The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pension rush to beat polls

New Delhi, Sept. 25: A group of ministers headed by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani is slated to approve tomorrow highly-subsidised pension schemes for one crore unorganised sector workers that will cost the government Rs 4,400 crore.

The scheme, which will offer Rs 500 a month as pension to those earning less than Rs 6,500 a month, is being hurriedly cleared so that it can be launched by the BJP government after Dussehra — just a month before polls in four crucial northern states.

With elections on its mind, the government has been on a populist spree. It has planned a farmers’ rally for the Prime Minister in October, released extra rations of sugar to the middle class through the public distribution system and stocked up on cooking gas by temporarily trebling imports to avoid scarcity during the poll season.

The cabinet notes for tomorrow’s meeting made available to The Telegraph says two pension schemes will be launched simultaneously — one for those in the 18-35 age group who will contribute just Rs 50 a month and another for workers in the 36-50 age group who will contribute Rs 100 a month.

The schemes will also have an added accidental death or permanent incapacitation cover worth Rs 1 lakh. Employers will be asked to compulsorily fork out double the amount as contribution.

A scheme for universal health insurance launched some time ago by the finance ministry will be merged with this, giving workers a medical cover.

The scheme is likely to help the BJP in the four states going to polls — Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — as they have several small factories. About one-third of all workers who would be covered by this scheme are expected to be from these states.

The move is meant to counter the Congress charge that the BJP is pro-business and has been working against labour interests by supporting indiscriminate privatisation and framing pro-industry labour laws.

Besides Advani, petroleum minister Ram Naik and labour minister Sahib Singh Verma have been pushing for its early clearance.

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