Ex-servicemen to get access to online pension services at 400,000 centres

Updated on Feb 22, 2022 02:31 AM IST

India has around 3.3 million defence pensioners. About 500,000 of them have been moved to the new system and the migration will be complete over the next six months.

SPARSH has been implemented at a cost of around <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>160 crore.(Representational photo)
SPARSH has been implemented at a cost of around 160 crore.(Representational photo)
By, New Delhi

The government’s Defence Accounts Department (DAD) is set to tap a key initiative under the Digital India programme to make pension-related online services accessible to former servicemen settled in remote parts of the country, senior officials familiar with the development said on Monday.

With millions of former servicemen set to be transferred from a legacy system to a new online pension disbursing model, called SPARSH, the department will on February 24 sign a memorandum of understanding with CSC E-Governance Services India Ltd to make SPARSH services available at more than 400,000 common service centres across India, said one of the officials cited above, asking not to be named.

“The aim is to make SPARSH portal services accessible to the last mile. Pensioners or their family members who do not have connectivity or are not able to access these services for any reason can avail the services at CSCs from March,” a second senior official said on condition of anonymity.

The CSCs are access points for the delivery of essential public utility services, social welfare schemes and a raft of other services related to health care, finance and education. DAD is tapping into the scheme at a time when former servicemen have flagged concerns about the accessibility of SPARSH portal services in remote areas.

Earlier this month, Hindustan Times reported initial glitches in the SPARSH system that resulted in hundreds of former servicemen not getting dearness relief along with their January pension and several women officers not being paid pension for almost a year.

DAD resolved the first matter in 48 hours while the process to grant pension to short-service commission (SSC) women officers along with arrears has already begun. They are expected to get their dues by the end of the month.

This time, the department is taking no chances.

SPARSH, or System for Pension Administration (Raksha), was implemented last September to ease different aspects of defence pensions including initiation, sanction, computation, revision and disbursement. The system involves crediting pensions directly into the accounts of former servicemen without relying on any external intermediary (banks).

India has around 3.3 million defence pensioners. About 500,000 of them have been moved to the new system and the migration will be complete over the next six months.

“More than 800 SPARSH service centres are already functional in State Bank of India and Punjab National Bank branches. Also, 161 DAD offices across the country and 50 record offices of the armed forces are serving as service centres,” said a third official who asked not to be identified.

SPARSH has been implemented at a cost of around 160 crore. Switching to the online pension disbursing system will result in the government saving around 250 crore annually as banks no longer have to be paid monthly charges for processing pensions, the officials said.

DAD says the need for SPARSH, developed by Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, was felt to “obviate and address” the existing challenges in the pension sanctioning and disbursement process. This year’s defence budget of 5.25 lakh crore includes a pension outlay of 1.19 lakh crore.

“Before SPARSH, the average time taken to sanction pension was six months. With the new system, this has come down to barely a month. In some cases, pension was sanctioned in just 15 days. There were some teething troubles at the beginning but all issues have been resolved,” said a fourth official, who too spoke on condition of anonymity.

The switch to SPARSH, however, is still being greeted with scepticism by some former servicemen.

“I believe the legacy system worked well for veterans. The government should have continued with it. Connectivity in remote parts of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh is a problem,” said Lieutenant General DB Shekatkar (retd).

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