Jairam to write to Prime Minister seeking more coverage

The demand for universal pension for elderly persons got a fillip with President Pratibha Patil on Thursday extending her support and Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh deciding to write to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to restructure the pension scheme to cover more beneficiaries.

Ms. Patil made a personal contribution of Rs. 15,000 to the Pension Parishad which is staging a five-day dharna in support of its demand for universal pension. The dharna will conclude on Friday.

The President assured the delegation comprising Justice (retd.) A.P.Shah, Baba Adhav, Aruna Roy and Usha Patnaik that she would take up their demands with the government.

The Parishad's demand include abolition of distinction between the above poverty line (APL) and the below poverty line (BPL), bring all needy elderly persons within the social welfare ambit of the government and provide a monthly pension of Rs. 2,000.

The Parishad delegation called on Mr. Ramesh who also addressed the demonstrators on Wednesday. He told the delegation and the gathering that he would write to the Prime Minister on these issues, though he did not agree with their demands in totality. He said he would ask the PM not to limit the old age pension to just the BPL families and open it up for the needy people even among the APL. Mr. Ramesh agreed for exclusion criteria to pick the genuinely needy people.

Currently about two crore people receive a monthly pension of Rs. 200 as old age pension while the estimated number who would qualify for the benefit would be in the range of 10 crore people.

Mr. Ramesh said it would be in the fitness of things to increase this number to something around five to six crore and raise the pension stressing that the present dole was ridiculous. He, however, did not specify the amount by which the pension should be raised though he did not support the Parishad's demand for a pension of Rs. 2,000 which he considered to be on the higher side.

In the budget proposal, the government raised the pension provided to widows and disabled persons from Rs. 200 to Rs. 300.

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