Source: The Pioneer

The Constitution of India in its Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) (Articles 41 and 42) speaks about role of the State in ensuring social security of its citizens and public assistance in case of unemployment, old age, sickness and disability.

Economically-advanced countries, Europe and members of organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development have a better retirement policy for elders while many of them spend about 10 per cent of their GDP in social security of older people along with maintaining a higher retirement age policy but still globally about 90 per cent of the poor does not have dignified old age pension scheme.

India has one of the weakest systems and lowest rate of old age pension and other social benefits in comparison to world standard.

The older people in backward States and from among marginalised groups suffer more and getting extremely vulnerable in such pathetic State policy that does not practice a universal social pension scheme for all poor during old age, sickness and other forms of vulnerability of its citizens even after 70 years of constitutional governance. This unjust economic policy must be stopped to bring equity in sharing of public finance.

It is a fact that about seven per cent of the organised sector employees having a regular income and retirement benefits, gratuity and pension are relatively better protected during their old age but a vast majority of the non-salaried groups, about 77 per cent of the households, mostly in unorganised sector, who constitute about 93 per cent of the workforce of the country are being deprived of old age pension and basic healthcare though they have been contributing more to the GDP.

The Unorganised Workers Social Security Act 2008 has not been fully implemented till date though a number of disjointed schemes such as Rastriya Swastya Bima Yojana, Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana and Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension, Atala Pension Yojana are there as social security measures.

On the other hand, in recent years there has been slowly a huge cut in social welfare spending by the State due to policy of liberalisation and privatisation impacting on the poor with increasing cost of living and healthcare expenses.

Odisha is backward State with higher incidence of poverty and distress migration and much higher per cent of workers in unorganised sector who are most vulnerable in old age and suffer extreme poverty and lack of healthcare in the absence of regular support either by the family or the State. The poor families struggling for livelihood are facing many difficulties to take care of the elders, disabled persons,  children and other dependent members of the family with their very little earning.

The rural agricultural workers, sharecroppers, forest workers, fisher folk, vulnerable tribal groups, urban casual workers and other daily wage earners in rural areas have to pass through economic hardship after the 50s, usually when they became physically weak to take up difficult corporal work outside. They need care and treatment; but unfortunately at this stage, they suffer due to lack of minimum income support to meet the most unavoidable expenses.

There has been regular news about helpless condition of elderly people in families of migrant workers when the earning adult members, including women and children, are migrating in distress in search of employment leaving their old parents at home. The condition of these old parents is most vulnerable in the absence of regular social pension, food and healthcare support and largely lack of community support. There has been news about elderly people being increasingly ditched.

The Dalit and tribal hamlets and urban slums, home to a vast majority of poor workers, have no basic amenities such as house and drinking water to take care of the elderly people usually who have restricted mobility outside home because of their ill-health.

The care of old people has been a major social issue in families in the absence of regular income and deteriorating social value systems with breakdown of joint family structure. There is lack of community and social support system for older people by the Government such as old age centre, recreation club, healthcare centers and help points in rural villages.

The laws and schemes have a major role in shaping the mandate of the Constitution which our forefathers have dreamed for our country. The State Government has a major role in grounding the best ideas of social security for elders.

The security of elders is one of the major indicators of our quality of life and overall social dignity of human being.  The employment and food security schemes under NREGA and NFSA remain ineffective in ensuring minimum 100 days employment and food security for the rural poor. The three major schemes, old age pension, widow pension and people with disability pension, are still meagre and many of the deserving poor are not included in beneficiary list.

The Madhubabu Pension Scheme and the Building and Construction Workers Cess fund is not all inclusive and a non-viable support for poor household.

It is ideal for Odisha to follow other States such as Delhi, Telengana, Goa and Kerala those have better social pension schemes for the poor while making it inclusive of the poor. Kerala has enacted the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007. Social security legislation is also required to protect the elders from different forms of harassment, exploitation and torture.

It also requires to hold responsible the Government officials and PRI leaders in charge of the enforcement of the laws and schemes.

After 45 years of implementation of the Constitution, the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) came into force on August 15, 1995 for the poor, including five schemes which cover old age pension, widow pension, disability pension, family benefit support in case of death of earning member, and food support under Annapurna to all BPL households. But there has been no increase in the pension amount though it is badly needed.

It is suggested that the way the socio –economic census of 2011 is followed for identifying beneficiaries of Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, the same process can be followed in identifying beneficiaries of NSAP by which many deserving families can be included.

Added to make it more inclusive above APL and BPL and universal for poor, the amount must be increased to minimum Rs 2,000 or at the rate of half of the minimum wage as demanded by Pension Parisad, many economists and activists of social movement of the country, for the rural and urban poor to counter economic hardship and ill health during old age and distress condition.

The panchayats and urban local bodies must have power to identify the beneficiaries and funds to allocate pension and all such benefits.

The national public resources of the country must be equally distributed among its citizens and especially social concern and care must be shown towards the elderly people.



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