How much more discriminatory can it get?
Minister of State for Personnel, Jitendra Singh recently clarified that Aaadhar will not be mandatory for retired central government employees to avail of their pension. This is a laudable and sound decision. Only , by not extending the same courtesy, or option to the beneficiaries of the pension schemes of the NSAP smacks of discrimination, callousness, and cruelty with some of the most vulnerable citizens of India. They have already been reeling under the exclusion caused by the mandatory Aadhaar payment system, and have the additional disadvantage of being excluded due to social and economic circumstances. This discriminatory treatment is only greater validation of the widely held belief that this government has no concern for the poor. Even the attitude that this ridiculously small pension amount is a welfare measure, and not an entitlement can only come from a refusal to acknowledge the immense contribution of the working people to the building and development of this country. While the unwillingness to provide a decent amount as pension is bad enough, the decision to not extend to them the benefit being given to retired government employees, is beyond justification.
Both groups comprise the elderly, so what sets them apart and why are there two sets of rules that apply to them? While both sets of people have served the country in different capacities, it is only government ‘employees’ who are entitled to pensions. All the other masses of informal workers who have served the country in actually building roads and fancy airports, all the farmers and farm labourers who grow food crops, the cleaners who provide services are not entitled to pensions. What they get is referred to as ‘social assistance’, and is labelled as welfare. Their precarious existence throughout their working life dogs them in old age as well. Even the meagre social assistance of Rs.200 per month, sometimes matched or topped up by the state governments, is certainly not enough to live on. The pensions of the government employees on the other hand, amount to an average of half the salary drawn when they demit office and allow for periodic increases to keep pace with the cost of living.
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The precarious existence throughout the working life of the informal workers, dogs them in old age as well.If anything it is they who must be exempt from cumbersome procedures. Like the mandatory Aadhar. Biometric verification is often a nightmare for calloused fingers! The claim that Adhaar was brought in to prevent fraud and to weed out ineligible beneficiaries seems a little absurd when compared with the frauds that have beset the banking sector. The pensions under the NSAP account for about Rs.9000 crores per annum, considerably less than the fraud at a single bank! Under the circumstances, it may be worthwhile for the government to consider doing away with the Adhaar requirement for all social assistance schemes. For many of the informal workers, it could mean the difference between life and deprivation, and in some cases the right to life.
Aruna Roy, Baba Adhav
National Conveners: Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh, Pooornima Chikarmane, Kamayani Swami
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