June 7, 2013

Good intent, lackadaisical implementation

MUMBAI ,INDIA / ONE INDIA ONE PEOPLE  / SOCIAL SECURITY / JUNE 1st 2013


Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme in India (IGNOAPS), a scheme aimed at providing financial security to the destitute aged living below poverty line fails to achieve its goal because of lackadaisical implemenation, writes Dr. Nidhi Mishra

Old age brings with it lot of challenges, a major one is that of financial insecurity. Financial security of elderly in general and particularly of those belonging to BPL category has been a matter of concern, and due to increase in longevity, old age health care expenses, increasing cost of living, the problem has only compounded. Due to lower or negligible family income and rise in the cost of living, the poor often find it difficult to depend on their family for financial support, and thus the role of government becomes important in providing financial security to the destitute aged in our country.
 
Overview of Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS)

Realising the pressing need to provide financial security to the destitute elderly, the IGNOAPSGovernment of India (GOI) launched the National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS) under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) of the Ministry of Rural Development, on 15 August 1995. Like other schemes of NSAP, this scheme is in line with Article 41 of the Constitution of India which directs the State to provide “public assistance to its citizens in case of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement and in other cases of undeserved want within the limits of its economic capacity and development.”

On 19 November 2007, NOAPS was renamed as Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS) and to widen its scope it has been extended to the elderly who fall Below Poverty Line (BPL). Initially under this scheme, all destitute elderly aged 65 years or above were provided a pension amount of `75 per month. Subsequently, with effect from 1 April 2006, the pension amount was increased to `200 per month per person in order to make this scheme more effective and the state governments were requested by central government to contribute a matching amount for each beneficiary of this scheme. It has been noted that not all states are contributing an equal amount of `200 per person per month to the pension.

To further improve the effectiveness of this scheme, with effect from 1 April 2011, the eligibility age for this scheme has been reduced from 65 to 60 years and the amount of pension has been raised from `200 to `500 per month for those who are 80 years or above.

The other two schemes under NSAP– Annapurna Scheme and Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS) are linked to IGNOAPS in a way that under Annapurna Scheme ten kilograms of food grains are provided free of cost to those BPL elderly who though eligible, have not been covered under the IGNOAPS. And under IGNWPS, once the BPL widows reach the age of 60 years they are transferred to IGNOAPS.

The Annual Report (2012-13) of the Ministry of Rural Development, GOI, highlights coverage of 223.18 lakh BPL elderly all over India, where the highest number of beneficiaries were reported in Bihar (37.87 lakh), followed by Uttar Pradesh (37.67 lakh) and Odisha (17.77 lakh). The total expenditure reported under NSAP for the year 2012-2013 is `4855.77 crore, although a total of `8447.30 crore was allocated for it. IGNOAPS is a part of NSAP and is allotted a major portion of the funds, however, the exact breakup of scheme wise budget allocation under NSAP is not available in the annual report or on the website of Ministry of Rural Development. 

Benefits

The IGNOAPS is praiseworthy, as this is the first ever national level scheme which provides economic security to the poor elderly and widows who would have either been dependent on their family’s limited income or would have been forced to lead a neglected life. This aspect has also been highlighted in one of the participatory study conducted in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh by the NGO HelpAge India in 2008, where responses of participants indicated that IGNOAPS plays a very important role in poverty reduction. 

Limitations

Over the years, government bodies and social scientists have highlighted some limitations of this scheme mainly in terms of its improper implementation. A research paper jointly published by four professors from Harvard School of Public Health in 2010 highlighted weak targeting of beneficiaries which is generally based on combination of a survey based definition of poverty and community identification of the poor as a major problem related to implementation of this scheme.

In a survey conducted by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) India in 2012, covering a total of 9,852 elderly in the seven states of India which have higher proportion of elderly viz. Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the problem of wrong targeting was observed. While investigating the utilisation of IGNOAPS, it was found that some non-BPL elderly were also availing the scheme. It was also observed that there was low awareness of this scheme among the beneficiaries, thus raising the need for effective steps to be taken by the government to promote the scheme.
Another targeting issue identified in assessments of this scheme is the difficulty of determining the age of a person, particularly in rural areas. Along with this some researchers (Anand and Kumar, 2006) have also highlighted that while from a macro perspective IGNOAPS seems to be working well, and meeting its many objectives, a micro analysis shows that there are gaps in areas like distribution and the identification of beneficiaries.

In an assessment report of Ministry of Rural Development (2006) it was found that the IGNOAPS is lacking on two grounds which cut across states: (i) it involves complex administrative procedures and, therefore, proves especially difficult for the illiterates, and (ii) the size of programme beneficiaries is capped artificially by using an arbitrary ceiling formula. 

Conclusion and recommendation

It is clear that IGNOAPS is a useful scheme for elderly below poverty line, however, it is facing problems of improper implementation such as wrong targeting, limited coverage and irregular payment of pension which needs to be strongly dealt by the government through improvement of coordination between its various bodies. Also through an effective monitoring and evaluation mechanism the problem of wrong targeting and irregular payments can be controlled by the government. Along with this proper need assessment should be done by the government for effective coverage of the scheme. Additionally, the government should publicise the scheme especially in rural areas and slums for creating awareness amongst potential beneficiaries. Civil society can also play an important role by conducting training programmes for the targeted beneficiaries.


Dr. Nidhi Mishra ,The writer is working at Tata Institute of Social Sciences for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Ageing project in India.

©One India One People Foundation 2013.
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