Widows speak of difficulties at recent Pension Parishad

Draped in a tattered saree, Kamlibai Phuphane holds her worn-out pallu which is layered with a bed-sheet. The frail woman who is in her 60s, is a mother of six, and was widowed at a very young age.

Hailing from the tribal belt of Jawhar, she is no stranger to deaths by malnutrition. She has herself often had to go without food for days. For the last six years, she has been struggling to get money under the Indira Gandhi Old Age Pension Scheme.

In 2007, when she applied for it, the government rejected it and handed her a list of documents she needed to procure. It took her three years to get them in place.

Then, her application kept lying with the talathi for three years, till it was finally approved last year. Even now, the glitches have not ended. "Each time I have to check if the money has been deposited in my account, I walk 19 kilometers, skip my meals, only to be told to come back again," she says.

Appeal for hike

At times, she gets Rs 600 every three months, at times, Rs 400 a month. According to the scheme, every beneficiary should get Rs 600 per month. Kamlibai was among the 1000 people from the unorganised sector who attended a public hearing organised by the Pension Parishad in the city early this week demanding universal old age pension and a three-fold hike from Rs 600 to Rs 2000.

The Parishad has pleaded that the government to do away with the tedious paperwork and roll out the pension to all the senior citizens in the state.

There are 1.1 crore people above 60 years in Maharashtra. At present, only 25 lakh of them get covered under various schemes, though, according to the government's own statistics, more than 60 lakh are economically dependent.

Health woes

Manubai Nagtilak, who is in her 70s, qualifies to be a part of the 25 lakh who are presently covered by the government. But, she has been waiting for the last four years for the government to approve her application. Like Kamlibai, even she was widowed at a very young age, and she migrated from a remote place in Barshi in Solapur district to Pune in 1972 along with her three children, in search of work.

While Kamlibai sustained herself and her children by being a farm labourer all her life, Manubai was a rag-picker for more than 30 years. Now, aching joints and weak muscles don't allow her even simple movements.

With growing health woes, the women feel even the Rs 600 allotted by the government will not be sufficient.

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