Payment of Rs. 200 is “far too low,” she admits

A group of elderly and destitute people had a chance meeting with United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi here on Monday and won her support for the demand for a universal old-age pension and increased monthly financial support.

These people were part of a Pension Parishad delegation, led by Aruna Roy and Baba Adhav.

Narrating their miseries, Naza Bai (75), a rag-picker from Maharashtra, Rukma Bai (80), a daily wage earner from Rajasthan, and Ram Kumar Gupta (75), a fruit-seller from Delhi, recounted before Ms. Gandhi how their limbs were giving way, making it difficult for them to earn a living.

After patiently listening to them, Ms. Gandhi acknowledged that the change in the family pattern had put elderly people at a disadvantage, and agreed that something had to be done urgently to address this problem.

Ms. Gandhi, who also heads the National Advisory Council, supported their demand for a universal old-age pension, the coverage of beneficiaries by a set of exclusion criteria, and the need for raising the pension.

Agreeing that payment of Rs. 200 to those above 60 was “far too low,” Ms. Gandhi assured the delegation that she would endeavour to get them a better monthly pension.

Decision after consultation

Earlier, the Pension Parishad called on the Prime Minister's Principal Secretary Pulok Chatterjee and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, both of whom supported its demands but said a decision would be taken after consulting those connected with the issue.

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging him to enhance the old-age pension to Rs. 500 and to do away with the BPL-APL distinction, and to provide financial support to all the needy people.

No hike: Ramesh

While describing as ridiculous the present pension of Rs. 200, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, however, ruled out increasing it to Rs. 2,000, as demanded by the Parishad, which is drumming up support from political parties.

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