National Social Assistance Program: Reaching Out to the Neglected Poor in Rural India

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By Atul K. Tiwari
Director (M & C), Press Information Bureau, New Delhi

New Delhi, June 9, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB-India) One of the underlying philosophies behind the pro-people and pro --poor initiatives of the Government enjoins upon the State to undertake series of welfare measures.  Article 41 of the Constitution directs the States 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 limit of its economic capacity and development. Keeping in mind these basic principles the National Social Assistance Program was launched in 1995.

The National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) then comprised of National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS), National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS) and National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS). These programs were meant for providing social assistance benefit to the aged, the BPL households in the case of death of the primary breadwinner and for maternity. These programs were aimed at ensuring minimum national standards in addition to the benefits that the States were then providing or would provide in future. NMBS was transferred to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare from 2001-02 and subsumed in Janani Suraksha Yojana. On 1st April, 2000 a new scheme known as Annapurna Scheme was launched. This Scheme aimed at providing food security to meet the requirement of those senior citizens who, though eligible had remained uncovered under the NOAPS. Under Annapurna Scheme 10 kgs of food grains per month is provided free of cost to the beneficiary.

In February 2009 two new Schemes namely Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS) and Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNWPS) were introduced under NSAP.

Implementation of NSAP Schemes

In 2002-03, NSAP and Annapurna were transferred from Centrally Sponsored Scheme to State Plan. The funds for NSAP and Annapurna are allocated by Planning Commission and are released as Additional Central Assistance by the Ministry of Finance in a combined manner for all the five schemes namely, IGNOAPS, IGNWPS, IGNDPS, NFBS and Annapurna, on the recommendation of the Ministry of Rural Development. NSAP is being implemented by Social Welfare Department in most of the States. In some States it is being implemented by Rural Development Department and in a few by Women and Child Development Department.

In the year 2009-10 budgetary provision for NSAP was Rs.5200 crore, which was increased to Rs.5762 crore for the year 2010-11.

Increase in the Old Age Pension Amount

With the Cabinet giving its nod today, under the on-going Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme for Below Poverty Line (BPL) beneficiaries, the eligibility for pension has now been reduced to 60 years from 65 years at present. In addition the pension amount is being raised from Rs. 200 at present to Rs. 500 per month for those who are 80 years and above. The revised norms would come into effect from 1st April, 2011.

As a result of change in the eligibility criteria for receiving old age pension, eligibility criteria for widow pension under IGNWPS and disability pension under IGNDPS will get revised from 40-64 years to 40-59 years and from 18-64 years to 18-59 years respectively.

It is estimated that lowering of the age limit would benefit about an additional 72.32 lakh persons in the age group of 60-64 years and living below the poverty line. About  26.49 lakh persons above the age of 80 years and living below the poverty line, would become eligible to receive enhanced central assistance @ Rs. 500 per month. At present 1.69 crore persons above the age of 65 years and living below poverty line are receiving central assistance under IGNOAPS.

Under NOAPS Rs. 75 per month was being provided per beneficiary to destitute who were 65 years of age or above. The amount of pension was increased to Rs.200 per month with effect from  April 1, 2006 and the States were requested to top up with another Rs.200 from their own resources so that a destitute pensioner could get at least Rs.400 per month. At present, 19 States/UTs are providing Rs.400 or more as pension under old age pension. These are Delhi, Goa (Rs.1000), A&N Islands (Rs.750), Haryana & Chandigarh(Rs.700), Puducherry (Rs. 600),Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman &Maharashtra (Rs.500), Punjab (Rs.450), Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu & West Bengal (Rs. 400).

Another 11 States / UTs are providing pension more than Rs.200 and less than Rs.400. These are Himahcal Pradesh (Rs.330), J&K (Rs.325),Chhattisgarh, Nagaland, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Lakshadweep (Rs.300), Madhya Pradesh (Rs.275), Kerala, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram (Rs.250), The remaining 6 States/UTs are disbursing pension @ Rs.200 p.m. only.

Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS)

The Government on 13.9.2007 modified the eligibility criteria for grant of old age pension to persons aged 65 years or higher and belonging to a household below the poverty line according to the criteria prescribed by the Government of India. Thus the pension has been universalized. Under NOAPS, 87.09 lakh beneficiaries were covered during 2006-07. However, with the modification of eligibility criteria to cover all persons of 65 years or higher and living below the poverty line, the number of beneficiaries under Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS) has reached to 1.69 crore.

Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS)

In February 2009, the Government approved pension to BPL widows in the age group of 40-64 years @ Rs. 200 p.m. per beneficiary. The estimated number of beneficiaries under Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS) is 45 lakhs. During 2010-11, 37.98 lakh beneficiaries have been covered till December 2009 under the Scheme.

Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS)

In February 2009, the Government has recently launched pension under Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS) for BPL persons with severe or multiple disabilities between the age group of 18-64 years @ Rs. 200 p.m. per beneficiary.  It is estimated that 15 lakh beneficiaries are to be covered under this scheme. During 2010-11, 7.66 lakh beneficiaries have been covered till December 2010.

National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS)

At inception, grant of Rs 5000 in case of death due to natural causes and Rs 10,000 in case of accidental death of the "primary breadwinner" was provided to the bereaved household under this scheme. The primary breadwinner specified in the scheme, whether male or female, had to be a member of the household whose earning contributed substantially to the total household income. The death of such a primary breadwinner occurring whilst he or she was in the age group of 18 to 64 years i.e., more than 18 years of age and less than 65 years of age, made the family eligible to receive grants under the scheme. In 1998, the amount of benefit under NFBS was raised to Rs.10,000 in case of death due to natural causes as well as accidental causes. During 2010-11, 2.28 lakh BPL families have benefitted under the Scheme.

Transparency under NSAP

In order to bring transparency in the disbursement of pension to the eligible pension, it has been decided that States should maintain a database of beneficiaries and it should be kept in the public domain. The database would include all necessary details of the beneficiary including photographs. NIC have been entrusted the job of IGNOAPS-MIS. Information can be accessed at NSAP website www.nsap.nic.in.The Budget Estimates for the financial year 2011-12 for the National Social Assistance Program is Rs. 6158 crores. Funds worth  Rs. 5300 crores were released in the previous year upto March 2011. About 1.69 crore beneficiaries have been covered by the scheme so far. Slowly but steadily the program is making inroads into the lives of neglected rural poor by providing them a sort of social safety network which would go a long way in reducing their hardships. The efforts will continue and it is expected that the pro-poor and pro-people initiative would bring hopes in the lives of millions of rural people.

(PIB Features)


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