10 Years of Modi: An Area of Darkness for the Old and Poor!

For widows and people with disability, the pension amount was raised from Rs 200 to a mere Rs 300 in 2012, when urad dal costs Rs 138/kg and mustard oil Rs 136/kg.

As India prepares to vote for a new government, what has the past 10 years of the Narendra Modi government done for the social and financial security of the growing population of the elderly in India? What is the reality of the elderly poor, the widows and the disabled? Is ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ inclusive, especially under schemes, such as the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) for those below the age of 65? Why have the Railways not restored fare concession for senior citizens imposed during Covid?

These questions have been dealt with in Social Security Pensions – Report Card 2014-2024’ brought out by the Financial Accountability Network India (FAN India), which says (after perusing government documents and reports) that in the past decade of Modi rule, pension amounts under NSAP for the elderly have remained stagnant since 2011.

The allocations for NSAP have also remained stagnant at around Rs 9,500 crore for the past 10 years, with a “massive decline” as a share of the overall budget.

This at a time when there are reports that the Modi government spent Rs 10,000 crore at one go to print electoral bonds even after these were banned by the Supreme Court!

The report card notes that allocations towards NSAP as a share of the total budget decreased from 0.58% in 2014-15 to a mere 0.2% in the present budget.

“Mind it that the total haircuts given to just the 12 big ticket defaulting corporates was Rs 2.84 lakh crores,” points out the report card by FAN India, a collective of civil society organisations, unions, people’s movements and concerned citizens.

The report card also points out that for widows and people with disability, the pension amount was increased from Rs 200 to a mere Rs 300 in 2012!

“At a time when Urad dal costs Rs 138/kg and Mustard oil costs Rs 136/kg the pension amounts are no more than a joke..” it adds.

As regards ‘inclusivity’, the report card found that “Stringent eligibility criteria under NSAP are resulting in large-scale exclusion in accessing social security benefits. Its reliance on outdated 2011 SECC data, strict age criteria for women (40-60 years), and extremely high disability level (80% or higher) for enrolment for persons with disabilities excludes crores of people in need of financial assistance.”

Recall that a NITI Aayog report last month said that almost 78% of the elderly population in India live without a pension cover and nearly 70% are dependent on their families/relatives for their everyday maintenance.

The worst off are unorganised sector workers, says the report, as they are unable to access pension schemes, such as Atal Pension Yojana, since these are linked to general welfare schemes and not exclusively dedicated to such workers.

In any case, the e-Shram portal for registering unorganised sector workers with the aim of “connecting them” with various social security schemes, has managed to register only 29.48 crore workers so far.

“The budget for the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-Dhan (PM-SYM), a contributory old age scheme for organised sector workers launched in 2019 has declined from Rs 350 crore in 2023-24 to just Rs 177 crore in 2024-25. The PM SYM in reality has proven to be ineffective, failing to meet its target of registering 10 crore unorganised workers. Between 2019 and 2024, only close to 50 lakh people have enrolled in the scheme. Between January and July 2023, 21% of the enrolled beneficiaries left the programme,” it said.

Citing the India Ageing Report, it says there are close to 6 crore elderly in India in the “poorest wealth” category. Of this, close to one crore live without any income.

“Despite this, the number of beneficiaries under the old-age scheme has decreased from 2.27 crores in 2012 to 2.21 crore. Overall coverage under the programme has only increased slightly from 2.48 crore in 2012-13 to 2.97 crore in 2023,” says the report card.

While there are advertisements, posters, jingles galore crediting on Prime Minister Modi for “providing” benefits to the people, the report noted that due to insufficient Central funding it is the states that are “spending 5 to 10 times more on social security assistance compared to the Union Government”

Picking holes into the Modi government’s argument that providing, say Rs 3,000 non-contributory pension to every elderly (about Rs 5.36 lakh crore) would be a ‘freebie” or a financial “burden” on the exchequer, the report points out that that the very same government “has given write offs to the tune of nearly Rs 15 lakh crore to the big corporates between 2014-15 and 2022-23.”

This article was originally published in Newsclick and can be read here.

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