- Life expectancy in India has more than doubled since Independence — from around 32 years in the late 1940s to 70 years or so today. Many countries have done even better, but this is still a historical achievement.
- The share of the elderly (persons aged 60 years and above) in India’s population, around 9% in 2011, is growing fast and may reach 18% by 2036 according to the National Commission on Population.
Outcomes of old age and loneliness – Mental issues:
- A survey of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and the Government of Tamil Nadu, reports that among persons aged 60 and above, 30% to 50% had symptoms that make them likely to be depressed.
- Among the elderly living alone, in the Tamil Nadu sample, 74% had symptoms that would classify them as likely to be mildly depressed or worse on the short-form Geriatric Depression Scale. A large majority of elderly persons living alone are women, mainly widows.
- The hardships of old age are not related to poverty alone, but some cash often helps. Cash can certainly help to cope with many health issues, and sometimes to avoid loneliness as well.
- The first step towards a dignified life for the elderly is to protect them from destitution and all the deprivations that may come with it.
- That is why old-age pensions are a vital part of social security systems around the world.
- India has important schemes of non-contributory pensions for the elderly, widowed women, and disabled persons under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP), administered by the Ministry of Rural Development.
- NSAP is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the Government of India that provides financial assistance to the elderly, widows, and persons with disabilities in the form of social pensions.
- Only BPL persons are eligible for it.
Components of NSAP: Presently NSAP comprises of five schemes, namely –
- Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS)
- Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS)
- Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS)
- National Family Benefit Scheme NFBS) and
Issues of NSAP:
- Eligibility for NSAP is restricted to “below poverty line” (BPL) families, based on outdated and unreliable BPL lists, some of them are 20 years old.
- The central contribution to old-age pensions under NSAP has stagnated at a tiny ₹200 per month since 2006, with a slightly higher but still paltry amount (₹300 per month) for widows.
- Many States have enhanced the coverage and/or number of social-security pensions beyond NSAP norms using their own funds and schemes. Some have even achieved “near-universal” (say 75%-80%) coverage of widows and elderly persons.
- “Targeting” social benefits is always difficult. There are huge exclusion errors in the BPL lists.
- Even when lists of left-out, likely-eligible persons were submitted to the local administration, very few were approved for a pension, confirming that they face resilient barriers in the current scheme of things.
Way forward in social security schemes: Beyond targets
- Many Officials have absorbed the idea that their job is to save the government money by making sure that no ineligible person qualifies by mistake.
- For example, at some places in Tamil Nadu, if the applicant has an able-bodied son in the city, they may be disqualified, regardless of whether they get any support from their son. In their quest to avoid inclusion errors, many officials are less concerned about exclusion errors.
- A better approach is to consider all widows and elderly or disabled persons as eligible, subject to simple and transparent “exclusion criteria”.
- Eligibility can even be self-declared, with the burden of time-bound verification being placed on the local administration or gram panchayat.
Social security pensions, of course, are just the first step towards a dignified life for the elderly. They also need other support and facilities such as health care, disability aids, assistance with daily tasks, recreation opportunities and a good social life. This is a critical area of research, policy, and action for the near future.
Source: The Hindu