New Delhi, March 7 (IANS) Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh Thursday said he had reached an understanding with the Pension Parishad, a conglomeration of organisations working for pension reform, on some of their demands.
The minister said he favoured liberalising the pension norms for the elderly, widows and the disabled.
Replying to the concerns raised by some members in the Rajya Sabha after Question Hour concerning demands of the Pension Parishad, Ramesh said he has so far held two rounds of talks with members of the parishad.
"There has been an understanding on basic principles," Ramesh said.
Ramesh said there had been understanding on the principle that pension should be given on a universal criterion based on the exclusion and on the need to move away from norms based on above poverty line (APL) and below poverty line (BPL) classification.
Ramesh said the prime minister (Manmohan Singh) had told him that an understanding should be reached by talking to the Pension Parishad.
He said the government was prepared to make suitable changes to National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP).
The minister said an understanding had also been reached for relaxing eligibility criterion for extending assistance under the pension scheme.
Ramesh said he was in favour of bringing down the age of widows eligible for pension from 40 to 18 years and giving disability pension to all those suffering from 40 percent disability.
The minister said that while the elderly were paid a monthly pension of Rs.200, the eligible widows and disabled were given a monthly pension of Rs.300.
The minister said all pensions should be brought at the same initial level and added that there was a need to link it with inflation.
He also called for changes in pension distribution system to ensure timely disbursal.
Activists of Pension Parishad, a campaign for universal pension system, are on a protest in the capital over their demands.
The demands of the parishad include universal and non-contributory old age pension system with minimum monthly pension not less than 50 percent of minimum wage or Rs.2,000 per month, whichever is higher.
Thousands of people had held a peaceful protest here Wednesday demanding universal pension coverage and condemned the government's lack of empathy with the problems of crores of elderly suffering in poverty.
The 'dharna' was organised at Jantar Mantar here by Pension Parishad to protest the central government's failure to frame a universal pension scheme.