- Traditionally, the institution of joint family used to take care of the elderly when they reached the stage of not being able to work and contribute to the household earnings or participate actively in daily chores.
- Over time, the joint family system has by and large weakened, even in rural areas. Consequently, it is not uncommon to find a large number of older persons left to fend for themselves.
- This is a cause of serious concern, as the number of elderly people in the country is growing at a much faster rate than the total population.
- As per the Census 2011, some 104 million people were at the age of 60 or above and their number is expected to cross 173 million by 2026, as per the 2013 projection by the Registrar General of India.
- Another estimate by the UN Population Fund (unfpa) in its report “Social Security for the Elderly in India“, notes that between 2000 and 2050, the overall population of India would grow by 60 %, whereas the number of elderly people could swell by 360%.
- According to a survey conducted by Agewell Foundation, of 15,000 respondents two-thirds (65.7 %) lived alone with their spouses; only 16.34 % claimed to be living
- in joint families.
- Around 44% were financially dependent on others.
- For about 12 % of the elderly—22.33 % rom rural areas and 2.39 % from urban
- areas—old-age pension (oap) was the main source of income.
- These demographic projections provide compelling reasons to review the financial status of the elderly poor who hardly have recourse to any other means of livelihood.
- Article 41 of the Constitution of India requires the government to provide assistance to its citizens in case of old age.
- Since the provision of social security and old age pension is listed in item 23 and 24 of the Concurrent list of the 7th Schedule, both the Union and state governments are responsible for ensuring that the elderly citizens do not suffer on account of acute poverty and destitution.
- To fulfil the obligation, the majority of states and Union Territories have old-age pension (oap) schemes in place since the 1970s, with Uttar Pradesh being the first one to introduce it in 1957 and Andhra Pradesh and Kerala in 1960.
- The Centre has also introduced the National Old Age Pension Scheme (noaps) as part of the National Social Assistance Programme (nsap), launched in 1995.
- The Data with NSAP portal shows that the current coverage of NOAPS (renamed Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme or ignoaps in 2005) is 24.9 million, about 21.65 % of the current elderly population.
- It is difficult to estimate the actual coverage of the elderly poor under OAP schemes of the Centre as well as the states, because the NSAP portal has data only for Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha.
- Around 67 % of the elderly are covered under NFSA but by comparison IGNOAPS covers only 21.65 per cent.
- Since there is no authentic data for all state OAPS, we assess the actual coverage of the elderly poor (by considering ignoaps and state oaps) only for those five poorer states for which data is available on the nsap portal and then compare it with the standard coverage offered by nfsa.
- The next concern is related to the adequacy of the pension amount.
- Eg: Under ignoaps, the Union government provides a measly sum of 200 a month to the beneficiaries in the age group of 60-79 (60+) and 500 to those at 80 or above (80+).
- Data informally collected from various states through personal contacts reveals that the monthly pension amount varies between 200 and 2,000 for the 60+ group(lowest in Nagaland and highest in Goa); for the 80+ group it ranges between 500 (Nagaland) and 2,000(Goa)
- Except in Andhra Pradesh,Jharkhand and Goa, the monthly pension amount does not provide a reasonable level of subsistence support to the elderly poor even in richer states like Gujarat,Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Fix the door
- Originally, “destitution” was used as the eligibility criterion for identifying beneficiaries of ignoaps. Subsequently, in 2007 it was replaced by the “below-the-poverty line” (bpl) criterion.
- According to a working paper of the Asian Development Bank Institute, two-thirds of the elderly poor continued to be left out (exclusion error) of these schemes and two-fifths of the beneficiaries included were ineligible being non-poor or under aged (inclusion error).
- Thus, the eligibility norms for these schemes warrant revision and a fresh survey needs to be carried out to identify the elderly poor based on robust proxies of severe deprivation as State governments have increasingly switched over to bpl criterion for their OAPS.
- The Ministry of Rural development(mord), which implements NSAP and state governments should jointly review the coverage of oaps in other states and expand it wherever required, at least to match NFSA coverage in the absence of a more robust and updated measure of poverty.
- MORD and state governments should raise the total pension to at least 1,000 per month in all states by increasing the Centre’s contribution to at least 600.
- A system of periodic revision of the pension entitlement at least once in three years, factoring in the change in the CPI should also be put in place.
- India is ageing fast and it’s time the government ensured that the old-age pension schemes offer adequate social security to all the elderly poor.
- It is high time that the Centre and states should review, verify and expand coverage of OAP schemes to ensure that the deserving population is covered and the inclusion and exclusion errors are corrected.