Indian society prides itself on respecting elders, but the old-age pension hardly translates that respect into help.
At dawn Aabla, 62, reaches out for his stick to hobble across to his courtyard. His knees creak as he sits down for breakfast. They have buckled under five decades of labour in the fields. But, soon after breakfast, he sets off to work in the fields again. “I have to work in the fields to survive. You think a monthly pension of Rs 300 is enough to buy food, clothes, medicines and pay utilities?” he ask, as he takes a break working in the sweltering summer of Bhadal, the last village of Madhya Pradesh, bordering Rajasthan.
Even as people in the metros complain about the increased costs of 3G data services, Uber cabs and cinema hall tickets, Pusliya, a 63-year-old man limps along gingerly to the farms. “I work to fill my stomach. Why else will I work?" he angrily tells off community correspondent Pawan for asking the obvious. He and his wife were left behind, bereft of support — financial, medical or emotional — when their children migrated to work in cities.
But they are not alone in their predicament. Out of the 100 million elders in India, 90% still work for survival and 51 million of them live below the poverty line. India launched the National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS) as a social welfare scheme in 1995. But with testimonies of the residents of Bhadal and much more across India, it is apparent that the scheme has failed to help the elderly achieve even a basic standard of living. Since 2006 – for ten years – the Centre’s contribution to pensions has stagnated at Rs 200 per month to which Madhya Pradesh state government adds only Rs 150. The amount sanctioned shows the lack of concern the government, at both the state and central level, has towards India's elderly. This despite research that shows that pension schemes are a vital lifeline for the poor who are too old to work actively. Moreover, there are no other government welfare schemes for the elderly poor, except for NOAPS
The Constitution of India recognises the duty of the State towards the vulnerable segments of society to make effective provisions, within the limits of its economic capacity, to make available public funds for the unemployed, elderly and sick. And yet the State has been lax in providing this security net that pushes the old and infirm to work for a living wage and incur additional health costs.
Pusliya doesn’t understand this apathy. “I have been an honest farmer all my life. I have never asked any bank for a loan. I have worked for as long as I could. But now, I want to just rest and eat a full meal without worrying,” Pusliya says with a tired voice.
Is this too much to ask from the State?
Video by Pawan Solanki | Article by Sangeeta Rane
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