The government thinks that giving just Rs 10 a day to 75-year-old Sadamma, who could barely walk, is enough for her to survive. Such a paltry sum at the time of high inflation forces her and million others like her elsewhere in the country to toil every day to earn a few bucks for daily survival.
The Central government gives just Rs 200 as monthly pension for poor citizens like Sadamma between 60 and 80 years of age and Rs 500 to ones, who manage to cross age of 80 years. The state government adds another Rs 100.
Bare-footed Sharafat, who is from primitive saharia tribe of Rajasthan, has no words to express his grief. His children have abandoned him because of his age and the paltry old age pension he gets occasionally from the government has turned him into a beggar at an age of 69.
“Agar goan main koi khana de da to khata houn (If somebody in the villages gives me food, I eat),” was refrain of the man, who had dreamt of better life during India’s freedom struggle. “Pension comes once in six to seven months”.
Story of Sadamma or Sharafat is not in isolation but of hundreds of elderly people from remote villages spread across 20 states, who had come to Delhi demanding a minimum Rs 2,000 as old age pension.
Pension Parishad led by National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy is spearheading a campaign to push the Central government to agree for a universal pension for senior citizens as compared to government giving old age pension only to below poverty line people.
According to estimate by Helpage India, around 90 % of 10 crore people above the age of 60 work in the unorganized sector, where there is no social security mechanism. Less than two crore of them are covered under government’s different old age pension schemes.
“I have been running from pillar to post to get old age pension,” said Gadki Bai of Rajasthan, while recalling the trauma senior citizens have to face to get this petty amount. In many states, old age pension is discretion of local legislator, meeting whom, is another battle.
Hundreds of such elderly submitted a petition to President Pratibha Devisingh Patil on Thursday and Members of Parliament also raised the issue in the house. "We cannot allow our elders to starve to death," said former Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad SIngh.
Rural Development minister Jairam Ramesh heard some of their stories at eight o-clock on Wednesday morning but said cannot do anything more than being their “messenger” to Prime Minister and Finance Minister. “I am not in a position to give any assurance,” he told senior citizens hoping for a slightly better life style from him.
Ramesh agreed with Roy that old age pension cannot be restricted only to poor but cautioned against the pension benefit going to better-offs such as income tax payees. Roy said they have already proposed to exclude such people from the universal old age pension being demanded.