The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal old-age lesson & pension

New Delhi, July 14: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today launched a pension policy for senior citizens — Varistha Pension Bima Yojna — with a reprimand to health minister Sushma Swaraj for saying old age is a curse.

“I am old, too,” he said.

Sushmaji ne abhi kaha ki budhapa ek bimari hai. Main ise nahin manta aur agar aisa hai to hum iska ant kar denge (Sushmaji has just said old age is a disease. I don’t think so and even if it is, we will have to end it).”

The pension plan — and its associated universal health plan — is a scheme Vajpayee had insisted finance minister Jaswant Singh should include in his budget speech as part of the measures to provide regular income to senior citizens in a falling interest rate regime and affordable medical treatment to the needy.

All citizens above 55 can subscribe to the pension plan, which provides a return of 9 per cent a year. While the minimum pension has been fixed at Rs 250 per month, the maximum monthly payment will not exceed Rs 2,000. The pension will start flowing from the month after the payment of the lumpsum deposit and will be taxable.

The pension plan, whose launch was nixed last month amid reports that the insurance regulator was unhappy with certain aspects, has been slightly recast to provide a few extra benefits.

For starters, the upper age limit for entry has been removed. Earlier, it had been capped at 79.

Second, it gives an exit option after 15 years. In such an event, the deposited amount will be returned to the policy-holder.

Third, there is a provision for taking loans up to 75 per cent of the deposited amount after the policy has run for three years. The interest rate now announced is 10.5 per cent but can change.

The amount that is paid to join the scheme will be returned to the nominee in the event of the pensioner’s death.

Underscoring the importance of health insurance, Vajpayee said: “Elections are contested in many nations on the issues of health and governments change on such sensitive matters.”

“In India, too, health is an important issue... I am confident that officials of insurance companies and health ministry will discharge their duties effectively and help the people.”

The health insurance scheme is open only to families under the poverty line. It offers reimbursement of medical expenses up to Rs 30,000 towards hospitalisation to an individual who pays Re 1 a day. The premium for a family of five is Rs 1.50 a day and for a family of seven Rs 2.

Subscribers will also be eligible to cover for death due to accident up to Rs 25,000 and compensation due to loss of earning at the rate of Rs 50 per day up to a maximum of 15 days.

The government will subsidise the premium payment by Rs 100 a year.

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