PM’s pension scheme: Two months into launch, workers not keen, call it poll gimmickhttps://indianexpress.com/elections/lok-sabha-elections-2019-modi-pension-scheme-pmsym-unorganised-workers-informal-workers-5692869/

PM’s pension scheme: Two months into launch, workers not keen, call it poll gimmick

Makhan Lal, a construction worker who is on the verge of quitting work because of a dislocated shoulder, says: “I haven’t heard of Modi’s pension scheme or Rahul Gandhi’s NYAY... what I know is that we will remain poor, this basti will continue to have open sewage and during rains our houses will be under sewer water.”

A labourer pulls a handcart loaded with sacks of lentils at a grain market. ( Source: REUTERS)

Chand Lal, 45, was back at his 8×8 feet shanty in Delhi’s JJ slum in Rohini after a day of disappointment. Washing his feet under the hand pump at the entrance of the basti, he called out to his wife. “Aaj 300 rupay ki kamaayi hui hai bas. (I have earned only Rs 300 today),” he said.

Having migrated from Madhya Pradesh’s Chatarpur district, Lal has been working as a construction worker since the year 2000. He hasn’t saved a single penny so far. While Lal currently isn’t a beneficiary of any welfare scheme, he has no inclination to enrol in the pension scheme launched recently by the Centre to secure his old age either.

Announced in this year’s budget that was presented on February 1, the scheme, Prime Minister Shram Yogi Maandhan Yojana (PM-SYM), aims to provide a monthly pension of Rs 3,000 to workers of unorganised sectors with a monthly income of Rs 15,000 or below after they turn 60 — if they contribute a minimum of Rs 55 every month. The government will co-contribute an equal amount.

Read | Pension scheme for unorganised sector could cannibalise APY

As many as 42 crore workers are estimated to be engaged in the unorganised sector of the country, according to the Ministry of Labour and Employment. The Narendra Modi-led BJP government, according to reports, is expecting to register nearly one crore workers under the scheme by April-end. The government targets to enrol 10 crore unorganised workers in the next five years.

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Chand Lal returns home after work at a construction site. (Express Photo by Christina George)

As the country goes to polls, and Modi goes from state to state showcasing his welfare measures, Lal doesn’t find the contributory pension scheme appealing enough.

With a family of four and a daily wage between Rs 300 and Rs 550 Lal, while sipping his milkless tea, said in a tired voice, “We sometimes don’t even get the requisite minimum wages prescribed by the government, how are we supposed to save for pension? Ideally, workers should get around Rs 500 for a day’s labour, but we mostly compromise on it due to a shortage of work. We take whatever comes our way and manage our day’s expense.”

Registration of PM-SYM

Two months into its implementation, workers in Delhi seem to be reluctant to join Modi’s pension scheme. For Sudesh Devi, another 40-year-old migrant from Madhya Pradesh, a stagnant salary of Rs 2,000 a month for five years is a major concern.

“I am a house helper with a fixed pay of Rs 2,000 for the past five years without a single leave in a month. Is that how it is for the organised group of workers, what should I do with a pension if I am not satisfied now,” asked Devi while sweeping her last stroke of broom for the day at a house.

Meena Kumari, 40, who has been trying to avail the Vidhwa Pension Yojana, says, “My husband died last year and since then I have been rejected multiple times due to lack of documents. It’s better if could find a job and start living than relying on the government pension scheme, it never works for illiterate people like us.”

The scheme, brought under The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, came into effect in February. The enrolments under the PMSYM are being carried out by Common Services Centres (CSC) across the country. According to reports, there are 3.19 crore CSCs in India.

Read | Polls ahead, Govt works to fix pensions and floor wages in informal sector

Prem Chand is a CSC provider in North West Delhi’s Mangolpuri area, close to the JJ Colony, where Lal resides. He has been helping the poor with different e-governance services for two years now.

Chand strongly believes that PM-SYM is definitive social security for the unorganised workers like rickshaw pullers and manual scavengers. He says awareness about the scheme needs to be generated. “There has not been a single enrolment in the scheme yet. Yes, the registry has been slow till now, we need to go door to door to let people know the benefits of the scheme and how it will secure their future, “ he said.

Other CSC centres in Delhi were found to be inactive and some were functioning to only help with the documentation for the poor.

Subash Bhatnagar, activist and coordinator of the national campaign committee for central legislation on construction labour, said:  “The new pension scheme is impossible to be implemented due to its structural failures.”

“Making a scheme contributory and voluntary in nature itself makes it unrealistic. With no secured work or income, why would any worker want to invest money for 20-30 years to receive an amount which might not even have enough value then,” he added.

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Talking about construction workers, Bhatnagar said, “The building and other construction workers Act 1996 (BOCW) allows construction workers to be registered and recognised and it also provides pension to workers that is collected by the construction companies under the Welfare Cess Act.”

PM-SYM excludes those already registered under various other pension schemes, it also does not count the workers who are above the age of 40 and working. It also requires different documentation like Aadhaar, bank savings account and a valid mobile number, which many workers, especially migrant workers, do not possess.

Income for the elderly

Phoole Devi (first left) recently quit her job as a waste picker. (Express Photo by Christina George)

Sitting among a group of women was Phoole Devi, a migrant from Uttar Pradesh’s Mahon district., who quit her job as a waste-picker owing to asthma. When asked if she was interested in the pension scheme, she wanted to know if there was a scheme that could help her access medical facilities for free.

Unhappy with the present government, she said, “There is nothing for the workers of my age group, I have spent all my life picking up waste from households, I live in a shanty which is built across open sewage. Being in such unhygienic conditions, many workers’ health gets affected at an early age. If at all there is a pension scheme, we deserve to get it by the age of 50,” she said.

All India Unorganised Workers Congress (AIUWC) Chairman Arbind Singh said the pension scheme is not need-based. “The life span of the people in unorganised sector is much less than the people in the organised sector. You go into any slum in Delhi and you will find that the elderly population is not more than 10 per cent,” he said, adding that pension to the poor should be accessible by the age of 50.

He further said: “A management like the one for the organised sector cannot work in case of people in the unorganised sector. With a majority of the people continuously migrating, where is the system to track data or port it.”

‘Election gimmick’

Group of unorganised workers expressing their grief and struggle. ( Express Photo by Christina George)

For many in the JJ Basti, schemes and promises are just election gimmicks. Makhan Lal, a construction worker who is on the verge of quitting work because of a dislocated shoulder, says: “I haven’t heard of Modi’s pension scheme or Rahul Gandhi’s NYAY, neither I know which government will win but what I know is that we will remain poor, this basti will continue to have open sewage and during rains our houses will be under sewer water.”

Similarly, 39-year-old Shyam says, “Not a single politician or party worker has visited us in four years. Modi sarkar promised us jobs but where are the jobs,” he asked.

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Delhi goes to polls on May 12 in a single phase. Voting will be held in seven parliamentary constituencies.