Chela Singh (83) was a common man until Sunday morning.
Then he became the face of the old-age pension scheme in the full-page newspaper advertisements detailing what the Punjab government has achieved in nine years to warrant another mandate. Good for Chela, but only one thing — he doesn’t get any old-age pension.
He has applied for it twice, though, in the past seven years. Even his wife, Jagit Kaur (80), doesn’t get a penny from the government. Chela has also applied for cashless medical treatment under Bhagat Puran Singh Bima Yojana and subsidised food under the atta-dal scheme. None delivered.
When HT visited his village, Kaler in Faridkot district, and asked him if his luck would turn after his picture had reached the authorities, he said: “It was taken in winter, at some government function. “Yeah,” he chuckled, “Maybe now they’ll give me pension in real.”
Village panch Kulbir Singh said Chela wasn’t the only one not to receive old-age pension. Gathered at ‘saanth’ (village common place) were those leftout old people, most of them over 70. Geja Singh, Amrik Singh, Amarjit Singh, Gurdev Singh, Beant Singh, and Balwinder Singh accused the government of doing “propaganda”.
“In Sunday’s advertisement, the government has claimed that it gave away more than Rs 5,000 crore as pension,” District Youth Congress president Balkaran Singh Nangal said. “But Chela is a living proof that (deputy chief minister) Sukhbir Singh Badal is ‘gappi number 1’ (a big fat liar).”
Faridkot district social security officer Shinder Pal Kaur said she was unaware of the advertisement, as the public relations department in Chandigarh must have issued it. “No one asked us for any photograph,” she said. “The PR guys must have picked it on their own.”
PR secretary Rahul Tiwari said he looked into policy matters and the layout was director’s jurisdiction. PR director Senu Duggal said the picture was for representation purpose only and the government had nowhere claimed in the advertisement that the people featured were given pension.”
The advertisement also nowhere states that the pictures used are symbolic.