Growing social insecurity

Growing social insecurity

If 'right to life' is accepted to be a concrete doctrine, then providing adequate social security -- defined as supporting the people against the risks and costs of sickness, unemployment, old age, accident, maternity and disability - cannot be outside the government's top priorities. Without that help, human life turns miserable, and the right to life - guaranteed by Article 21 of our Constitution, by the directive principles of state policy enshrined in it, and by international mandates like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – becomes an empty slogan; ornamental in nature, useful only for nations to brag about their magnanimity.

While the increasing poverty among the masses, the growing inequality in incomes and the change in the traditional Indian family structure - the breaking up of the joint families that used to provide the needed security to the old and disabled members, and their replacement by nuclear families - demand increased State-provided social security, no enviable achievement in this regard is visible on the ground.

Look at some hard facts relating to the aged in India. In 2011, the number of people above 60 years was 104 million (53 million women and 51 million men). That was equal to 8.6% of the total population (against 5.6% in 1961), as per the Central Statistical Organisation's (CSO) compilation, "Elderly in India-2016". Of them, 41.6% were still working, their low wages and poor living conditions notwithstanding.

As per the National Sample Survey Organisation's (NSSO) 60th round data (2004), the monthly consumption expenditure of 61.5% of the old people in rural areas was less than Rs 525. The bottom 7.5% had to survive on Rs 0 to Rs 255. In urban areas, it was less than Rs 1,120 for 64% of the elderly, and the bottom 5.5% lived on Rs 0 to Rs 350 monthly spending.

The dependency ratio - the number of persons aged 60 or more per 100 persons in the age group 15-59 years - had increased from 10.9 in 1961 to 14.2 by 2011.

As per NSSO 2004 survey, 65% of the elderly had to depend on others for their day-to-day maintenance - more than 75% of them on their children, and the remaining on their spouses, grandchildren and others.

The average remaining life after 60 is expected to be 18 years (16.9 years for men and 19.0 for women). Locomotor disability and visual disability are the most prevalent disabilities among the elderly (Census 2011); heart disease, hypertension and diabetes being the other major ailments.

Healthcare arrangements in the country are too inadequate to meet the enormous need. As per National Family Health Survey-4, infant mortality rate per thousand live births was 41 and under-five mortality was 50; 41.4% mothers did not have an antenatal check-up in the first trimester and non-institutional births still continue to be a high 21.1% of all births in the country. Despite all this, as high as 86% of the rural population and 82% of the urban population are not covered under any health scheme.

As for the employment situation, more than 90% of it is in the unorganised sector. Although overall organised sector employment appears to have increased, from about 2.7 crore in 2006 to about 2.96 crore in 2012, it has declined in the public sector from about 1.82 crore to about 1.76 crore.

The wages of a large section of the people are so low that the number of poor (on the criterion of less than $1.25 a day) was at 118 million, and if reckoned on $2 a day criterion, it was 58% of the total population as of 2012.

Another distressing fact: women's share is just 17.88% of jobs in public sector, 24.22% in the private sector and 20.45% in the overall organised sector (2012 data).

Plethora of schemes

Innumerable social security schemes have evolved since Independence, and of all kinds: compulsory, optional, exchequer-funded, employer-funded. For example, the government operates, for the benefit of a select category of below poverty line people, schemes like the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Schemes (IGNOAPS), Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana (AABY), Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS), National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS) and Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY). The state governments and local bodies run schemes like old age pension, disabled pension, Mahatma Gandhi Bunkar Bima, for select beneficiaries.

Similarly, for organised sector employees, there are statutorily mandated schemes run by employers, like gratuity and maternity benefit. Schemes like Employees' Provident Fund (EPF), Employees' Pension Scheme and Employees' State Insurance (ESI) are managed with funds created by employees and employers together in the organised sector.

Also, there are schemes for voluntary participation, like Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY) and Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY) and Cess-based schemes, for example, for beedi workers' welfare. But, in a majority of cases, these schemes delivered only a token benefit. For example, a person with a Rs 1 lakh salary is getting peanuts - some Rs 1,500 or so - as EPF pension.

Also, in the name of pension reforms, the assured and defined benefit approach has been discarded and replaced with a defined contribution paradigm in the government sector, too. The unorganised sector's situation is still worse.

As per Dr P M Rao, a social security expert, the new pension schemes are "neither social nor secure" and the schemes are "individual contribution-based, non-benefit guaranteed, non-return guaranteed, non-accumulations guaranteed pension schemes for the unorganised sector".

So, a total overhauling of all the schemes is necessary to ensure rights-based social security to all, without excluding large sections of people in the name of targeted benefits, and to prove that the directive principles are not dead letters forever. But all this needs the will to do it. Does this government have it?  

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