Ranchi: Bandhu Parhaiya and Kabutri Devi, an elderly couple from Matnag village, have not received their pensions since June 2020. Bandhu, who can barely see due to cataract, finds the pension amount inadequate and demands Rs 2500 per month.
Tetri Devi from Kochla village in Barwadih block is not getting any pension. She is tired of running from pillar to post in government offices to find out about her application.
Anti Devi from Nawadih village, Chungru panchayat, has not received her pension for the last five years. Her head and voice shake uncontrollably as she tells the problems she faces in her old age.
Elderly people, widows and disabled persons of Barwadih block took to the streets in large numbers on Friday in Latehar district to protest against the non-payment of social security pensions for as long as six months. After a rally through the town, they sat on dharna at the Block office to voice their demands with spirited speeches and slogans.
The participants belonged to some of the poorest communities in Barwadih, including Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG). For many of them, especially those living alone, pensions are a critical lifeline despite the meagre amount of Rs 1,000 every month.
Joining them were hundreds of widows and elderly persons who get no pension at all. Most of them have applied, often multiple times, but they have no idea of the status of their application.
On 28 November 2001, the Supreme Order issued a strict order that pensions should be paid promptly by the 7th of each month. Twenty years later, long delays are still rampant.
The main demands of protesting people were: (1) Prompt payment of pensions by 7th of each month, as per SC orders; (2) Monthly pensions of at least Rs 2,500 per month; (3) Universal coverage; (4) Immediate sanction of all pending applications.
It may be recalled that Chief Minister Hemant Soren has made bold announcements about social security pensions in recent months. On several occasions, he promised to increase pensions to Rs 2,500 every month – this promise was also part of the Jharkhand Mukhti Morcha manifesto in the 2019 Assembly elections. On 4 February 2020, in Dumka, the CM promised timely payment and even said “पहले गरीबों को पेंशन, फिर डीसी को वेतन” (pensions before the DC’s salary). On 29 December 2020, he promised universal coverage of social security pensions in Jharkhand.
During the dharna, a startling story emerged about the reason why old-age pensions have been held up for 6 months in Jharkhand, as follows. In Jharkhand, old-age pensions are paid at the rate of Rs 1,000 every month, of which Rs 300 every month comes from the central government under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) and the rest from the state government. However, NSAP money was used during the national lockdown to pay two installments of Rs 500 to elderly persons under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY). As a result, money ran out for the central contribution of Rs 300 every month, and pension payments stopped for months (they cannot be made until both central and state contributions are available). The problem is now being rectified through the “supplementary budget”.
Meanwhile, acting on the demands of protesters, on 29 January, DC Latehar Abu Imran issued immediate instructions for all the pending payments to be initiated.