The dead claim pension, while the living wander as ghosts in search of due.
It's six months since Baljit Kaur, old widow from Kothe Amarpura village in Bathinda district, received her pension. "Saadi kaun sunda putt; assi ta awaara kutteyan warge ho gaye (Who listens to us, son; we have become virtual stray dogs)," she said. "The old-age pension of Rs 250 a month, though small, was vital to me. If I had money, I would never be here to beg."
Pension applicant Santokh Kaur died on August 8, 2010, and claimant Mukhtiyar Kaur passed away on June 3, 2009. Still, people claim pension in the women's names. Petitioner Jaswant Kaur, expired in July 2009; and it wasn't until September 2010 that she was reported dead. It's a long list that Teja Singh, former sarpanch of Kulrian village in Mansa district, has secured under the RTI Act.
Sarpanches have the duty of verifying the eligibility of applicants, and they attest the age proof and other certificates before the child development project officer sends the forms to the district social security officer. Ranjit Singh, sarpanch of Mansa's Kulrian village, endorsed some fake claims. "I am illiterate and a member our panchayat, who belongs to the opposition, took advantage of it and registered wrong beneficiaries," he said. "In December 2011, when I came to know about it, I went to the block development officer and returned about Rs 9,000 of the pension money via two bank drafts."
Asked about the wrong dates of death on the list he had attested, he said he had reported the deaths in time but the officials concerned had failed to update the record on computer. "I sat with the officials to delete the names of the dead," he added.
On Thursday, district social security officer Rajwinder Singh Gill claimed to have attended a meeting, where all the BDOs and additional deputy commissioner verified where the pension amount went. "We almost cleared the pension for February, March, and April," he said, "and within 10 days, all remaining beneficiaries will have their due."
Asked wasn't the pension released every month, he said indeed, but for some reason, only this time the authorities concerned had cleared it till April. "Now onwards," he added.