By Yogendra Katewa:
India is a welfare state and it is the Indian government’s responsibility to ensure the accessibility and entitlements of welfare schemes to its citizens. The vulnerable sections of society such as elderly citizens, destitutes, persons with disability, widows, orphans etc. are the most neglected and subjugated by the society. Similar case of subjugation and neglect can be found in all the 59 villages under 17 gram panchayats of newly formed taluka Poshina in Sabarkantha district in Gujarat.
In social security schemes like the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, there is a provision to provide appropriate pension to the eligible individuals. However, the pension has been provided under the National Social Assistance Programme which came into effect from August 15, 1995, for fulfilling the conditions of Article 41 of the Indian Constitution. Article 41 directs the state to ensure that everyone has the right to work, right to education and the right to social assistance. The entitled amount under OAP scheme varies as per the guidelines of various state governments. Government of Gujarat provides Rs. 400 per month to citizens from 60-79 years and Rs. 700 for people who are 80 and above.
The guidelines issued by the Government of Gujarat to avail benefits under the Indira Gandhi old age pension are as follows:
1. The applicant must be aged 60 or above.
2. Applicant must belong to the Below Poverty Line score of 0-16 (Priority index categorised by the government of Gujarat for vulnerable households)
3. Applicant must be a citizen of India.
To begin the process of availing the benefit, the applicant has to fill an application form. The application along with the supporting documents has to be submitted to the mamlatdar (block revenue) office for getting it sanctioned. The eligible beneficiaries can directly submit the application to sarpanch/talati or the computer operator of a particular gram panchayat. But due to the lack of trust in the gram panchayat and its reluctance in issuing a receipt for the submitted application, many applicants do not submit the form to the panchayat. Therefore, applicants prefer either submitting the form directly at the taluka office or using alternate mechanisms like village level volunteers or NGOs working in the area.
The supporting documents required for the application to avail the benefits are: –
1. Age certificate issued by the medical officer of PHC or CHC
2. Certificate of BPL score issued by gram panchayat (the applicant must belong to BPL score of 0-16)
3. Photocopy of ration card. (the name of the applicant must be enrolled in the ration card)
4. Voter ID of applicant
5. Photocopy of aadhar card.(added after November, 2015)
6. Photocopy of bank account number. (added after November, 2015)
7. Live certificate of beneficiaries every year after the pension gets sanction.
The major problem which lies in availing these benefits – in addition to the bunch of documents is the lack of awareness about the scheme. Many of the potential beneficiaries don’t know the eligibility criteria, types of supporting documents required, responsible authority to get these supporting documents from and the authorised department for the submission of application.
As per the norms of the Government of Gujarat, many eligible elderly citizens of Poshina taluka under Sabarkantha district had submitted the applications of IGNOAPS to respective authorities/department during 2014-2015. The applicants were assisted in various ways like information dissemination, providing assistance in document collection, submission of applications etc., by the volunteers from various hamlets/villages, co-workers of various Non-Governmental Organizations working in the area.
By the end of the year 2015, more than 750 applications of OAP from entire Poshina taluka were in the sanctioned list (out of 750 around 450 were sanctioned in the year 2015) disclosed by the taluka authorities. After many consultations, meetings and continuous follow up with the mamlatdar and its administration, it took 3 months for Poshina taluka authorities to discover and finalise the list of these 750 beneficiaries (up to December, 2015). According to the officials, the delay was due to the lack of staff in a newly bifurcated Poshina taluka and work load on the limited staff of Khedbrahma taluka.
It was found during various community meetings and also reported by the citizen leaders (community leaders) in the month of July, 2015, that people are not getting the entitled benefit of OAP since April, 2015. The mistrust and allegations of corruption were aired within the community. The issue was then taken to the office of the mamlatdar frequently. Yet, what surfaced in the office was the issue of funds. The issue was then taken up to the higher authorities and the fund of Rs.1.6 million was released in the month of November, 2015.
The problem was because the amount was not transferred. Since its onset, the amount of OAP was distributed through the Indian post, after they receive the money from the taluka authorities. As Jan-Dhan Yojana was launched with a lot of enthusiasm by the government authorities, it resulted in a similar response from the citizens of India leading to a record number of bank accounts being opened and linked with the financial sector. Influenced by the magical figures, the taluka authorities proposed to directly transfer the amount into the beneficiary’s bank account by linking it with the aadhar number, leading to decrease in workload and dependency on the other department for the disbursement of the fund. But none of the beneficiaries, except a few, had provided the bank account number and aadhar card number while submitting the application. The attempt was also made so that the entitled amount could be directly transferred by the respective district department into the account of the beneficiaries, so that a similar situation of non-payment doesn’t arise.
The task of collection of these documents was assigned to the respective talukas and PDS dealers of the villages/panchayats. My team also took the responsibility to assist the taluka authorities in this process. The list was shared during the community level meetings, citizen leader meetings and household visits in the villages. By end of the March, 2016 the mamlatdar office received around 500 account numbers and aadhar card numbers of the beneficiaries. But due to the lack of account number and aadhar number of all the beneficiaries, the payment couldn’t be made through bank and the mamlatdar office decided to make the payment through the money order facility of the Indian post. The check of entitled amount was forwarded to the block post office authorities for payment along with the list of beneficiaries in the month of April, 2016.
After waiting for a month, the issue of non-payment of the pension was again taken to the mamlatdar. In response, the mamlatdar office wrote a show cause letter to the post office department, seeking reason for non-payment of the amount. A unique response was received from the post office department in May, 2016 . They stated the hurdle in the payment was due to Gujarati, the language in which the list was submitted to the post office department. They needed the list in “English”. The mamlatdar office again provided the translated list of the beneficiaries to respective post office authorities.
Finally, in the second week of June, 2016 a ray of smile started spreading on the faces of people along with the first rain of monsoon in Poshina taluka. The citizen leaders and other stakeholders took respite as the community members were coursing them for collecting their documents. Some of the pensioners received the sum of Rs. 4800 as pension for the past one year. One of the citizen leader said, “The received amount is huge and has been credited at a very critical time. People now don’t have money to buy cotton seeds and other agricultural inputs, but at least they don’t have to mortgage their belongings for agricultural inputs.”
Though the amount entitled for a beneficiary under the old age pension is meagre to meet the expenses of a whole family, it plays a very important and supporting role in the living and nutritional status of a vulnerable family. The amount, if timely provided, could help in getting the entitled ration of a household with an average size of 10 members under NFSA, 2013 (under NFSA a person is entitled to 4.250 kg wheat at only Rs.2/kg, 750 kg rice at Rs.3/kg, 350 kg sugar at Rs.13.5/kg and kerosene up to 8 litres as per defined price). The further positive benefits will be in their living conditions leading to a respectful and dignified life.
Such steps taken by state authorities towards direct transfer of benefits into the beneficiary’s account will ensure timely access to the pension. The defunct account opened during Jan Dhan Yojana will be utilised by the people and it can lead to a very healthy habit of poor people saving their money.