Indian Pensioners Upbeat about Likely Doubling of Benefits

New Delhi March 17, 2018:The reported news in certain sections of the media that the government may enhance the Employees Pension Scheme (EPS) to a minimum of Rs 2000 is soothing to the pensioners under this scheme. If this is implemented. it might help over four million pensioners in the country.

The cost to the exchequer will be upwards of Rs 3000 crore. The report is that the government is working on this scheme to know the exact financial implications of the scheme and to work out modalities for plugging the possible slippages once the scheme is put in place.

Being an election year, the chances are that the scheme may get implemented and that too before the elections are announced. Though no one is talking about the timeframe for implementation of the scheme, it can be sometime around the end of the year or beginning of next depending on when the elections are going to be held. For some, the elections may be announced any time from the middle of this year to March next year.

If the UP an Bihar bye- elections had gone in favor of the ruling NDA government and the unexpected developments that unfolded in the aftermath of Telugu Desham Party (TDP) withdrawing support to the government had not happened, many expected the general elections could have been round the corner. Now, the ruling party will wait for a while for the chinks in the coalition to repair on its own.

That way, predictions are that the government might complete its full term and the general elections will be held sometime February or March next year so that the new government will be in place by May next year, as per the constitutional requirement. That way, the bonanza for the pensioners may have to be put on hold till end this year or beginning next since announcing it much before the election would take the thunder out of it.

Still the details of the revamped pension scheme are not out. Only some speculative stories are appearing in certain sections of print and electronic media. There is a speculation that the government may peg the maximum limit between Rs 4000 and Rs 5000, taking into consideration that there are some pensioners who are getting Rs 2000 or so monthly.

The doubling of the upper limit may not cost much to the government since most of the pensioners are those who draw between Rs 1000 and Rs 1200. There are also reports that the government may tweak only the minimum limit and may keep the higher quantum of pensions without much change. Here again, the situation should be dealt delicately. The mismatch between expectations and the real benefits can break the intended political dividend from the scheme.
The timing of the launch of the new scheme has to be seen from a political perspective.

The main criticism leveled against Modi administration is that it did not keep the promise of depositing Rs 15 lakh in everyone’s account as promised at the time of last election. Everyone knows that was more of an election rhetoric and less of a policy statement. Obviously, the opposition is trying to take advantage of that. Obviously, the government can implement this scheme and to some extent can claim that this fulfills its drive towards ensuring social security to the masses. Yet , the coverage of the scheme is limited and only four million people can take advantage of it. What about the huge number of people in the unorganized sector who are lying outside the scope of the pension scheme?

Also, to believe that the situation will turn hanky dory after the introduction of the scheme is expecting too much. The real succor for the disadvantaged lots can come only when there is a control on the cost of living. Not alone the prices of the food articles should be under check but also the cost of healthcare, education , transport expenses etc should be reined in . The government should address these issues on an urgent basis, since the increased pension may look at attractive on a percentage basis but on absolute basis very small , may soon get nullified by the increases in prices