Business Standard

UPA to offer land and pension as poll bonanza

The move has been in the making since 2011

Sreelatha Menon New Delhi
UPA Government is steadily moving towards readying two big ticket bonanzas for the poor, viz. free land and pensions in partnership with some civil society organizations.

Come Monsoon session, the Cabinet is to place in Parliament a Bill for free homestead land which will provide 10 cents of land for the landless if he is a non-farmer, and about four bighas or 2.5 acres of arable land for the tiller.

This move has been in the making in cooperation with land rights group the Ekta Parishad which first began the struggle for it in 2011 with a yatra led by its leader Rajagopal.

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh was also supposed to inaugurate the yatra from Kanya Kumari. Later it was received warmly with a busload of journalists in Agra in October last year by the minister. The Ministry and the Government also facilitated at least one round of meeting of the revenue departments of all states which was addressed by Rajgopal last year.

A second round is expected this month.

Pre poll bounties:
Free land:
10 cents for homeless
2.5 acres for landless farmers
The cost of pensions: per annum
Pension at Rs 1000:1,34,666 cr
pension at 1500: Rs 2,01,999 cr
Pension at Rs 2000: Rs 2,69,33 cr
Pension at Rs 200: Rs 9500 cr

The revenue departments are supposed to come to an agreement to work jointly with NGOs in the land reform task force to identify land that can be distributed free to people. They are also to work together with civil society players to identify beneficiaries.

The task force on land reforms that has been formed after the completion of the yatra, is headed by Jairam Ramesh and Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo and some bureaucrats, the non official members are representatives of three NGOs viz Ekta Parishad (PV Rajagopal and Ramesh Sharma), Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey) and Housing and Land Rights Network.(Shivani Chaudhuri).

The Ekta Parishad also has the blessings of Congress leader Digvijay Singh who has been a mentor for Rajgopal.

Says Aneesh Tillenkeri, a close associate of Rajgopal: It is true we work in cooperation with the Government. We don’t believe in attacking it. We like to coax   the Government to get various benefits for the people. The increase in funds for the construction of houses under Indira Awas Yojana in the 12 th Plan is a result of our Yatra.’’

The next objective towards which the Government is moving jointly with civil society is universal pensions.  The Pension Parishad is headed by Aruna Roy who is also member of the National Advisory Council.  

The first 'achievement’ of the Pension Parishad was the setting up of a task force headed by Mihir Shah to make recommendations on pensions for the poor. But the recommendations have been rejected by the Parishad and they are continuing protests at Parliament street. However, there is no physical confrontation, no water cannons or tear gas by the policemen who are standing around peacefully, not feeling too threatened despite the presence of a sizeable crowd of people from different parts of the country.

Negotiations are continuing between the parishad leaders Aruna Roy and Nikhil De with the Rural development Minister Jairam Ramesh. Ramesh is expected to make some announcement this week suggesting that the Government may accede more ground to the Pension Parishad.

The parishad is demanding Rs 2000 as pension for the poor, while the Government has agreed up to Rs 500. It may now further climb down to Rs 1000 . If the States also offer a similar amount, that would make a pension of Rs 2000.

At present under the pension scheme for the poor, beneficiaries are selected according to the whim of the village headmen.  And though the states are supposed to give a matching amount to Central allocation  ( Rs 200 now)   very few do so. Bihar for instance gives only the Central allocation of Rs 200 and that to a few who are lucky to be counted as beneficiaries. Kerala on the other hand pays Rs 1200 that is Rs 1000 as its share and Rs 200 as Central share.

Says Jean Dreze who is also part of the Pension Parishad which includes 100 organisations: ''Pension scheme is one of the few schemes which are known to work soundly. If it is made universal and given to all elderly people who are eligible for ration under the Food Security scheme, and if they get a minmum of Rs 2000, then that would be a great step forward.’’

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First Published: Mar 07 2013 | 1:23 PM IST

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