JAIPUR: About 10 old people, some barely able to walk with help of a stick, gathered from different districts at the Pink City Press Club to tell the media that they were indeed alive, not dead as the state government has declared. Eighty-six-year-old Naini Bai from Bhilwara district said feebly, “Please ensure that my pension money starts arriving again.”
Asked by social activist Mukesh Goswami what she thought was holding up her pension, she said, plainly: “They’ve declared me dead.”
“So what happened then? Are you a ghost among us,” Goswami asked, pulling the old woman’s legs.
Naini Bai is among 10 lakh people in the state who have found their monthly pensions disturbed ever since the government changed the mode of payment, from post offices to banks.
Earlier, the postmen would arrive at the doors of the pensioners to hand them their Rs 500 per month pension. In case of those aged over 75, the pension sum is Rs 750. There are 68 lakh pensioners in the state. In the past year or so, about 10 lakh names were knocked off pension rolls.
When social activists attempted to get to the bottom of the matter, they found that about seven lakh pensions had been cancelled. Officials claimed that some pensioners had been receiving their monthly payments in duplicate; some two lakh pensioners, the state government claimed, had died.
During the Jawab Do dharna in the state capital by the SR Abhiyan, activists raised the issue with officials of the state department of social justice.
Assurances were offered that the list of pensioners would be reviewed and verified, and a corrected list released in the public domain by August 5.
“Despite all the assurances, nothing has been done. We discovered, through an RTI application, that 798 of the 1,255 people declared dead in the Bhim block were actually alive. The pensions of these people were restored. Even though many of them had not received their pension for over a year, we were told that local authorities could only grant arrears for five months. So what happens to the rest of the money? And why are no officials held accountable for creating such distress for old people?” asked Nikhil Dey at the press conference.
Activists are demanding that the government release publicly the list of the 10 lakh people whose pensions have either been cancelled or stopped. “This is not hard to do - they just need to publish these so that local people can then verify these lists,” Dey said.
“We want the government to correct these anomalies and offer relief to the people. Give those who have been denied their pensions the full arrears, and impose penalties on those responsible for these lapses. Like with the RTI Act, the official responsible should face punishment. The government cannot expect us to undertake surveys - we are not equipped to do that across the state. Besides, what are officials paid for, if they are not even capable of making amends after goofing up so bad,” Dey asked.
Minister for social justice Arun Chaturvedi abruptly cut off this reporter’s call. Additional director DC Choudhary who looks after pensions in the department also would not answer calls.