The Maharashtra Cabinet recently approved a policy for senior citizens that recognises the need to address the economic, health, housing and security problems of the elderly as also their rights to social welfare. This is a step in the right direction, given the fact that the Situational Analysis of the Elderly (GOI, 2011) states that 68 per cent of rural and 74 per cent of urban women above the age of 60 years in Maharashtra are economically dependent on others. The corresponding figure for men is 34 per cent in rural areas and 28 per cent in urban areas.
But among the provisions of the policy there is one that provides for the naming and shaming of children who neglect or harass senior citizen parents; to ensure that children provide for their parents. By including this provision the Maharashtra government has clearly tried to deflect the demand for State-funded social pensions to the elderly by putting the onus on children. What is also significant is that this policy comes less than two months after state legislators gifted themselves a hike in monthly pension from Rs25,000 to Rs40,000, which is paid out of the state budget. More importantly, it is not age dependent and starts when his term ends. In comparison, ordinary residents, those living below the poverty line, are eligible for a paltry monthly pension of Rs600 per month, out of which the Union government contributes Rs200. This means that legislators get 100 times more than what a person gets below the poverty line. This disproportion needs no further emphasis.
The ceiling for social pensions is also an income of less than Rs21,000 per annum. This is resulting in the elderly in urban areas having to either falsify their income or get excluded from this scheme because the urban poverty line is Rs591 per person per month.
The state policy that considers 65 years as the threshold is also in contravention of the National policy on Older Persons of India which stipulates that persons over 60 years are senior citizens.
Moreover, the age for superannuation of government and university employees in Maharashtra is 58 or 60 years but beneficiaries of the Shravan Bal Yojana and the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Anudan Yojana are eligible only after the age of 65.
Approximately 8.7 per cent of the Maharashtra’s population of 11.23 crore is over 60 years. And of the approximately 1 crore senior citizens only a mere 13.6 lakhs (13 per cent) are getting some relief by way of the Shravan Bal Yojana. What is also significant is that the number of state government pensioners is 6,30,787 (6 per cent), but the state policy does nothing to address the economic vulnerability of a majority of senior citizens.
The Maharashtra government spent Rs589.75 crores for 13.6 lakh beneficiaries of the Shravan Bal Seva Rajya Nivrutti Vetan Yojana and Rs368.13 for 5.67 lakh beneficiaries of the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Anudan Yojana (2012-13). The per capita spend on the SSRN and SGNY was about Rs5,000. Compared to this Rs14,698 crores was spent by the government on pensions to government employees and miscellaneous general services in the same period.
If growth precedes welfare, Maharashtra according to its own Planning Department, had an average growth rate of 8.6 per cent (XI FYP). Rajasthan, in comparison, does not even feature in the list of comparable states but it has extended social pension to those above the poverty line and pegged the eligibility threshold at Rs48,000 for rural areas and Rs60,000 for urban areas.
A government is judged by how it cares for its most vulnerable citizens. Maharashtra could top the list of states to be named and shamed for negligence in providing for the elderly!
Adhav is convenor of the Pension Parishad and Poornima Chikarmane is an academic working on informal labour and other social issues.