After setting up the Mihir Shah-led task force to recommend restructuring of the pension framework,the Rural Development Ministry is planning a committee with a short time-frame to work out exclusion criteria to enable universalisation of pension.
The Pension Parishad,an umbrella outfit of civil society organisations,said the ministry has agreed in principle to most of its demands and is considering to set up a committee to draft criteria for exclusion from universal pension coverage. The discussion about such a committee,however,is in initial stages. The parishad has been demanding,among other measures,immediate universalisation of pension.
The move comes weeks after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh directed Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh to evolve a comprehensive proposal for restructuring of the National Social Assistance Programme and resolve the logjam with the Parishad,which had organised a five-day protest at Jantar Mantar from March 4.
The NSAP,a welfare programme launched in 1995 and run by the Rural Development Ministry,includes various pension and benefit programmes for BPL households like Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pensions,Indira Gandhi National Disability Pensions and Indira Gandhi National Widow Pensions.
The parishad has been in discussions with Ramesh since to resolve critical issues,including the exclusion criteria. While the task force has recommended using the same criteria as that for the ongoing Socio Economic Caste Census,some have suggested the criteria in the proposed National Food Security Act.
Further,the parishad was demanding that monthly pension be raised to Rs 2,000 but the ministry was floating a figure of Rs 500. The parishad has now agreed to begin with Rs 500 per month in the first phase of implementation as long as the amount is increased later. Jairam is learnt to have told the parishad he would need to get clearance from the cabinet and other authorities to implement the proposal.
Jairam had on March 7 told the Rajya Sabha that his ministry favoured gradual universalisation of pension and to link it with inflation index. Besides,the ministry was considering to make widows eligible for pension at 18 years instead of the present 40. Most of these proposals are in tune with the recommendations of the task force. Now,the ministry is expected to soon send the proposal drawn up after discussions with the parishad to the prime minister.