Monday, 30th October 2017

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So generous of you, PMO!

Mechanical reply to plight

By Anita Joshua
  • Published 24.06.16
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New Delhi, June 23: Irony died again. This time, at the Prime Minister's Office when a junior official sat down to acknowledge the receipt of Rs 1,063 scraped together by a group of aged citizens from their paltry pension.

Over a hundred senior citizens from across 10 states had chipped in mostly with Rs 7 each - a day's pension - to raise Rs 1,063 to sensitise the highest decision-makers of the land to the plight of the elderly living below the poverty line.

The covering letter that was sent with the donation mentioned that the money was raised by the donors in the hope that the PMO would recognise their " tyaag (sacrifice)" and the money would be used judiciously.

What they got in return a month later on June 6 was a perfunctory response from the PMO. "We acknowledge with thanks the generous contribution made to the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund," the letter said.

The acknowledgement letter with a formal receipt added: "The Prime Minister appreciates this thoughtful gesture and conveys his gratitude. This valuable contribution will be of immense help in providing assistance to the persons in distress."

There was no mention of the key points raised in the letter sent on behalf of the old-age pensioners by the Pension Parishad, a collective of organisations working in the social sector.

In their letter, the donors pointed out that the Centre had been giving each pensioner only Rs 200 a month since 2007 (when the UPA was in power) although the elderly had converged at Jantar Mantar during as many as 16 Parliament sessions to highlight their plight.

Most of those who seek pension under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) exist on the periphery of society, leading a hand-to-mouth existence.

Under the scheme, the Centre puts in Rs 200 for every pensioner and the states contribute the remaining amount. The amount differs from state to state with Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Goa offering Rs 800 per BPL pensioner, taking the monthly amount to Rs 1,000.

The letter takes a dig at the pay and pension hikes that elected representatives and bureaucrats give themselves periodically. "The government has several priorities but the unorganised sector which accounts for 94 per cent of the work force and farmers is not a priority for the government."

The two letters were released by the Pension Parishad today along with a renewed appeal signed by HelpAge India CEO Mathew Cherian, RTI activists Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, besides trade unionists Baba Adhav and Kamayani Swami.

The activists clarified in a fresh letter today: "We do not see this callousness as that of the NDA government alone. We petitioned and protested before the UPA government many times, but even limited promises were not adhered to. Many BJP leaders... , including some who are now ministers in the government, repeatedly came to the Pension Parishad dharna and assured us of their support for our demands, promising that if the BJP comes to power, they will immediately meet these demands."

The letter reminded the Prime Minister: "We deeply appreciate the fact that India has a PM who was once a part of the unorganised sector. As you would surely understand, Rs 7 a day today would not even fetch a cup of tea!"