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Aadhaar a 'major hurdle' in disbursement of social security pension: Public hearing told

By Our Representative 

Despite tall promises, Jharkhand’s elderly, widows and disabled continue to be denied pensions, a civil society-sponsored public nearing (jan sunwai) on social security pensions has been told. On February16, hundreds of elderlies, single women and differently-abled reached Chaibasa (West Singhbhum, Jharkhand) to participate in the jan sunwai.
Organised by the Khadya Suraksha Jan Adhikar Manch, Pashchimi Sinhbhum, a network of organisations and activists working on food and social security in the district, people from all the 18 blocks of the district participated and shared their complaints.
The jury of the sunwai comprised of economist Jean Dreze and activists and lawyers Ganesh Path Pingua (Munda-Manki Sangh), Mili Birua and Asharfi Nand Prasad, Balram, James Herenj and Taramani Sahu (Right to Food Campaign), participated in the hearing. Several district and block officials were also present.
Many people complained that they have applied several times for pensions in the last few years but they are yet to get pensions. Most do not even get receipt of their applications. Budhni Bodra, 90 years old elderly from Podahat, Sonua, had applied for pension but didn’t get a receipt. She said, “Even after visiting the block office multiple times, I was not given any information about my application.”
When the jury questioned the administration about it, the officials said, nowadays online application process is being encouraged, so that receipt doesn’t get lost. The cases pointed to two major issues – administrative apathy in handling pension applications and the massive pension gap.
Pension not getting approved despite repeated attempts 
According to the government's projected population figures for Jharkhand, the elderly population in the district in 2021 is at least 1,35,369. But the current pension schemes cover only 65% of them! The story is similar for widows and the disabled. Even though the Hemant Soren government announced an increase in the quota of old age pension scheme, it is negligible compared to the total gap, the jan sunwai was told.
People shared the procedural hassles faced in applying for pensions. Even though Kamla Kui’s husband died 20 years ago, she is yet to get widow pension as she has not been able to get her deceased husband’s death certificate prepared. For cases older than a few months, applicants are asked to submit an affidavit. It is not surprising that most women, who cannot afford to pay a middleman, are not able to get the affidavit from the district court.
Participants at the jan sunwai said, the disabled are asked to travel all the way to the Sadar hospital in Chaibasa to get their medical certificate prepared (required for application). Despite being severely physically disabled, Suraj, a 10 years old is yet to get pension as he does not have a medical certificate.
Many participants complained that aadhaar continues to wreak havoc in the lives of the most vulnerable. Manki Godua has not been able to apply for an old age pension as she does not have an Aadhaar. She is unable to enrol for aadhaar as her fingerprints could not be read by the machine. 
Aadhaar related complaints
In the last few years, many pensioners were stuck off the pension list across the state as their pension scheme and / or bank account was not linked with aadhaar. While many managed to get their pension restarted after a few months by getting their aadhaar linked, some continue to be denied pensions.
Jano Kui Surin has been denied her pensions for the last two years as she does not have an aadhaar. As many as 123 people complained that they stopped receiving their pensions since the last few years. 148 people have complained that despite being eligible for old age pension, they are unable to apply because of incorrect date of birth (less age) in their aadhaar.
James among jury members emphasized that pension is a right well within the constitution and it shouldn’t be considered as a dole from the government. Talking about aadhaar, Balram from the Right to Food Campaign asked the officials to advertise that aadhaar is not compulsory for direct bank transfer (DBT) payment.
Economist Jean Dreze sought a deadline to resolve the issues, to which officials have given 10 March as the date. Ashrafi nand Prasad proposed to open a help centre in government office.
At the end of the sunwai, the complainants made the following demands to the state government and local administration:
  • All single women, elderly and people with disability should be eligible for social security pension without any restriction.
  • The pension amount should be increased to at least Rs 3,000 per month, and indexed to inflation.
  • The necessity of aadhaar for social security schemes should be removed.
  • As per the Supreme Court order, pension to be given by the seventh day of every month.
  • People whose pension has stopped due to various reasons should be paid the amount for the gap months and their pension should be resumed immediately.
  • The process of getting a death certificate should be simplified. The requirement of an affidavit should be done away with. Verification by the Munda or Manki should be enough for the issuing of the death certificate.
  • Process of getting the disability certificate should also be simplified. These certificates should also be issued at the block level. Those with mental disabilities should also be eligible for pensions.
  • A receipt should be issued to all those who apply for a pension.
  • There should be an easier process of making complaints related to social security pensions.
  • The age eligibility for old age pension should be lowered to 55 years for men and 50 years for women.
A report, prepared for the district-level public hearing on social security pension schemes, which includes details of cases compiled till February 14, were released at the jan sunwai.

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