April 04, 2021

KERALA: Social Security and the Left Alternative

Azhar Moideen

TWO recent reports submitted in the Lok Sabha by parliamentary standing committees on rural development and agriculture give an unflattering picture of the current state of the flagship pension schemes undertaken by the union government, shedding light on the reality that is masked by campaign slogans like ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. The gains made by the LDF government in Kerala make for a study in contrast.

The first one is the 13th report of the parliamentary standing committee on rural development. The report notes with dismay that its repeated recommendations in previous reports to increase the meagre amounts being given as assistance to the poor and downtrodden sections of the society had been ignored. The assistance provided to the aged, widowed, and disabled through schemes like the National Social Assistance Programme has not increased from the range of Rs 200-500 in the last several years.
The other is the 24th report of the parliamentary standing committee on agriculture, which questions the seriousness of the agricultural ministry in implementing Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sanman Nidhi Yojana (PMKNY), the pension scheme covering small and marginal farmers. The scheme, which aimed to cover five crore beneficiaries by the end of this fiscal year, has only got  about 21 lakh farmers to subscribe to it till date.


The social security pension for old-aged persons, unmarried women above 50 years, widows and disabled people in Kerala was increased from Rs 600 at the end of the previous UDF government’s tenure to Rs 1500 during the last five years and hiked it again to Rs 1600 in the recent budget. Similarly, the monthly pension for workers registered with the 16 welfare boards under the labour department, including agricultural labourers, small plantation workers and workers in allied areas, was also increased to Rs 1600 in the same manner. The manifesto released by the LDF for the elections to the state legislative assembly makes the promise of hiking the amount further to Rs 2500 in the next five years.

The number of workers eligible to receive pension and other such benefits have also increased – according to the numbers released by the Kerala State Planning Board in November 2020, there are now more than 80 lakh workers registered in these welfare boards compared to 68 lakh earlier. Considering the welfare fund boards as well, the number of workers receiving these benefits now exceed one crore. A scheme to extend such benefits to a further 12 lakh MGNREGA workers was also approved earlier this year. The total amount disbursed as pension by the current government had already reached Rs 32,034 crore as of January 2021, a massive increase from the Rs 9,011 crore during the tenure of the previous government. The figures also indicate that around 30 per cent of social security pensioners received pension for the first time during the period of the current government.

Meanwhile, even as the union government refuses to back down and withdraw the three farm bills that attempt to hand over the agriculture sector to private players, Kerala has become the first state to form a welfare fund board for farmers, including those in related sectors such as fisheries, animal husbandry, bee-keeping, and silkworm farming. Formed ten months after the passage of Kerala Farmers’ Welfare Fund Act 2019, the board has proposed to provide pension of up to Rs 10,000 to beneficiary farmers registered under the board. Other benefits for the farmers will include aid for those who are suffering from chronic illnesses, support for their own and their children’s education and marriage, and compensation in case of accidents.

However, perhaps the most revolutionary move is yet to come. Recognising the value of the unpaid labour of women as part of house-work, the LDF has promised in its election manifesto that homemakers will also be made eligible to receive pension. By following a development path that can boast of higher economic growth even as social security benefits are strengthened and extended to cover the vast majority of those in need, the LDF government in Kerala is bringing to reality the idea of standing with the people and ensuring development for all.