Social security pensions in India have acted as a vital source of stability for over 3 crore elderly, disabled and widowed persons. If states like Goa excelled in terms of pension amount, Rajasthan has taken a lead in terms of coverage and wider social implications of pension schemes. The pension schemes are running reasonably well and with Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), the money is reaching the intended beneficiaries without any major leakages. The patterns of usage of the pension are indicative of its importance in the lives of the beneficiaries, especially in rural and remote areas of the state. Certainly, the Social Security Pension Scheme (SSPS) has brought in social transformation in Rajasthan and dignity to lives of people.
Our constitution clearly states "the State shall promote with special care the educational and economical interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.” Keeping in line with Constitutional duty, the NDA government at Centre and BJP-led Rajasthan government accorded top priority to social security of the people. Interestingly, the governments do not hesitate engaging party workers to push the schemes in states.
Prioritising social security
Recently in Jaipur Union Minister Thavar Chand Gehlot asked BJP workers of Rajasthan to go to every home to promote Centre's social security schemes. Party workers were asked to go to every home to make people aware of Modi government's Jan Dhan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Yojana and other schemes.
Rajasthan Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Arun Chaturvedi says that the government has accorded priority to social security. “We have made considerable progress in the disbursement of pension to eligible beneficiaries. Now Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) is out and that will help us to further widen coverage of the scheme,” he adds.
Apart from three Centrally Sponsored Schemes – Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS), Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS) and Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS), Rajasthan Social Justice and Empowerment Department has implemented states schemes namely Chief Minister Old Age Pension Scheme, Chief Minister Single Woman Pension Scheme and Chief Minister Disability Pension Scheme. All these schemes have been clubbed under Social Security Pension Scheme.
“Under Social Security Pension Scheme, we provide pension of Rs 750 per month to people of 75 and above age. All pensioners below age of 75 get Rs 500 and pensioners under disability category below 8 years of age get Rs 250 per month,” Sudarshan Sethi, Principal Secretary, Department of Social Justice and Empowerment explains.
The Government’s decision to ensure Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) and as per decision of the National Committee on DBT, in the Phase II roll out from 1st July, 2013, the three Pension Schemes of NSAP – IGNOAPS, IGNWPS and IGNDPS were added. In all the DBT Pension Schemes under NSAP, disbursement is being done through different modes namely – bank accounts, post office accounts, money order – depending on feasibility.
It was decided that initially those pensioners who had bank accounts would be receiving pensions through DBT since electronic transfer of funds was possible in the case of banks. “DBT is under process in the state. Very soon we will catch up.Once saving accounts of the pensioners will be linked with Aadhar, we will start transferring the money by using national software,” Sethi says.
“Currently, we are making payments mainly through Post Office -Money Order. We pay 5 percent commission to Post Office for distribution of pension. This commission comes to Rs 120- 150 crore annually,” he adds.
Thus, the government was spending Rs 2,400-3,000 crore under the scheme. The Principal Secretary says that number of beneficiaries has touched 58.26 lakh and nearly 56 lakh pensioners were being paid through Banks/Post Office accounts or Money Order.
The scheme has wider socio-economic implications. It provides much-needed economic support to pensioners and thereby gets a base to live a dignified life. Self respect, better health, social equity and a positive attitude are other benefits.
“The amount disbursed under the scheme gives a boost to agriculture, dairy and business activities and thus rural economy gets a push,” says Sethi.
Even though the government has plugged some holes in the forms of inefficient disbursal mechanism, cost of collection and the lack of a fixed pattern of payment, the issue of diminutive amount remains. In 2013, even a Parliamentary Committee pointed to this and recommended hike in the amount of pension for different categories of pensioners. The Committee observed that the current level of pension under IGNOAPS is too small and inadequate.
The Committee pointed out that most of the States have their own pension schemes and the amount of pension under IGNOAPS varies from Rs 50 to Rs 1,800. While in Goa, the State pension is Rs 1,800, in some North-Eastern States it is as little as Rs 80.
The Committee desire that the Central pension amount under National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) should be indexed to inflation and raised in a phased manner from the current level. The Committee in this connection saw no reason why Central pension under IGNOAPS should not be raised from 200 to 300 as given to pensioners under IGNDPS and IGNWPS.
Disability category too needs some modification. The IGNDPS covers only those who suffer from severe or multiple disabilities of 80 percent and above. The Scheme as currently operated leaves out many BPL people with disabilities, who are vulnerable. Social activists are of the view that in consonance with the definition of the disabled persons as given in the PWD Act, 1995, all such persons with 40 percent and above disability should be covered under IGNDPS.
Overall, Rajasthan is marching ahead in terms of providing social security to a large number of its populace. The scheme is working considerably well in terms of fulfilling the state’s broader objective of empowering those who did not get social justice so far. No doubt, proper implementation of the scheme with wide coverage has given Rajasthan a lead and other states would find it tough to catch up.