PENSION PARISHAD’S GENERAL LETTER ANNOUNCING THE DHARNA
Indian society prides on its culture of respect and care for the elderly. Unlike many other parts of the world where the old are left to lead a lonely life, Indian family values comprise of many generations of a family staying together and taking care of both the old as well as the children. This ideal Indian family though is increasingly under threat – from poverty, from migration, and from the lack of financial security for the elderly. Farm, Forest, Water, Artisanal, and Trade based livelihoods are under increasing threat from the forces of cutthroat competition unleashed by the onset of economic liberalisation. Such livelihood, where the elderly could play a significant role and thus contribute to the family income are becoming more and more less irrelevant as the small producers and traders are rapidly transforming in to wage workers. The Dalits and many other landless communities have of course always been dependent on underpaid wage labour. The lack of local employment and often the deliberate tactics of the employers to deny employment to local workers and prefer migrant labourers who have less bargaining power, is leading to large scale migration that is depriving the elderly of physical, economic, and emotional support of the other members of the family. Free public healthcare which is of the greatest significance to the elderly (and the children) is giving way to paid healthcare as India continues to be one of the countries with the highest share of out of pocket expenses in healthcare.
To live up to our ideals about how the elderly should be treated in our society, we Indians need to ensure the economic, physical and emotional security of the elderly. The step towards economic security is the setting up of a good old age pension system and incentivising those who take care of the elderly. As far as the upper class of our country is concerned, old age security is being ensured through a god pension system for retired government servants, liberal income tax rebates for the elderly above a certain income level, and significant income tax rebates for the better off people for taking care of their parents. But the elderly who are in most need of our support, i.e. those who are old as well as without any employment linked pension or other asset based incomes, get little or no support from the government that we have given ourselves. Less than 2 crore elderly persons get support from the current targeted and limited old age pension system while in reality there are more than 8 crore elderly people who need to get pension. Even those who get some pension, mostly get a pittance, with pension in some states being as little as 200 rupees per month. Often old people getting such pensions are denied other welfare benefits such as grain under the Anyodaya Anna Yojana. As the number of pensions are limited, we have the tragic situation of elderly people queuing up for pension awaiting the death of other elderly people getting such pension.
It’s even more ironical when the economy of the country has been growing at a fast pace. It’s rather shameful that far poorer countries, such as our neighbouring Nepal (per capita income about one-third that of India, Lesotho (per capita income about two-thirds that of India) have much higher rates of pension and such pension is universal as well.
The Pension Parishad is committed to bring the voice of such elderly and those working for them to the ears of the Government. As a first step thousands of elderly people and activists working on the issue of old age care will be getting together at Jantar Mantar from the 7th to the 11th of May, 2012, demanding A Universal and Non Contributory Old Age Pension System to be established immediately by the government with a minimum dignified amount of monthly pension not less than 50% of minimum wage or Rs 2000/- per month, whichever is higher. Before the beginning of the Dharna, we’d like to get the opportunity of interacting with honourable Members of Parliament to apprise them of our demands and to seek their support for this noble cause.
Aruna Roy, Baba Adhav