Economists Urge Govt to Increase Pensions, Maternity Benefits

Ahead of the Union Budget 2023-24, to be tabled by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman in February, economists have urged the BJP-led government to increase social security pensions and provision for maternity benefits. In a letter signed by the country’s eminent economists like Jean Drèze (honorary professor, Delhi School of Economics), Pranab Bardhan (professor emeritus of economics, University of California Berkeley), R Nagaraj (professor of economics, IGIDR, Mumbai), Reetika Khera (professor of economics, IIT, Delhi), Sukhadeo Thorat (professor emeritus, JNU) and others have demanded to increase central governments’ portion in the pension to Rs 500 a month.

Under the National Old Age Pension Scheme, the portion of the central government has remained stagnant at Rs 200 per month since 2006. The letter demanded the government’s contribution should be immediately raised to Rs 500 (preferably more) at the very least.

This will lead to an additional allocation of Rs 7,560 crore or so. The economists also highlighted the similar plight of widow pensions which should be increased to Rs 500 a month at least, from the present Rs 300. Notably, the widow’s pension will cost another Rs 1,560 crore, as mentioned in the letter.

The group of economists also demanded that the Union Budget 2023-24 should provide for the full-fledged implementation of maternity entitlements as per NFSA norms. This requires a budget allocation of Rs 8,000 crore. Besides this, illegal restrictions on maternity benefits should be quashed.

The letter further stated that it is a follow-up to their letters sent on December 20, 2017, and December 21, 2018, addressed to the late Shri Arun Jaitley. It said the same priorities were mentioned in the letter sent to her predecessor. It asserted that both letters were ignored by the government and hence they are sending another letter with the same recommendation.

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