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Mainstream, VOL L, No 22, May 19, 2012

Thousands on Dharna for a Universal Pension Scheme

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Thousands of people from various parts of the country, especially the southern and western States, converged at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar for a five-day dharna (from May 7 to 11, 2012)—organised by the Pension Parishad (whose motive forces were Hamal Parishad President Baba Adhav and Aruna Roy of the MKSS)—to demand from the Union Government and Parliament a universal pension scheme.
The detailed demands, projected by thes Pension Parishad, are: a Universal and non-contributory old-age pension scheme to be established immediately by the government with a minimum dignified amount of monthly pension not less than 50 per cent of minimum wage of Rs 2000 per month, whichever is higher; the pension should be an individual entitlement for all eligible citizens of India; the monthly pension amount to be revised every two to three years and changed every six months based on inflation—in the same manner as is done for salaries of government servants, any individual who is 55 years old or older should be eligible for the old-age pension; for women the eligibility age for pensions should be 50 years; for highly vulnerable groups (such as the particularly vulnerable tribal groups, transgender, women compelled to become sex workers, PWDs), the eligibility age should be 45 years; no one should be forced to compulsorily retire from work on attaining the age of eligibility for universal old-age pension; a single window system for old-age pensions and a separate Ministry for issues of the elderly.

THE dharna attracted a large number of parlia-mentarians from the Congress, TMC, NCP, Samajwadi Party, RJD, LJP to BJP, BJD, CPM, CPI. Besides them, Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh and former Union Minister for Rural Development Raghuvansh Prasad addressed the gathering at Jantar Mantar voicing support for the cause. While Jairam Ramesh suggested to go for universal pension pegged at Rs 500 in the first phase, Raghuvansh Prasad, the architect of MGNREGA, asserted that politicians must realize their responsibility lay in shaping the issues that come from the ground and then delivering them to the people, adding: “Pension is the right of all sanior citizens and this must increase from the present Rs 200 to Rs 3000 over time.”

On May 13 a delegation of the Pension Parishad leaders, including Baba Adhav and Aruna Roy, met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and Principal Secretary to the PM Pulok Chatterjee.

The Finance Minister acknowledged the current plight of the elderly and was sympa-thetic to the demand for universal old-age pension. The delegation informed him of the range of support shown by MPs cutting across political parties during the five-day dharna organised by the Pension Parishad—from the May 7 to 11, 2012. The Minister assured that the government would positively move forward while consulting different parties and State governments to make old-age pension a reality.

He also called a meeting of representatives of different Ministeries including the Ministries of Rural Development, Social Justice, Finance and a concerned official dealing with pensions with the Pension Parishad delegation.

The Principal Secretary to the PM agreed to hold discussions with the Ministry of Rural Development and other concerned Ministries to work out the quantum of the money needed to execute the scheme but agreed with the nature of the demand.
Besides Baba Adhav and Aruna Roy, others in the Pension Parishad delegation were Jean Dreze, Nikhil Dey, Annie Raja, Ravi Shrivastava, Subhash Lomte and Poornima Chikarmane.

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