New Delhi: Government plans to increase pension for disabled, widow and senior citizens besides making changes in the eligibility criteria for pension payment, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said Monday.
The current pension of Rs 300 per month for widows and physically handicapped, Rs 200 for senior citizen and Rs 500 to persons above 80 years "is inadequate. It has to be increased," he informed Rajya Sabha during Question Hour.
"We are considering (raising pensions). In next 2-3 months action will be taken," he said.
Besides the Central grant, states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Delhi and Haryana give pension from their budget. But in most states "there is no matching contribution," he said.
The definition of physically handicapped for availing pension carries a limit, he said adding the definition should be changed to provide for pension to persons with 40 percent disability instead of current criteria of 80 percent.
"I am of the view that pension should be dignified," he said. "We are committed to bring changes in both pension and definition."
Ramesh said Mihir Shah Committee has suggested drastic changes in pension plans by universalising pension by including an exclusion criteria rather than current norm of confining it to BPL people only.
Besides, it has suggested lowering age of widow pensioners from 40 years to 18 years, redefining disability of 40 percent for providing pension to physically handicapped and linking pension to inflation index.
If implemented, the number of beneficiaries getting pension would increase from 2.60 crore to over 9 crore. Currently, Rs 9,500 crore is spent on providing pension to 2.6 crore beneficiaries, he said.
Noting that certification of physically handicapped was cumbersome, Ramesh said it could be eased by making pension universal by including the exclusion criteria.
"Within next 6 weeks, we will take a final decision on restructuring pension programme," he said.
He said only 4-5 states of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Haryana provide pension to beneficiaries every month and the rest make payments once in 6 or 7 months.
Pension has to be paid on a fixed day of the month and this would be possible once the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme is fully implemented in next one year, he said.
Ramesh said his ministry provides a pension of Rs 300 per month per beneficiary in the age group of 18 to 79 years as an additional central assistance to handicapped persons with severe or multiple disabilities belonging to Below Poverty Line (BPL) family.
This includes senior citizens in the age group of 60 to 79 years as well as those with 100 percent disability.
The funds, he said, are released to sates as an additional central assistance and identification of beneficiaries, sanction and disbursement of assistance is the responsibility of the state governments.
"The states/UTs have been requested to make at least an equal contribution to this central assistance," he added.