Aruna Roy seeks universal pension rights for elderly

Says states must provide pension to people who can’t work

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Puja Bhattacharjee | May 4, 2012



Leader of the mazdoor kisan shakti sangathan and RTI activist Aruna Roy during a press conference raised the demand for universal pension rights for the elderly. The press conference was organised by the pension parishad which has planned an agitation from May 7 to May 11 at the Jantar Mantar.

Roy said, “There has been a lot of debate about poverty and about the disenfranchised. Earlier, poor people did not live beyond 60 years of age. But today longevity has increased but health conditions have deteriorated. These people suffer from similar diseases as the upper and middle class but they lack support. Today, even rural families are nuclear. They don’t have the strength to draw water from the well nor do they have the financial stability which would allow them to hire a help. It is the duty of the state to provide pension to people who are no longer able to work. There are progressive international precedents in lower and middle income countries with respect to pension.”

Roy emphasised the fact that the state has an obligation towards these people. Under the existing schemes, people above 60-80 years of age get pension but not all old people are covered under this. Employment-linked pensions are restricted to the elderly in the organised sector or to those who are among the rich and upper middle class categories. But groups which are in dire need of pension are largely in the unorganised sector. Unlike the organised sector, workers in the unorganised sectors do arduous manual labour.

The pension parishad will take place in Delhi from May 7 to May 11. Three thousand working poor from 20 states will participate in the dharna at the Jantar Mantar. It will focus on the problems of aging workers who will be able to live their lives with dignity if the government accepts the demand for universal pension. Public hearings will also be conducted during the dharna.

Other members who addressed the press included veteran leader of unorganised workers in Maharashtra, Baba Adhav, who along with Aruna Roy is the co-convenor of the pension parishad, prof Prabhat Patnaik, former member of the Kerala state planning board and member of the UN Commission, prof Ravi Srivastava, former member of the national commission on enterprises in the unorganised sector, Annie Raja, secretary of the national federation of Indian women and Subhash Lomte of the Maharashtra labour union.

Adhav spoke about the plight of unorganised workers who wait in vain for the implementation of the unorganised workers social security Act. “The Act provides for pensions to unorganised workers since they constitute 93% of the workforce. We are arguing for universalisation of pension,” he said.

Prabhat Patnaik said their demand is modest. “The demand is not linked to per capita income. It is for an absolute amount. About eight crore people will have to be covered. It is not a big demand. The GDP is growing at 8%.” He ended saying, “The state of civilisation must be judged by the way it treats its elderly.”

Lomte added that besides taxation, additional revenue generation will help fund the pension plans.

Annie Raja spoke about how the elderly were considered a burden and therefore abandoned under bridges and on railway stations. She said, “Pension amount given by the Delhi government was better than many other states but the elaborate procedure and the delays eventually exclude the neediest.”

Professor Ravi Srivastava said, “The Sengupta commission established that 93 percent of the workforce does not have informal social security. In the commission we took issue of social security as a right. The old people of tomorrow are the workers of today and they deserve protection.”
 

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