The Centre is planning to lower the age criterion for widows covered under its pension scheme to 18 years from the present 40. The move comes at a time when it has been found that more young farmers are committing suicide, leaving young women behind with no source of income.
“Data on widows below the age of 40 years indicates that giving pension to those above 40 years of age is not right. It should be given to those in the age group of 18 or 21 up to 59. Problems faced by younger widows are quite acute in comparison to those faced by older ones,” rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said.
At present, the Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme covers BPL widows in the 40-64 age group and benefits 45 lakh women. The proposal, which is with the Planning Commission, once approved will benefit about an additional 10 lakh BPL widows — in rural and urban areas, along with farm widows.Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has been visiting women widowed due to agrarian crisis and even mentioned their plight — like that of Vidarbha’s Kalavati Bandurkar — in Parliament.
“You may be single, but you are definitely not alone,” Ramesh said, echoing Rahul Gandhi’s assurance, at a national consultation on agrarian single women a few days ago.
Ramesh had also requested finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to raise the widow assistance from Rs200 a month to Rs500. “We pat our backs and claim to be sensitive, but Rs200 as pension to a widow is not a very big matter. There is need to enhance this to Rs500 at least in the first stage,” Ramesh remarked. The ministry also wants to empower such women under its SHG scheme.