Junior union minister refuses to increase paltry pension under NSAP
Sulochana Behera eagerly waits for her old-age pension of Rs 500 every month at her home in Garh Nipania village in Puri district, Odisha.
Within hours of receiving the sum, the widowed Sulochana spends it all on medicine and food that barely last a week. She then starts counting the days for the next payment.
For clothing, she depends on the earnings of her grandson Anil, a day labourer.
The Dalit family has no land or other source of regular income. Sulochana’s son Bansidhar died three years ago. Her daughter-in-law Lata receives a widow pension of Rs 500 a month, and that too is spent in a few hours.
Anil’s wife Pratima said the family lives perpetually in debt. “We have two elderly people at home. They cannot work any longer and fall ill regularly,” she said.
“The monthly pension of Rs 500 is too little to help each of them manage their expenses even for a week. The pensions should be increased.”
Any such hopes were, however, dashed by junior rural development minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti in Parliament this month.
Basanta Kumar Panda, a BJP Lok Sabha member, had asked whether the Centre might double the pensions disbursed under its National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP).
“No, Sir. There is no such proposal for consideration to double the amount under the NSAP,” Jyoti said in a written reply on August 3.
Nikhil Dey, national convener of the Pension Parishad, a civil society organisation, described the government’s statement in Parliament as “callous”.
Nepal, Bolivia and Botswana — with economies much smaller than India’s — provide better social security pensions to their elderly citizens in terms of percentage of the GDP.
While India spends 0.04 per cent of its GDP on social security pension, Nepal, Bolivia and Botswana spend 0.7 per cent, 1.3 per cent and 0.3 per cent, respectively.
The NSAP has three sub-schemes. The Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme provides for a monthly pension of Rs 200 to people aged 60 to 79 and living below the poverty line.
The Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme provides for a monthly pension of Rs 300 to adults with a disability level 80 per cent or higher. The Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme provides for a monthly pension of Rs 300 for widows aged over 40.
Once a beneficiary attains the age of 80, he or she receives Rs 500 a month.
Several states add to the pension from their own funds. The Odisha government gives Sulochana and Lata additional monthly sums of Rs 300 and Rs 200, respectively, bringing their pensions up to Rs 500 each.
Sulochana claims she is 83 and is eligible for Rs 700 a month — Rs 500 under the central scheme and Odisha’s top-up of Rs 200 for octogenarians. She says her age must have been entered incorrectly under the scheme’s records. Lata is in her 50s.
The Pension Parishad has been demanding that the social security pensions under the central programme be increased to half the state minimum wage, with an indexation to inflation.
“Covid has devastated the elderly. There’s been no relief, nor any sign of concern for them. The Centre’s monthly pension of Rs 200 or Rs 300 has remained unchanged since 2007,” Dey, the convener of the Parishad, said.
“Just imagine, the Centre has given 28 per cent dearness allowance this year to its employees, and not bothered about the elderly. It indicates callousness, cruelty and self-interest at the cost of the nation’s most vulnerable.”
Nearly 3.39 crore elderly people receive social security pension under the National Social Assistance Programme. Dey said the old-age pension scheme should also include the vulnerable elderly living above the poverty line.
Sulochana’s family lives in a thatched house. They applied for housing under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana two years ago and are on the waiting list.
“I know how to operate a stitching machine but we haven’t got the money to buy one,” Pratima said.