The 15 lakh villagers of Punjab dependent on Rs 1,000 monthly pension under social security schemes, including old-age pension, have become victims of the cash crunch arising out of the demonetisation of old high value notes.
While panchayats are given the money in their bank accounts by the state government, the pension is then paid to beneficiaries in cash. That cash disbursal has not been possible for dues of September and October in the rural areas. In urban areas, the pensions are directly put into the beneficiaries’ bank accounts.
Though an amount of Rs 110 crore was deposited in the accounts of the panchayats, shortage of cash at banks has hampered the schemes. This was hotly debated at the last meeting of the state council of ministers too.
“There are 18 lakh beneficiaries under the schemes, and about 75% are in rural areas,” principal secretary, social security, Anurag Aggarwal told HT. Cash is given as the beneficiaries in rural areas do not have accounts.
Ahead of the assembly polls likely in a couple of months, the Parkash Singh Badal-led SAD-BJP government has begun airing reservations over the lack of cash. Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Saturday again said that non-availability of cash was causing problems to people and needed to be resolved fast.
Sources in the state finance department said chief secretary Sarvesh Kaushal fast-tracked the matter with the Reserve Bank of India, and a meeting was held on Friday to resolve pension problem. Aggarwal and additional chief secretary (finance) Satish Chandra met two Punjab region RBI officials and explained that due pensions for September were Rs 40 crore in 14 districts, and Rs 70 crore for all 22 districts for October, lying in the accounts of panchayats.
The department then informed the CM’s office that RBI’s deputy general manager (cash) Sandeep Mittal had agreed to provide Rs 110 crore “over and above” the banks’ usual requirements at the district level.
But then came the roadblock that only Rs 24,000 can be withdrawn in cash in a week from a savings account.
Sources said, on Saturday, chief secretary Kaushal wrote to the RBI for relaxation in the cap for panchayats’ savings accounts. He took the plea that the panchayats will use the withdrawn money exclusively to pay pensions. Satish Chandra then discussed the matter with Nirmal Chand, Chandigarh-based regional director of the RBI, who agreed to arrange for additional cash. Now, the government expects to pay the pensions by December 23.