With all the resources being pumped into creating job opportunities and economic growth for a burgeoning young population, did India forget about its elderly people?
In March 2013, the government of India made an unprecedented move in announcing its plans to extend the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme to all senior citizens regardless of their economic status
Economic growth and better health facilities have increased the life expectancy of the average Indian leading to a steady increase in the percentage of people aged over 60. However the quality of life that a majority of them have leaves a lot to be desired.
Seen in this light, the decision is a welcome one. The question of how the implementation of such a plan would go is an entirely different one. In a lot of the videos made by community correspondents, we see incidents where existing pension schemes fail to reach those they are meant to.
Traditionally, the large Indian joint family structure provided a security blanket, as members of a family grew older. Now with the family system breaking up, migration in search of food, the elderly are left with no one to care for them.
There are serious concerns in terms of the ability of the state to provide for them. Existing pension plans have been put in place to ensure the poorest of the lot have a steady income in their old age, however small the amount is. The Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme offers around 200/- or 300/- a month which translates to less than 0.18 $ a day.
To get a pension, there are many hurdles to be crossed. The first is to actually register for the scheme and get on the list in the block office. If by some miracle you get on the list, other hurdles announce their presence— corruption and negligence are rife across the states. From names being cut off by faking deaths, to new accounts not being opened because of bribes not being paid, the elderly in India seem to face it all.
Community Correspondent Abhishek Dash is a dedicated social activist who has been working on entitlement issues for at least a decade now. While covering one case of non-payment, he went to the block office to inquire about what the hold up was.
“There is a lesson that you learn when you work at the grassroots,” says Abhishek. “It is not just enough to keep emailing or calling up higher officials. Most times, the problem is at the root of it all. The local panchayat (council) office is yet to send Mr. Tandi’s application to the pension office.”
In a few cases, the presence of community journalists who have persevered to get the elderly their pensions has helped. Kamal Kishore Purty, a Community Correspondent from Jharkhand shares how he managed to secure pensions for 34 senior citizens.
“I showed the video I had made to the officer and asked him for an explanation. I asked him if I could see the applications and the list of senior citizens of the village. The BDO told me that the papers had not arrived from the ward,” explains Kamal.
“I decided to go to the ward offices and check the BDO’s claims for myself. By the time I reached the ward office, they had already heard the news that I had made a video and gone over to the BDOs office. The ward office promised me that the money will soon be released to the bank accounts,” says Kamal.
After a few months of continuously following up, Kamal heard the good news one morning that they money had been deposited into the accounts.
Though such individual efforts go some way in ensuring that intended beneficiaries get what they are entitled to there is a serious need to evaluate and properly implement pension schemes across the country.