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‘Common ground’ achieved by Centre, activists over universal pension

Mohammad Ali
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For a life of dignity: Pension Parishad supporters during a rally at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.- Photo: Sandeep Saxena
For a life of dignity: Pension Parishad supporters during a rally at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.- Photo: Sandeep Saxena

A broad “in-principle agreement” has been reached between the Union Rural Development Ministry and activists campaigning for universal pension to get the recommendations of the Ministry’s Task Force implemented from 2013-14 instead of 2016-17 as the Task Force had proposed.

The development comes even as a large number of unorganised workers, elderly and women have been protesting since Monday at Jantar Mantar here demanding a universal pension scheme that will enable them “to lead a life of dignity”.

Recommendations

The Task Force on the Comprehensive National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP), a welfare programme which includes various pension programmes for BPL households, had made four key recommendations: elimination of APL and BPL criteria for pension schemes by 2016-17, phased universalisation of the pension scheme by 2016-17, index linking all pensions to inflation, better identification of beneficiaries and efficient disbursement system.

Even though the Ministry accepted all the Task Force recommendations, the civil society activists along with a section of economists and experts rejected the phased implementation of the Task Force proposals and demanded that they be implemented “immediately” instead.

The recent “broad agreement” has come after a discussion between Mr. Ramesh and the activists on Tuesday.

National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy, one of the activists involved in campaigning on universal pension and in discussion with the Government, argued that exclusion of people from universal pension was needed but that cannot be done by the existing category of APL/BPL. “You cannot exclude and discriminate among poor people from getting the social welfare benefits. Most of these thousands of people who have come from across the country do not have the BPL card.”

“As far as the Government is concerned, there is a broad in-principle agreement on this issue,” she added.

Taking this forward, activist Nikhil Dey said “many of the important recommendations of the Task Force have also been accepted by the Government. This included redefining the widow’s pension, reducing eligibility to 18 years and including women who are divorced, separate, abandoned and single”.

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