A campaign to help the elderly spend the evening of their lives with dignity and without want is being launched by Pension Parishad with a dharna in Delhi from May 7th to May 11th 2012 at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. The idea is straight and simple, and is something whose time has come. Just read on and reach the venue for more information and interviews with the campaign participants.  

“One of the most important indicators of the success of any civilisation is the way it treats its elderly,” observes Pension Parishad. India has a proud tradition of giving the elderly position and respect, but as India marches on in the 21st century, the sorry plight of its elderly is a matter of great shame and concern. Incapacitated by health and inability to be economically productive, the old are treated as an economic burden for whom no one has time and many live lonely lives, abandoned by their own at a time they need care and companionship more than ever.

The idea of the ‘Pension Parishad was born in Pune on 24th and 25th Feb 2012, where 10,000 workers collected to discuss the need for a campaign to demand universal pensions. It was decided that a nationwide campaign would be launched for a universal old age pension entitlement, keeping in mind the conditions of vulnerable communities. 
Box 1
The changing socio-economic environment in the country has led to further marginalisation and destitution of elderly people. The large scale migration that is now becoming the norm for working class people is leaving the elderly without the physical and financial support of younger family members. These socio-economic changes are the results of the economic changes the government has been championing over the last twenty years. This makes the government even more responsible for the plight of the elderly. 

Government of India’s provisions for the special needs of the elderly are restricted to those who have worked in the organised sector or who are among the rich and upper middle class categories: income tax exemptions for senior citizens with a taxable income of 2.5 lakh rupees or more, amounting to roughly 460 to 540 rupees per month, with higher exemption for individuals older than 80 years; for retired government servants, 20% higher pension after the age of 80 and progressively higher amounts after that. 

In the organised sector deductions from wages are made to provide social security, but in the unorganised sector wages are reduced to the bare minimum contributing to the growth of private profit, while there is no concomitant promise of social security. In the ten years between 2000 and 2010, the organised sector added less than 7.5 lakh workers at an annual rate of less than 0.3%. During the same period the GDP of the country more than doubled at an annual rate of more than 7.5%. Clearly, this growth came mainly from the contributions of the workers employed in the unorganised sector. 

It is the ordinary elderly people for whom the government seems to have little commitment or concern. The worst sufferers are the people who have the least ownership and access over resources: Dalits, who are mostly landless and survive on casual labour; elderly women; socially stigmatised communities such as sex workers, the transgender, elderly whose children or grandchildren are HIV Positive; primitive tribal groups, many of whom have very low life expectancies, face the additional challenge of early onset of old age and the complete lack of government recognition or support during their early onset old age. 

Recognising the importance of establishing opportunities for contributory pension systems, Pension Parishad has stressed upon the need for a system of non-contributory and universal old age pension. “The demand for old age pension is not a demand for charity but a demand for the invisible deposits that workers in the unorganised sector have made in the economy of the country. But unlike the organised sector where people can work till the age of 60 years, the workers in the unorganised sectors are engaged in the most arduous tasks under the most difficult physical circumstances and without adequate nutrition and rest. For such workers to work beyond the age of 55 is as good as punishing them, though in the absence of any support they keep working till they are much older. It’s time to give them the much needed economic support and the much needed rest,” it says.
Box 2
The demands: 

• A Universal and Non Contributory Old Age Pension System to be established immediately with a minimum amount of not less than 50% of minimum wage or Rs 2000/- per month, whichever is higher
• The monthly pension amount be revised every two to three years and changed every six month based on inflation – as is done for salaries of government servants.
• Any individual who is 55 years or older should be eligible for the old age pension. 
• For women, 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. 
• A single window system for Old Age Pensions and a separate ministry for issues of the elderly

Exclusion Criteria

• Individuals whose income is higher than the threshold level for payment of income tax 
• Individuals who are receiving pension from any other sources that exceeds the pension amount under the Universal Old Age Pension Programme
• APL / BPL criteria should not be used for exclusion
• The payment of pension should not be used to deny any other social security / welfare benefit such as benefit under the Public Distribution System

Resource Requirement

• Assuming an exclusion of 10% of elderly individuals, the amount required for universal non-contributory old age pension system is likely to be about Rs.360,000 crore per year, about 4% of the GDP
• The Central Government must bear the major financial responsibility. For the above estimate, the requirement of central government funds @ 75% of total requirement would be Rs.270,000 crore per year. Compared to the exemptions given to the corporate sector in this year’s budget as well as budgets in the last few years, this is a much smaller sum.
Further readings:


Notes from the Pension Parishad held at TISS, http://pensionparishad.org/pension/resources/Notes-%20Pens

Implementation of the Old Age Pension Scheme in Visakhapatnam district,AP-A study, http://www.nird.org.in/OctLevel%202.pdf

Poverty Target Programs for the Elderly in India withspecial reference to National Old Age Pension Scheme, 1995, http://www.chronicpoverty.org/uploads/publication_files/CP


Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, PIB,21 April, 2008, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=37607

Mid term Appraisal of the Eleventh Five Year Plan, http://www.indiawaterportal.org/sites/indiawaterportal.org




PM launches Indira Gandhi National Old Age PensionScheme, http://pmindia.nic.in/speech-details.php?nodeid=594 

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