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On Santoshi’s death anniversary, elders narrate how Aadhaar linkage has stopped their pension

Ranchi: “My physically-challenged wife has not got her pension for the last four years. When we go to the bank to find out the reason, they always tell us that the money has not been credited to her account,” rued Manmase Tikri from Nagri block, Ranchi.

Duryodan Oran from Chatarpur has his own litany of complaints. “Despite filling the form for at least ten times, I didn’t get any pension. Finally, I had to submit it online twice. On top of that though I did some job for a year, still someone else took the pension.”

People like Manmase Tikri, Duryodan Oran and hundreds of senior citizens, widows, single women and differently-abled persons from different districts of Jharkhand gathered at Raj Bhavan for a public hearing organized by the Jharkhand Right to Food Campaign and Pension Parishad. They presented their testimonies before the panelists and their main demand is the right to universal social security pensions ahead of World Elderly Day on October 1.

As many as 17 lakh senior citizens, widows and differently-abled persons in Jharkhand who qualify for social security pensions, do not receive their entitlements. One important reason is that pension coverage in Jharkhand is not universal. Even those who do receive pensions face chronic selection errors and administrative glitches. In 2016-17, 3 lakh pensioners were identified as “fake”, even though many genuine and eligible persons, whose pension accounts were not linked with Aadhaar, were also excluded from the list.

The oral and written testimonies presented by the participants threw light on the havoc created by pensions. They highlighted that people who do not come under 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, at least 5 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. Further, the cumbersome application procedures, irregular and chronically delayed payments and inconvenient collection methods for measly amounts have eroded the efficacy of this lifeline.

With the rallying call of “APL BPL Band Karo, Sabko Pension, Ration Do”, the main demands 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 2,000 per month and reducing the eligibility age. They exhorted all political parties to include these demands in their election manifestos.

Jean Dreze, the Development Economist, who was present there as a panelist mentioned, “Pensioners have been badly let down by the central government. The central contribution to old-age pensions has stagnated at Rs 200 per month for many years. Even that measly amount is not paid regularly, despite Supreme Court orders calling for payment by the 7th of each month. A series of Aadhaar-related problems have made pension payments even more erratic.”

“Based on the Supreme court orders money should be paid on time. Due to Aadhaar there are many problems. The online process is excluding people from their rightful service. There should be an auto inclusion process as per which as soon as people attain the age of 60 years they should be given pension automatically without applications and any exclusions should be considered a serious violation of human rights,” said Balram of Right To Food.

September 28 also marks 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. She breathed her last crying for “bhaat, bhaat”.

The occasion is particularly poignant after the Supreme Court verdict has not struck down Section 7 of the Act and therefore offers virtually no relief to the vulnerable millions who will need to provide the 12-digit biometric number to avail of government subsidies.

The campaign coincides with the National Action Day on Starvation Deaths with protests nationwide and on social media on the theme #BhookhKiBaat.

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