As many as 51 economists have written to finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman to raise social security pensions and offer adequate maternity benefits in the upcoming Budget for FY24.
The signatories of the letter include Jean Drèze, honorary professor at Delhi School of Economics; R Nagaraj, professor of economics at IGIDR; Reetika Khera, professor of economics at IIT-Delhi; Pranab Bardhan and professor emeritus of economics at University of California Berkeley. The next Budget will be presented on February 1, 2023.
The economists called for an increase in the central government’s contribution to old-age pensions under the National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS) to at least Rs 500 per month from just Rs 200 (which is kept unchanged since 2006). “This requires an additional allocation of Rs 7,560 crore or so, based on the current NOAPS coverage (21 million pensioners),” the letter said.
The widow pensions should also be enhanced to a minimum of Rs 500 per month from Rs 300, the economists said. It could cost just another Rs 1,560 crore, they said.
The economists also urged the finance minister to provide for full-fledged implementation of maternity entitlements as per the norms under the national food security Act (NFSA) in the upcoming Budget. This would cost at least Rs 8,000 crore more, they have estimated.
“Along with this, the illegal restriction of maternity benefits to one child per woman should be removed,” they said. The economists said that they had made similar representations in December 2017 and December 2018 to then finance minister Arun Jaitley. “Since both proposals were ignored, we are writing again, well in advance of the next Budget, with the same recommendations.” the letter said.