worker from the unorganised sector — who has no job security — to contribute a certain amount monthly is not right.

Present-day concerns

On December 13 last year, Justice Madan Lokur, hearing a petition that wanted the rights of senior citizens secured, directed the Central and State governments to revisit the grant of pension to the elderly so that it became more realistic. “The pension amount was fixed a decade ago without any revision till 2007,” the SC order stated.

Currently, the Centre has fixed the pension at ₹200 per month for people between 60 and 79 years under the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme. An amount of ₹500 per month was fixed for those above 80 years of age, and is applicable to only those below the poverty line.

Sailesh Mishra, Founder of Silver Innings, a non-profit working for the welfare of senior citizens, says that the announced pension scheme is for future senior citizens, and is not applicable to those in the current day and age.

“It is good for the government to think futuristically, but there is nothing for the old in the budget at present. We must take the SC’s direction more seriously,” Mishra said.


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