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17 lakh Jharkhand elderly, widows, differently abled do not receive pension: Public hearing told, aadhaar is a hurdle

By Our Representative
Hundreds of elderly, widows, single women and differently-abled persons from different districts of Jharkhand gathered near the Raj Bhavan in Ranchi for a public hearing organized by the Jharkhand Right to Food Campaign and Pension Parishad demanding the right to universal social security pensions ahead of World Elderly Day on October 1.
Resolving to observe September 28 as the National Action Day on Starvation Death, the public hearing marked the first death anniversary of Simdega’s 11-year-old school girl Santoshi Kumari, who died of hunger. Her family’s ration-card was cancelled as it was not linked to aadhaar. Her last words crying for rice are said to be “bhaat, bhaat”.
It was organized against the backdrop of the recent Supreme Court verdict, which refused to strike down Section 7 of the Act. According to the Right to Food Campaign, this amounted to “refusal to offer any relief to the vulnerable millions who will need to provide the 12-digit biometric number to avail of government subsidies.”
The Right to Food Campaign (RFC) claimed in a statement issued at the public hearing, “Nearly 17 lakh elderly, widows and differently-abled persons in Jharkhand, who qualify for social security pensions, do not receive their entitlement.” 
Citing reasons, it said, “Pension coverage in Jharkhand is not universal. Even those who do receive pensions face chronic selection errors and administrative glitches. In 2016-17, three lakh pensioners were deleted as ‘fake’, though many genuine persons, whose pension accounts were not linked with aadhaar, were also excluded.”
It added, “Persons earning more than Rs 875 a month in rural areas are outside the ambit of these pensions. To be eligible for old age pension, the person has to be at least 60 years old. However, years’ of arduous manual labour makes people incapable of working till that age and they need economic assistance much before.”
Pointing towards cumbersome application procedures, RFC said, “Numerous supporting documents have to be attached with the application form and it often takes years for the applications to move up the various layers of government – Gram Panchayat, Block, District, State and back.”
It further said, “Social security pension amounts are currently a mere Rs 600 a month in Jharkhand (Rs 700 for persons above 80 years of age). This amount is woefully inadequate to meet basic needs of nutrition, health, clothing etc.”, adding, “Pensioners have to often wait for months to receive their pensions, without any idea as to when they will receive their next payment.”
Pointing towards “inconvenient modes of collection”, RFC said, “Collecting pensions is often quite costly and tedious, especially for the elderly and people with disabilities who have little mobility, education and power. Going to the nearest bank and queuing up there for hours can be an absolute ordeal for them. Post offices are closer but corrupt post office employees often expect an inducement.”
The public hearing panelists included Balram (Right to Food Campaign), Shadab Ansari (Human Rights Law Network) and Binny Azad (Ekal Nari Shakti Sanghatam).
The oral and written testimonies presented by the participants sought to throw light on the “havoc” created by pensions. Several of them complained that people who are not identified as below-the-poverty line (BPL) or earn more than a measly Rs 875 a month in rural areas are not eligible for most state social pensions.
Further, it was pointed out, at least five cases of starvation deaths in the last one year alone in Jharkhand can be attributed to the mandatory imposition of aadhaar. In some cases, the pension amount was credited to the wrong account while in others there were aadhaar authentication failures.
The main demands put forward at the hearing were – implementation of universal pensions, removal of mandatory imposition of aadhaar, timely payment without delays, an inflation-indexed increase in the pension amount to at least Rs 2000 per month and reducing the eligibility age, and all political parties must include these demands in their election manifestos.

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