The Elderly In India Are Being Made To Live On ₹500 A Month. But There’s A Bigger Problem

Posted on January 5, 2016 in Society

By Vidhi Agrawal:

Kharbee Jan, a 70-year-old woman, sits in front of her house near the Line of Control (LOC) in Uri, about 102 km (63 miles) west of Srinagar, December 1, 2008. When India blamed "elements" in Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks last week, fear gripped Kashmir, the region that has been the frontline of their rivalry and strife for over 60 years. Picture taken December 1, 2008. REUTERS/Danish Ismail  (INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR) - RTR225VJ
For representation only. Source: REUTERS/Danish Ismail

I have been referred to as a saviour on multiple occasions by a number of people – friends, and strangers alike. Until recently, I took a certain pride in being able to solve people’s problems, sometimes even anticipating and resolving those.

However, problems like a missing stapler, or non-functioning mobile charger are nowhere comparable to the grievances of Suwa Devi, a 50-year-old widow dependent on a meagre sum of Rs. 500 per month under the Widow Pension Scheme, who has not been getting her pension since 11 months. Reason? The person who filled her sanction order form misspelled her address – Ram Rahim Colony became Ram Nagar Colony. She has no clue about the status of her pension, claim, or receipt. A well-meaning man in the Ram Nagar Colony (the wrong address) has been able to track her, and is trying to help her update the correct address in the sanction form. But it’s not over – the social welfare department expressed its inability to clear complete arrears.

Pension schemes under social welfare are by no means sufficient to help an individual even achieve a decent standard of living – the absence of even that Rs. 500 aggravates their problems multiple times. They have to borrow money from relatives and neighbours for their daily sustenance. If and when pension comes, it gets used up in repaying the debts, and the cycle continues. According to the government statistics, a large section of older people in rural India is illiterate, and unemployed. It is dependent on the family for sustenance. The pension is expected to give them some semblance of dignity. Instead of an increase in the amount of pension tied to the inflation, what the elderly and/or disabled get are delayed and irregular payments.

Rajasthan also takes a lead in providing maximum coverage under social security pension programs. The widow, single/divorced women, women (55-75) and men (58-75) get Rs. 500 per month. Men and women older than 75 years get Rs. 750 per month. Special persons get Rs. 500, and minors Rs. 250 per month. However, the responsibility of the government does not end at enrolling the people under a scheme. It must also take responsibility or fix responsibility of the people involved in the delivery of these beneficial services to the people.

Generally, we become baffled by problems such as increased costs of 3G data services, or low bandwidth internet connections. But Kadar Khan, a 60-year-old man who limped along gingerly as we entered the Oriental Bank of Commerce in Pali, had a different problem. We were at the bank to find out how to retrieve his misplaced money. Kadar is dependent on a motley sum of Rs. 500 per month which his wife gets under the Old Age pension scheme of the government. For the past 4 months, she has not been able to claim his pension because the e-Mitra personnel entered wrong bank account number in her sanction order, which was linked to her Bhamashah card.

The parshad (councillor) from his ward, the e-Mitra personnel in his area, and the man at the helpdesk at bank – none of them knew what to do. The logical step is to get the correct account number updated in the system. However, it sounds easier than it really is. Even as the money continues to be credited to the wrong account number, the e-Mitra merely issued an acknowledgement slip, the bank clerk clearly tried to evade the issue, not before declaring that the money must be in some suspense account, and they cannot ascertain if arrears can be claimed. The ward councillor remained elusive as expected.

The point is that everyone in the process declared their helplessness in ensuring that the benefits of the social schemes reached the beneficiary. A solution might be devised in due time; however, at that moment, nobody, including I, knew how to deal with this – a lamentable information gap that compounds the feeling of helplessness multiple times.

What is worse is the lack of will on behalf of the service staff to solve the people’s problems in a genuine manner. Perhaps this is only my perception or illusion, but people entrusted with the implementation responsibility of the schemes at various levels do not even pretend to make attempts to find out how to resolve an issue – their confidence in the human will to strive and survive seems unshakeable!

Pali is no different from Jalor, Rajasmand is as plagued with problems as Ajmer. Not surprisingly, everywhere you go, the system takes the blame. It’s the last resort of blames, and complaints. To get our answers, we have decided to organise a Jawabdehi Yatra. We aim to take the onus of blame away from the system to the individuals. Whose responsibility? Whose accountability? Where does the solution lie?

Watch how senior citizens in Bihar are forced to live in similar circumstances.

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