A 15-day verification drive of old-age pensioners in Punjab undertaken by the government has revealed that almost 36% of those getting the pension are not authorised to receive it.
The total number of such beneficiaries is almost 13.7 lakh, of which a whopping 4.85 lakh have been found ineligible.
The exercise carried out across all districts started on December 4 and the final lists were discussed at a meeting of the chief secretary with the deputy commissioners on Tuesday.
The age and identity of the beneficiaries registered with the department of social security were cross-checked with the voter lists.
It was found that more than 2.35 lakh beneficiaries were under-age and not eligible to receive the pension and another 5,500 were dead. More than 2.43 lakh beneficiaries did not find a mention in the voter lists pointing towards the possibility of beneficiaries getting pension in fake names.
Though the pension amount is a paltry Rs 250 per month, the government has been wasting over Rs 145 crore annually in paying the ineligible beneficiaries.
The highest number of ineligible beneficiaries has been found in Fazilka, where almost 49% of the beneficiaries listed were either underage or did not exist. In Bathinda, it is as high as 46%, followed by Gurdaspur (43.6%), Mansa (43.5%) and Muktsar (40%). The lowest number of ineligible beneficiaries was found in Mohali and Nawanshahr at 13%.
According to rules, men above 65 and women above 58 are eligible for this pension. The family income of the beneficiary should be less than Rs 3,000 per month and he or she should not own more than 2-4 acres of land, depending on its quality.
Of the total 13,69,705 beneficiaries, the department officials cross-checked 13,45,699 cases; over 31,000 cases are yet to be verified. The results, an eyeopener for most deputy commissioners, led to a protracted discussion if pensions to the ineligible beneficiaries should be stopped forthwith.
Though in the last meeting -- held on December 4 -- it was decided that in all those cases where the beneficiary’s identification did not tally with the voter list, his or her name be struck off; at Tuesday’s meeting, fearing a political backlash, most deputy commissioners were of the view that the pension not be withdrawn immediately.
It was decided that instead a door-to-door verification of those found ineligible be carried out and only after it was reaffirmed that the pensioner was indeed ineligible, his or her name be struck off. It has now been decided that the “ineligible pensioners” be asked to fill up a form to “prove” that they are eligible for the pension during the door-to-door verification.