social pensions in India

India, in theory if not in practice, provides social (non-contributory) pensions for all residents older than 60 years who live in families poor enough to be listed as BPL (below poverty line). The social pension, known as the “Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme” (IGNOAPS) provides beneficiaries aged 60–79 a monthly pension of Rs 300 (US$4.60). Those 80 years and older are entitled to monthly benefits of Rs 750 (US$11.50).

All this seems rather complex. But there is more. India is a federal country, and many states add to the amount of pension legislated by the federal government. The generosity and pattern of state top-ups vary widely. In the state of Rajasthan, IGNOAPS monthly benefits are as follows:

60 to 75 years- Rs. 500
76 to 79 years- Rs. 750
80 to 150 years– Rs. 750

The age requirements apply equally to males and females. The age of 150 given in the source I consulted might be a misprint, so should probably be interpreted as “80 and older”. Rajasthan, in brief, adds Rs 200 to mandated federal pensions for those aged 60 to 75 years, Rs 450 for those aged 76 to 79, and nothing at all to benefits for BLP residents in their 80s or older.

The government of Rajasthan announced that, for widows, the benefits will be doubled. But what does not mean, in practice, since the benefits will go only to those who are not eligible for other government benefits?

Chief minister Vasundhara Raje announced in the budget this year that pension to old widows would be doubled – from Rs 500 [US$7.50] to Rs 1,000 [US$ 15] for those over 60; from Rs 750 [US$11.50] to Rs 1,500 [US$23] to those over 75 years. Many old widows, however, are deprived of the hiked pension, for their names are on the old age pension [IGNOAPS] list.

Rosamma Thomas, “Widows deprived of pension hike announced in state budget“, The Times of India (Jaipur), 14 November 2017.

Persons receiving benefits from any other Social Welfare Pension Scheme are not eligible for this enhanced widows benefit. If the means-test is the same for widows as for other pensioners (live in a BPL household), then nothing will change. Apparently a widowed pensioner is not allowed to remove herself from the IGNOAPS list. Does a person who never qualified for an old age pension becomes widowed reaches the age of 60 or falls into poverty, does she have the option of refusing the IGNOAPS? If so, then more and more widows will gradually become eligible for the higher benefit over time. If joining the IGNOAPS list is not optional, then no-one will qualify for the doubled benefit, and the announcement is meaningless.

This announcement of a doubling of widows’ benefits is strange, and could signify nothing.

Vasundhara Raje Scindia, the chief minister, is a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Rajasthan is in north western India and is the country’s largest state by area. With 68.5 million residents, it is India’s 7th largest state by population. It borders Pakistan and contains most of the inhospitable Thar Desert.

In other news, it appears that the state of Rajasthan has not been very successful in identifying older persons who might qualify for a social pension. Thousands of older persons have even been listed as dead, even though they are very much alive.

In April this year, minister for social justice Arun Chaturvedi admitted in the state assembly that data of 17 of the state’s 33 districts had been collated, and it was found that 38,000 people had been wrongly denied pension. He said 8,362 people still alive had been recorded as dead.

Rajasthan widows getting old age pension stand to lose“, The Times of India (Jaipur), 14 June 2017.


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