In a set of decisions that may ensure the government isn't found wanting on goodwill if the clouds of a mid-term poll thicken, the Union Cabinet on Thursday cleared schemes to ensure that India's poor senior citizens have money in their pocket and young students food in their stomach.
The Cabinet also agreed to partially rollback a steep 25 per cent cut in central funding for elementary education besides extending the mid-day meal scheme to upper primary students - studying in classes VI to VIII - and relax the eligibility criteria for old age pension.
The three decisions - aimed at the
-- would cost the central exchequer nearly Rs 7,100 crore. "The Union Cabinet has approved an important proposal, possibly for the first time, to modify the eligibility criteria under the National Old Age Pension Scheme," Information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi announced after the meeting.
Instead of only destitute senior citizens over the age of 65, the fresh eligibility criteria bring all people over 65 years and living in below poverty line (BPL) households entitled to the Rs 400 old age monthly pension.
The goodwill gesture - also part of the government's social security net for the poor - will cost the exchequer nearly Rs 4,300 crore and be launched on former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's birth anniversary, November 19. Dasmunsi said about 1.57 crore people would be benefited from the scheme. The cabinet committee on economic affairs has also decided to ensure that upper primary students get a mid-day meal at school from this year. The scheme will cover students in 3,479 educationally backward blocks this year.
The ambitious scheme, which was so far limited to primary stage only, would be extended to all areas across the country in the next fiscal, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said that it was expected nearly six crore children would be entitled to the mid-day meal from 2008.
The calorific value of the mid-day meal for upper primary students had been fixed at 700 calories and 20 grams of protein. The govt also agreed to a partial rollback of cuts in central funding for the Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan in view of opposition from states reluctant to foot half the bill incurred for universalising elementary education.
The modifications approved by the Cabinet freeze the central share for the first two years of the Eleventh Plan Period (2007-09) at 65 per cent and effect a 5 per cent cut in its share for the next 3 years. This would bring down the central share in SSA to 50 per cent by 2011-012.
The Union Budget this year had only budgeted for a 50 per cent central share, Rs 10671 crore. Thursday's decision will require Chidambaram to spare nearly Rs 1500 crore more to raise the central share to 65 per cent.