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Struggles of Pensioners in Jharkhand

Sambhavna Biswas (sambhavna@gmail.com) is studying political analysis and public policy at Higher School Economics, Moscow.

Pension plays a crucial role in the lives of the elderly and widows. A study that was conducted in Ranchi district in Jharkhand among old-age and widow pension benefi ciaries identifi es how the transition to a centralised payment system using the Aadhaar platform has created new hardships for the pensioners who are frail, often illiterate and unaware of these new intimations by the government.

I am grateful to Jean Drèze, Inayat Sabhiki, MGNREGA cluster facilitation team members, Jayanta Kumar Sarkar and Bedotroyee Sarkar.

The elderly and widows are among the most vulnerable sections of the society, especially if they are not socio-economically well-off. Age-related weaknesses, infirmities, and illnesses make an elderly person dependant on others. Similarly, widows too face several social, economic, emotional and cultural deprivations and prejudices. Many countries have various schemes to protect their senior citizens. Among such schemes, the provision for paying them a monthly pension is an important step. In the United States, the widow pension scheme was introduced in 1930. Even before that New Zealand had passed a pension bill for widows in 1911.

India, with an estimated 46 million widows, has overtaken China (44.6 million) to become the country with the largest number of widows (WEF and TRF 2015).The share of the elderly (over age 60) in India’s population has increased steadily over time (from 5.6% in 1961 to 8.6% in 2011), and is still rising. There are 104 million elderly people in India with 53 million women, slightly outnumbering men (51 million). Seventy-one percent of the elderly population reside in rural areas.

A similar trend is observed in Jharkhand where the percentage of elderly people is 7.1% of the total population and 78% of them reside in rural areas (MoSPI 2016). According to the United Nations Population Division, the share of India’s population aged 60 and older is projected to climb from 8% in 2010 to 19% in 2050, while the share in the oldest age group (80 and older) will treble from 1% to 3%. Therefore, there is an increasing need to critically examine the social and economic policies for the elderly and widows so that appropriate care and support can be provided to them.

Alo Devi,1 a widow residing in a remote village of Jharkhand, tells softly that her son is deaf and she cannot do any work. At night when everyone is asleep, she drinks a few cups of hariya (country liquor) to drown her sorrows. In another village, an elderly Budhwa Munda, who broke his leg, narrates his story: “Gaddhe mein gir gaya tha aur pair tut gaya, ilaaj ke liye 80,000 rupay mang rahe the. Kaha se laye itne paise?” (I fell into a pit and my leg got fractured, they said the treatment will cost ₹80,000. Where will I find so much money?).

For people like Devi and Munda, social security pensions are the only sources of income on which their entire life depends. The social security pensions are one of the most significant targeted cash transfers in the country provided to the poor elderly, widows, and severely disabled2 people under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) of the Government of India which came into effect on 15 August 1995.

This study reports the functioning of two schemes under NSAP called Indira Gandhi National Old-Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS) and Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS) implemented in the district Ranchi, Jharkhand. The study is based on a field survey conducted in February 2017 in 10 randomly selected villages spread over five blocks of Ranchi: Angara, Bundu, Chanho, Namkum and Ormanji. It explores some specific aspects related to regularity of pension payments, awareness among pensioners, collection costs, usage of pension and Aadhaar-related issues.

IGNOAPS and IGNWPS

The NSAP was introduced as a fully funded, centrally sponsored scheme to target destitute (identified by the states and union territories) with an objective of providing a basic level of financial support. Angara, Bundu, Chanho, Namkum and Ormanji were the blocks selected for this study. The scheme provided ₹75 to persons aged 65 and above. In 2006, the pension amount was increased to ₹200 and the scheme was expanded to cover all eligible persons below the poverty line (BPL). The NSAP at present consists of five schemes under it: IGNOAPS, IGNWPS, Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS),3 National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS)4 and Annapurna Scheme. In all the schemes, the central government provides a certain amount to each beneficiary, which is complemented by an additional amount provided by the state government. A study by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) in 2013 found that the amount provisioned for the old-age pension in different states varies from ₹200 to ₹2,000. Each scheme varies across states in terms of coverage, the amount contributed by state governments, eligibility criteria and mode of implementation.

In Jharkhand, individuals above the age of 60 years, who belong to the BPL category or have an annual income below ₹7,995 in rural areas,5 are eligible for a monthly pension of ₹600. The pension amount would be increased to ₹700 for those who are aged 80 and above. Widows between the age of 40 and 79 are eligible to receive ₹600 under the IGNWPS. From the age of 80, they would get an enhanced pension of ₹700 per month under the old-age pension scheme. Table 1 gives an overview of the eligibility and amount paid under each scheme.

Previous Literature

The oldest pan-India study on the NSAP dates back to 2001 by Rajan (2001), who used the data from the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) to do his analysis. He has found that “one-fourth of India’s elderly already receive some social assistance from the state-level pension schemes or from the National Old-Age Pension Scheme/Annapurna Scheme.” He has also mentioned that the IGNOAPS benefited the weaker sections of the society as the percentage of beneficiaries among the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), women, and the handicapped increased during 1999–2000. The “proportion of women beneficiaries increased from 30 to 37 per cent between 1998–99 and 1999–2000 and utilisation of funds improved over time” (Rajan 2001).

Moneer Alam (2004) has pointed out the risk of the destitute elderly being left out from the scheme under the NSAP. There is an arbitrary ceiling formula to cap the number of beneficiaries. The ceiling formula is calculated by multiplying the population over 65 years in a state with its overall poverty rate and then halving it. It shows that there are three major problems with this sort of calculation. One, the ceiling formula assumes parity between old age and general poverty. Two, only half of the BPL elderly are considered worthy of pension benefits (because of the in-built discriminatory procedure adopted in the ceiling formula). Three, the number of target beneficiaries falls short of the ceiling population in all the states, except in, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan. Alam suggested amendments in the ceiling formula with an attempt to bring the entire population of the BPL elderly under the IGNOAPS umbrella.

A study conducted by Anand Kumar and Navneet Anand (2006) shows that even though through a macro perspective the programme seemed to be working well, the microanalysis shows that “there are gaps in areas like distribution and the identification of beneficiaries.” There are also “issues related to implementation, transparency and a curious mix of local caste politics and corruption.”

Puja Vasudeva Dutta (2008) conducted a study in Rajasthan and found that even though there was

high transaction costs associated with the application process, the majority of pensioners reported no problems once the pension was sanctioned. Disbursements were largely as per schedule and leakage in the form of shortfalls in the pension amount was low.

Neeraj Kaushal studied the impact of the expansion in India’s IGNOAPS on elderly well-being using the data of the National Sample Surveys (NSS). He analysed the employment and unemployment survey data (Schedule 10, 10.2) of 2004–05 and 2007–08—a year before and a year after the 2006 increase in federal and state pensions under the IGNOAPS. He found that a “₹100 increase in pension is associated with a ₹37–₹40 increase in expenditure (a proxy for income) in families with elderly or near-elderly persons where household head has primary or lower education” (Kaushal 2014). It also found that

the pension increase is found to be associated with an increased expenditure on medical care and education, indicating that most of the income from pension is invested in human capital for improving the health and education of the elderly and their family members. (Kaushal 2014)

A survey was conducted in 2013 in Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh where the pension amount was increased and the social pension coverage was extended beyond the BPL families. It was found that the entry for the poor into the system is difficult and that this needs to be “facilitated through stricter monitoring of inclusion errors, proactive identification, enrolment camps or other means” (Bhattacharya et al 2015).

The literature scan indicates that there are not many published studies in the field of social security pensions in Jharkhand. Aashish Gupta conducted a survey in 2011 to check the functioning of the IGNOAPS in two districts of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. He has found that the IGNOAPS functioned without much corruption (no fake names were found too) even in some of the poorest regions. However, “beneficiaries had difficulty in accessing the banking system and faced inordinate delays in receiving their meagre pensions” (Gupta 2013).

A 10-state Public Evaluation of Entitlement Programme (PEEP) survey conducted in 2013 found that while the pensions reached intended beneficiaries, the discrepancies were higher in Jharkhand, where 6% of the respondents were not receiving any pension even though their names were included in the list. It also found that in Jharkhand, “nearly half of the respondents were getting less than the full amount—most of them were paying a monthly bribe to the postmaster or to some middleman.” The authors stressed that there is an “urgent need to make pension schemes more user-friendly by simplifying the procedures, ensuring regular payments, promoting better awareness of pension entitlements, and increasing pension amounts.”

Ranchi district is the most populous district of Jharkhand and 36% of its population consists of STs. In order to do this field study, five blocks were randomly selected from a list of 18 blocks in Ranchi district. Among each of those blocks, two villages with a population between 800 and 1,200 residents6 were randomly selected. In each of them, 10 randomly selected pensioners from the official lists of the IGNOAPS and IGNWPS were surveyed. In total, 100 people from 10 villages belonging to five blocks were surveyed. The sample consisted of people receiving pension under the IGNOAPS (75%) and the IGNWPS (25%). The questionnaire administered to each household had questions on household characteristics, information related to the pension schemes, collection costs associated with pension delivery, and questions related to usage of pension, and on healthcare and demonetisation.

Identification of Beneficiaries

It must be mentioned that during the survey no fake names were found. Also, there were none among the respondents who would seem to be ineligible for pension. Therefore, there did not appear to be any problem either in identification or targeting.

Most of the people interviewed do meagre work related to agriculture or no work at all (Table 2). Over half of the sample did not have any other source of income apart from the pension money. This makes them dependent on others for things as basic as food, clothing and shelter. This is more so in the case of widows who have limited financial independence and little say in the household decision-making. Aalo Devi, a widowed woman from Angara by the end of our conversation mentioned “agar pension nahi milega, toh mar jayengey hum” (I will die if I do not get the pension).

 

Receipt and Regularity of Pension

This study finds that 84% of the people surveyed were receiving their pension money. There were 11 pensioners who mentioned that their payments had been discontinued (they used to receive their pension money earlier). Five pensioners stated that they had never received any pension money despite being on the official list of beneficiaries. On being probed, most pensioners had no idea why they had stopped receiving their pensions. Some, however, mentioned that they visited the block office and were told that there were some issues related to their Aadhaar cards. This was also reiterated by the concerned officials in Ranchi, who mentioned that pensioners face issues when their Aadhaar number is not linked to their bank account or is linked to some other account. On investigating further, it was found that the 16 pensioners who were not receiving money had issues with the linking of their Aadhaar card.

There are pervasive delays in the disbursement of pensions in all the surveyed blocks in Ranchi district. According to the Supreme Court’s order, payment of the pension under the scheme should be made by the seventh day of each month.7 However, in all the five blocks, pensions are disbursed irregularly without a fixed schedule (Table 3). Many times payments for several months are made on a lump sum basis. Pensioners are aware of this, and therefore, visit the bank once every few months to collect their pension money, sometimes having to make multiple trips to collect it successfully. Surprisingly, 38% of the pensioners reported that they were not receiving money for all 12 months. This was verified by having a look at their passbooks. Even though most of the passbooks were difficult to read and sometimes the entries looked incomplete, a significant number (53%) of passbooks were complete and it showed that pensioners in several cases did not receive money for periods ranging from one to eight months. Forty-one percent of the passbooks that were fully updated showed that pensioner did not get payment for some months at all. It is not clear if the payment standards have deteriorated over time or it has been the same since the inception of the scheme. Previous studies showed that payments were irregular but they presented no evidence of major gaps like pensions not being paid for some months at all. This problem was not identified in earlier studies and further investigation is needed to explore the reasons.

Delivery Issues and Aadhaar

A circular by the MoRD on 3 March 2017 mandates that eligible pensioners are required to furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar or to undergo Aadhaar authentication to get benefits under the NSAP scheme.8 Around 1,200 pensioners in Ranchi district were removed from the system even before this official notification was floated on the website. This was done because their Aadhaar card had issues that made seeding difficult. Even though this was done after intimating them, this is a violation of the Supreme Court order which mandates that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for accessing public schemes or government services.9 Jharkhand has reached an advanced stage in Aadhaar enrolment of beneficiaries with the aim of “reducing leakages and duplication.” The transition to a centralised payment system using the Aadhaar platform has created new hardships for the pensioners who are frail, often illiterate and unaware of these new intimations by the government.

Several cash kiosks as part of the common service centres (also known as Pragya Kendra) in Jharkhand have been set up in rural areas to offer government and business services to rural citizens with the help of the information and communication technology. As per the government, in many areas the elderly and widows receive their pensions in these cash kiosks through a biometric system with the help of a business correspondent. The survey showed that 87% of the respondents had no idea about these kiosks. A business correspondent in one of the blocks that was not part of the survey mentioned that the system does not work well for the elderly because their fingerprints fade with age; the system abandons those whose fingerprints fail them.

Awareness among Pensioners

Among the surveyed pensioners, more than half (62%) were aware of the amount they are supposed to receive every month. However, a considerable number of elderly were not aware of the pending amount and many others responded by saying, “Kya pata, hum to 2–3 mahine bank me jatey hai, jo paisa wo humey dete hai, hum lekar wapas aa jate hai” (I do not know, I visit the bank in two to three months and get the money that the bank staffs give me). Pensioners were happy that they were receiving some money from the government and many did not consider monthly payment as an entitlement. Out of the people who stopped receiving pensions (16 pensioners), only three pensioners visited the block where the issues related to pension money are usually resolved. The rest of the people neither visited the bank nor tried to enquire (Table 4). During the survey, many eligible elderly people and widows in the selected villages enquired about the process of getting enrolled for pensions. There was a lack of awareness among them regarding the entire process.

Pension Collection Costs

As per the Jharkhand government’s records, 1.15 million pensioners receive their pension money through bank accounts, 22,000 people receive money through post offices and a mere 47 pensioners receive their pension money in cash. In this study, all those surveyed received their money in their bank accounts.

Irregular pension delivery costs pensioners not just monetarily, but also in terms of time and energy. Barring two villages, all the other villages were more than 3 km away10 from the bank branches. In Singarsarai village (Namkum block), which is 30 km from the nearest bank branch, pensioners have to travel the first 5–6 km by foot before taking an auto. Going to the bank every month is therefore a tedious task for most of the elderly, 65% of whom collect their pension themselves. Household members accompany pensioners to withdraw money when they are unable to visit the bank on their own. A poorly functioning, sometimes virtually non-existent public transport system in the sample blocks also adds to the woes of the people. This makes going to the bank an expensive deal because people not only have to pay for their travel, but also for their food as they have to spend hours in the queue. Over half of the pensioners mentioned that they find the procedure to collect money difficult. They have to spend an average of six hours and an average amount of ₹60 (per person) for round trip to collect their pensions. For many old pensioners who are frail and ill, this is a humongous task. Etwa Devi from a village in Angara, who was hardly able to move said, “Akeley kaise jayengey? Sharir saath nahi deta. Beta auto bhadha karta hai aur lekar jata hai mujhey bank” (How will I go alone? My body is weak. My son hires an auto and takes me to the bank). On several occasions, pensioners visited the bank, waited for hours only to learn that their money is yet to be credited into their accounts. In this study, 76% of the pensioners said that they sometimes have to make more than one trip to withdraw money from the bank.

On the positive side, 98% of the respondents had a passbook and 78% of them kept the passbook with themselves. Further, 51% of the respondents’ passbooks were updated regularly and another 20% of them were updated with incomplete entries. Also, over half of the respondents stated that the bank staff was helpful and 93% respondents mentioned that they did not have to pay any bribe to withdraw their pension money. The rest had paid some amount ranging from ₹5 to ₹15 to the local middlemen. In two cases, the local dalal (middleman) took the passbooks of the beneficiaries with them after helping pensioners receive their first pension payment. While there was no evidence of any massive corruption or rampant embezzlement in pension schemes, there were some grey areas related to yearly payments and Aadhaar, which require further investigation.

Usage of Pensions

Even though the contribution of the central government to social security pensions has remained static at a paltry ₹200 per month since 2006, the elderly and the widows who were interviewed heavily depend on this monthly pension to survive or meet their basic needs. Most respondents said that it helps them gain bargaining power at home, take care of their own needs and also contribute some amount for household requirements (Table 5). Many (58% of the respondents) emphasised proudly, “pura paise khud par kharch karte hai” (I spend all this money on myself). For many widows who live alone or with unmarried children, the pension money gives them significant financial independence and enhances their social status.

 

Healthcare is an unavoidable expenditure for many people, 85% of whom suffer from some form of disease. Over half of them use private hospitals and fund it themselves when they fall sick. A common complaint is that this pension money is hardly sufficient to cover all the costs associated with the treatment.

Conclusions

As evident from the above findings, theIGNOAPS and IGNWPS play an important role in the lives of the pensioners. However, there are several issues to address. As mentioned before, pension is not disbursed monthly and pensioners do not know on which date they would receive pension. They also do not know for which months they have received pension and when they would get the next payment. This increases uncertainty, hardship and collection cost for the pensioners and hence they cannot make any prior planning.

There is little evidence of any significant improvements in the payment process in terms of regularity, reliability and transparency compared to the previous studies that identified these as major issues even 15 years after the Supreme Court directed the state and central governments to ensure that social security pensions are paid promptly by the 15th of every month. This is still an elusive goal in Jharkhand. Ensuring regularity and transparency of pension payments should be looked at with utmost priority by the Government of Jharkhand.

New problems have cropped up because of issues related to the Aadhaar. While the purported intention of the government behind linking the Aadhaar with pension is to reduce leakage and ensure targeting, this survey shows that a number of pensioners stopped receiving pension midway not because of their ineligibility, but for technical issues related to the Aadhaar. In the recent years, a lot of energy of the local functionaries has gone into linking the Aadhaar to the pension database. This survey and other studies show that there was little identity fraud in these pension beneficieries’ lists. So, it is not quite understandable why such a herculean task was undertaken, which has rendered so many pensioners devoid of their monthly pensions. This can hardly be justified, especially that pension is for the elderly and widows from poor families, who are one of the most vulnerable in the society.

As mentioned by almost all the beneficiaries, the pension amount is grossly inadequate to meet the basic needs of pensioners. Per beneficiary contribution by the Government of India has not increased since 2006. There is a strong need to revise the pension amount and link it to consumer price index.

Even though this study focuses on those who have already been receiving pension, anecdotal evidence during survey suggested that there are many eligible beneficiaries—both elderly and widow—who have been left out. They stated that they had filled the application form a number of times, but had not heard back from concerned authorities in spite of repeated enquiries. One of the block officers had shown a completed form and asked if it would be accepted. After taking a look at it, he pointed out that as the person did not fill in her BPL number, the application would be rejected. Currently, there is no automatic mechanism to inform the applicant about a rejection or an acceptance—the only way is to inquire at the block. There is an urgent need to simplify and streamline the application process so that eligible pensioners can access their entitlements with ease.

Notes

1 Names of the respondents in this study have been changed for anonymity.

2 The following legal provisions are followed to define severe or multiple disabilities: (a) As per Section 56(4) of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 (PWD Act, 95), “persons with severe disability” means a person with 80% or more of one or more disabilities; (b) As per Section 2(h) of the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999 (National Trust Act, 1999), “Multiple Disabilities” means combination of two or more disabilities.

3 Under the IGNDPS, the eligible age for the pensioner is 18 years and the amount is ₹300 per month. After attaining the age of 80 years, the beneficiary receives ₹500 per month.

4 Under the NFBS, a BPL household is entitled to lump sum amount of ₹20,000 on the death of primary breadwinner aged between 18 and 60 years. Under the Annapurna Scheme, 10 kg of foodgrains per month are provided free of cost to those senior citizens who, though eligible, have remained uncovered under the IGNOAPS.

5 In urban areas, anyone who in the BPL category or whose annual income is less than ₹9,974 is eligible for the IGNOAPS, IGNWPS and IGNDPS.

6 Population size of the village was considered for the ease of identifying the listed pension beneficiary (too big a village would have made it difficult).

7 The Supreme Court, in its interim orders (SC Commissioners 2011) in People’s Union for Civil Liberties v Union of India (2001), which is also known as the right to food case, had mandated this.

8 Those who are not yet enrolled for Aadhaar are required to make application for Aadhaar enrolment by 1 April 2017.

9 The first interim order in the Supreme Court of India civil original jurisdiction force dated 23 September 2013 stated, “no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card in spite of the fact that some authority had issued a circular making it mandatory and when any person applies to get the Aadhaar card voluntarily, it may be checked whether that person is entitled for it under the law and it should not be given to any illegal immigrant.” Since then, there have been many such orders which stated that the Aadhaar card scheme is “purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory.”

10 According to the NSAP guidelines, it should be ensured that the beneficiary should not have to travel more than 3 km to access her/his pension account. As far as possible, for people who cannot cover the distance physically, the goal should be to provide doorstep services.

References

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Dutta, Puja, Rinku Murgai and Stephen Howes (2010): “Small but Effective: India’s Targeted Unconditional Cash Transfers,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 45, No 52, pp 63–70.

Dutta, Puja Vasudeva (2008): “The Performance of Social Pensions in India: The Case of Rajasthan,” World Bank Social Protection and Labour Discussion Paper, No 0834.

Gupta, Aashish (2013): “Old-age Pension Scheme in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 48, No 34, p 55.

Kaushal, Neeraj (2014): “How Public Pension Affects Elderly Labor Supply and Well-Being: Evidence from India,” World Development, Vol 56, pp 214–25.

Kumar, Anand and Navneet Anand (2006): “Poverty Target Programs for the Elderly in India with Special Reference to National Old Age Pension Scheme, 1995,” Background Paper, February, Chronic Poverty Research Centre, http://www.chronicpoverty.org/uploads/publication_files/CPR2_Background_Papers_Kumar-Anand.pdf.

MoRD (2014): “Revised Guidelines for the Schemes under National Social Assistance Programme,” Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India.

MoSPI (2016): “Elderly in India 2016,” Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India.

Rajan, S Irudaya (2001): “Social Assistance for Poor Elderly: How Effective?,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 36, Issue 8, pp 613–17.

WEF and TRF (2015): “Which Country Has the Largest Number of Widows?,” World Economic Forum in Collaboration with Thomas Reuters Foundation Trust, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/12/which-country-has-the-largest-num....

Updated On : 2nd Jan, 2018

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