by Trupti D, Joint Secretary, Kamgar Ekta Committee
Recently the Railway Minister announced that the concessions given to senior citizens before the pandemic would not be restored. As a justification he said that the “Indian Railways is already bearing more than 50% of the cost of travel for all passengers including senior citizens.”
The withdrawal of rail concessions and removal of subsidy on rail fare is the demand of capitalists interested in running private trains. Private train operators do not want Indian Railway to compete with them with subsidised fare. The government has already given freedom to private train operators to decide rail fare.
The justification given by the Railway Minister is totally unacceptable. First of all, government money is people’s money. Each and every concession that is given to people by the government comes out of people’s money. We cannot forget that the government has the right to levy taxes – direct and indirect – only because it has the duty to look after the welfare and security of the people.
We have seen that over a period of time the indirect tax burden on people has become unbearable. This includes the GST whose rates are being increased and also taxes on fuel, which are among the highest in the world.
On the other hand, the services that the government is supposed to provide to ensure that everyone can live a dignified life are negligible. Ration shops have more or less become defunct. Public education institutions as well as public medical facilities are being starved of funds and allowed to deteriorate. Most Indians have no access to pure drinking water or sanitation. Good roads are increasing charged for by way of tolls. Public transport – rail as well as road is deteriorating.
People who achieve the senior citizen tag are by and large those who have worked hard all their lives. It may be at jobs, most of which are poorly paying, or it may be at home, looking after the needs of the family. In the case of a very large majority of them, they have no social security including pension. After retirement they have to depend on their savings (which often are meagre or even non-existent) or upon other family members. Day by day the unemployment situation and job conditions for young workers are becoming so horrendous, that it is difficult for them to look after even their children. In this scenario, one of the cruellest attacks was via the New Pension Scheme (NPS). Those who have retired under the NPS find that the pension they receive is not enough to cover even their food!
We are rapidly coming to a stage when most families cannot look after their own requirements. Those of us who enjoy the benefits of pension or are covered by the old pension scheme cannot be smug. What is going to happen to our next generation?
Day by day the governments are bent on removing whatever concessions they were giving. This means that the future is becoming darker and darker for our people. We who work in the organised sector have to come together and fight against all these attacks. They may not directly affect us today, but we ourselves are going to be senior citizens soon, and we also have to fight for the sake of the coming generation.
We also need to take a hard look at the direction in which our economy is oriented. On the one hand we have big monopoly houses whose wealth is among the highest in the world. Our economy is directed towards maximising their profit and increasing their wealth at the highest possible rates.
This direction is harmful to 135 crore people. We need to orient the economy so that people’s welfare is maximised. Given the level of technology that has been developed already, it is possible for everyone to have a dignified human life. How do we do it? How do we empower ourselves so that we can effect this change? These are the questions that need to be pondered over and discussed!