CHENNAI: Bhoopathi Ramachandran, a 63-year-old physically challenged woman, was in tears as she spoke about her life. “I have three sons and husband. I was affected by polio when I was a child, so I can’t move my right leg. My grown-up children have not been treating us well. The `1,000 pension that I was receiving from the Social Welfare Department brought food on the table, and helped us meet our expenses. For the past one year, I am not getting the pension. I ran pillar to post and re-submitted all forms but I’m yet to get the money,” she says.
Similar stories were shared by all the 150 elderly men, women, widows and transgenders at the public hearing by Pension Parishad — an initiative to ensure universal pension to all workers in India — at the ICSA Centre on Tuesday. The participants had come to seek a way through social welfare activists to get their pension from the State Government.
While timely disbursal of Old Age Pension has been an issue for long, the newly-added clause in the Social Security Scheme by Social Welfare and Nutritious Meal Programme Department, according to which the pensioner must be a destitute to avail of the benefits, and his or her entire property must not be worth more than `5,000, has hit beneficiaries hard.
“I had recently been to the Social Welfare Department to claim Old Age Pension. When they came to know that I had husband and two sons, they bluntly told me that I was not eligible for it as I had a single-room house and family,” says 61-year-old Valliamma, a flower seller from MGR Nagar.
Many years ago, the Central Government had brought in a similar scheme under which only destitute senior citizens above 65 years of age were covered. Later, the clause was removed and the scheme covered all Indians above 60 years of age and below the poverty line.
Activists claim Tamil Nadu to be the only State to make such an amendment, that all the 2,74,000 beneficiaries the department caters to will have to bear the brunt. “More conditions will only lead to more exclusions,” says Harsh Mander, director of the Centre for Equity Studies and Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court of India in the Right to Food case. “It is very sad that this rule is only applied here. This is going to worsen the situation,” he adds.
Labour, Social Welfare, Differently abled and Revenue are the four main departments in the State that provide pension to the marginalised sector.
R Balachandran, secretary of TN Marginal Workers Welfare Board which has 40,000 beneficiaries under the old age pension scheme, says not many people come with proper documents to get registered. “All we need is an ID and an address proof. If they come with the right documents, we will get them registered and start releasing their money on time. There is no other problem,” he says.
“Old age pension is necessary for the 93 per cent of the workers who are in the unorganised sector. It is a recognition and support for people who through infirmity, age or other disabilities are unable to access work benefits anymore,” says social activist Aruna Roy.
“TN has a reputation for running the best social sector service programmes in India. We hope they will shape their policy and rationalise and universalise pensions for the State and create a blueprint for the rest of India,” she adds.