5 months after demonetisation, Punjab pensioners still ‘cashless’ | punjab | Hindustan Times
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5 months after demonetisation, Punjab pensioners still ‘cashless’

Caught between tall poll promises and empty coffers, the Captain Amarinder Singh government is finding that every department in Punjab has a “backlog” story. The Congress which had promised a three-fold hike in pensions — from to Rs 500 to Rs 1,500 — in its poll manifesto, will have to first mop up funds to clear the Rs 475 crore backlog of pensions of last five months.

punjab Updated: Apr 04, 2017 08:34 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.(Keshav Singh/HT Photo)

Caught between tall poll promises and empty coffers, the Captain Amarinder Singh government is finding that every department in Punjab has a “backlog” story. The Congress which had promised a three-fold hike in pensions — from to Rs 500 to Rs 1,500 — in its poll manifesto, will have to first mop up funds to clear the Rs 475 crore backlog of pensions of last five months.

The state’s 19 lakh pensioners — elderly, widows, destitute children and differently abled — have not been paid even the paltry amount of Rs 500 a month since November when Prime Minister Narendra Modi demonetised old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Chairing a meeting of the social security department on Monday, the CM asked the officials to clear all arrears till March 31.

To address the grouse of Congress leaders and workers that the previous Parkash Singh Badal government allowed its halqa in-charges and sarpanches to siphon off funds through “bogus” beneficiaries, the government also ordered a new verification of those withdrawing pensions in Punjab and tweak the eligibility criteria from April 1, 2017.

The CM told officials that “genuine” poor should get the benefit of pension, notwithstanding their political affiliation, while pointing out that the Akali government had “deprived” many beneficiaries of their due on account of their political ideology.

The Akali government too had carried out two verification drives — one each in its two back-to-back tenures — to root out “bogus” pensioners and deleted many each time. The social welfare department courted controversy over eliminating some deserving ones. The number of pensioners also kept growing — from 13 lakh in 2009 to 15 lakh in 2014 to 19 lakh now.

While the previous government had reverted to the politically-motivated system of empowering panchayats to distribute pensions, the Congress government has decided to pay pensioners through banks from November this year in order to streamline the process and ensure timely and smooth payments.

Sources in the social security department said a detailed verification will be launched in villages and towns where Akali halqa in-charges and sarpanches were deciding beneficiaries and Congress leaders and workers have complained of “bias” and “fake” pensioners.

Under the existing rules, a prospective beneficiary applies to the sub-divisional magistrate, who directs release of provisional pension within three days, with verification to be done later. This sometimes results in diversion of the pension amount into the wrong hands, which the department later finds difficult to retract, it was pointed out at the meeting.

The meeting was attended by finance minister Manpreet Badal, chief secretary Karan Avtar Singh and CM’s chief principal secretary Suresh Kumar besides the social security director. Minister Razia Sultana could not attend the meeting owing to her sister’s health.