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Hike in pension for poor on Centre table

New Delhi, Feb. 15: The Centre is considering a 50 per cent hike in its share of monthly old-age pension for the poor and tying the sum to inflation, but activists have termed the move “too little too late”.

The move follows a panel’s recommendation that the Centre raise its contribution in the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme by Rs 100 to Rs 300, and relax the eligibility criteria in two other pension plans aimed at widows.

The rural development ministry, which oversees the schemes, has accepted the proposals of the panel headed by S.M. Vijayanand, an additional secretary.

“The proposal is going to the cabinet soon for final approval,” rural development minister Jairam Ramesh told The Telegraph today.

At present, 2.6 crore beneficiaries get pension under the three schemes, of which nearly 2.03 crore, or 78 per cent, are in the old-age plan alone.

The actual amounts paid to the beneficiaries range from Rs 400 to Rs 1,200 per month, depending on the states’ contributions. In Bengal, which shells out Rs 500 per head, the amount is around Rs 700. The Centre spends around Rs 10,000 crore annually on the schemes.

The increase in old-age pension has been suggested for people between 60 and 79 years. For those above 80, the Centre’s share is Rs 500 per month.

The panel has also suggested “indexing” the amounts in the schemes to inflation and revising them each year.

The benefits now flow only to those below the BPL. But the panel has suggested inclusion of beneficiaries from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, single and deserted women irrespective of their BPL status with the rider that they should not be paying income tax, owning a permanent job or getting any other pension.

The widow pension is meant for women above 40. The scheme aimed at the physically challenged is for those with 80 per cent disabilities. The panel has suggested bringing down the widow age to 18 and the disability criterion to 40 per cent.

If the recommendations are accepted, the revised amounts depend on the states’ contribution, which is around Rs 1,000 per beneficiary in Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Goa, Rs 500 in Bengal and Rajasthan, and Rs 200 in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Manipur.

But activists termed the proposed hike “paltry”. “A pensioner should get at least half the amount under the minimum daily wage. A sum of Rs 300 per month (Centre’s share) is a case of too little and too late,” said Nikhil Dey of Pension Parishad, a group fighting for universal pension. The daily minimum wage varies from Rs 120 to Rs 190.

Dey also demanded the beneficiaries include non-BPL people from other categories — not just SCs, STs and sections of women as the panel has recommended.

T. Haque, director of Council of Social Development, said BPL lists were often flawed and many deserving people were left out. “There are many non-BPL people who are poor and need social security.”