If the UPA government fails to universalise pensions for every senior citizen in the country, then it cannot claim to be a champion of inclusive growth, says National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy.

In a letter to NAC chairperson Sonia Gandhi, which was handed over at Monday’s meeting, Ms. Roy has pointed out that the government’s Rs. 200 a month pension is restricted to BPL families.

“For the elderly, the BPL category makes no sense. Even if they had the capacity to earn when they were younger, their physical condition in old age makes it impossible for them to support themselves.” Moreover, there is no justification for not ensuring that the entire unorganised sector (94% of our workforce) is assured of some form of income in their old age. “This is not a dole but recognition of their lifelong contribution to the Indian economy,” said Ms. Roy.

In November, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh proposed expansion of the pension net to include younger widows, single and divorced women, Dalit and tribal senior citizens and all disabled people.

However, a Ministry panel still shied away from a recommendation to universalise pension to include all non-BPL senior citizens, noting that “affordability is a major issue.” Even without universalisation, the Ministry estimated that its proposal involved an additional cost of over Rs. 18,000 crore per year.

While the Finance Ministry has not yet responded to the Rural Development Ministry’s proposal, the Congress’ recent Jaipur declaration did include a promise that destitute, deserted and widowed women above the age of 18, as well as all “vulnerable” women above 60, would be provided with a “decent pension.”

Ms. Roy’s letter dismissed the concerns about adequate funding. “If we are to reject this [universalisation of pensions] with an argument of insufficient resources, then every claim we make of ‘inclusive growth’, or ‘growth with a human face’, will ring hollow,” her letter warned.

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