According to a report in Hundustan Times, while taking up the petition the court had asked Punjab government to recover the pension amount from the illegal beneficiaries. All cases of old-age pension beneficiaries of villages and urban areas after January 1, 2009 would be verified and instructions in this regard have already been issued to all deputy commissioners of the state.
The pension to these beneficiaries, who were enrolled between September 2002 and December 2008, was stopped in 2012. The government has also requested the court to allow another round of scrutiny to find out fake pensioners enrolled after 2009.
In fact, the primary verification is to be completed by village-level officers for proof of residence and age; patwaris (revenue officials) would be the competent authority for primary verification of the beneficiary's income. The list of cases not fulfilling the eligibility criteria for old-age pension would be displayed in the panchayat ghar in villages for inviting claims and objections.
He said claims and objections would be heard in the gram sabha by an officer deputed by the deputy commissioner concerned and preferably of the rank of sub divisional officer (SDO). After the completion of the entire process at the subdivision level, reports would be sent to the deputy commissioner, who would send these to the director, social security and women's welfare department, Punjab. After verification, the status report of eligible and ineligible beneficiaries would be presented in the high court.
There are about 71000 illegal beneficiaries of old-age pension scheme, which gives Rs.250 per month to the elderly, who are otherwise ineligible old-age pensioners detected in the state. The determination of age is the main factor in giving the benefit of old age pension scheme and in certain cases without following the proper procedure, the oral self declaration irrespective of the look, is considered as the age proof.
In some cases, pension is being given to fake persons while the actual beneficiaries have died. Many eligible applicants were denied the old-age pension while some youths are being given the allowance.
The high number of fake or ineligible beneficiaries clearly indicates that there is some flaw, ambiguity in selection criteria, in the scheme or it is at the level of recommending authority intentionally or purposely. In case, no check is put on it and the government intention to regularize it by relaxing the norms, would invite more people under the scheme at a when the general elections are drawing near. In other words, it is a politicization of the scheme which has become a life line of politics.
In fact, government is thinking to relax the eligibility conditions so that all the fake or ineligible pensioners are also covered under the scheme. In the new conditions, the senior citizens either with two acres of fertile land or four acres of barren land will be eligible to draw the old age pension.
Elderly people, whose sons are working, will also be eligible. Earlier senior citizens with agricultural land over one acre and whose sons were in jobs were not eligible. According to another source, the government is also considering to do away with the condition of monthly income. Presently, individuals with a monthly income of Rs.1000 and elderly couples with a monthly income of Rs.1500 are eligible.
Currently, 20 lakh beneficiaries are drawing old age, social security and widow pension in the state.
Now the question arises, as to whether the government will recover the undue pension amount? Accordingly an estimate, Rs.18 crore has been paid to 71426 pensioners for 10 years. In 2002, the Punjab Government stopped pension to over 1.08 lakh fake pensioners. The amount paid till 2002 was not recovered.
Frankly speaking, even as a large number of alive elderly people are struggling to get pension from government offices, the fake, ineligible and dead are jumping the queue and getting their pension every month. Still a large number of old-aged people live on the streets doing odd jobs trying hard to make both ends meet. More-over, it is difficult to withdraw when once the benefit is extended especially when it is linked with the political future of the party.
The government is not interested to recover the money already disbursed, obviously due to political reasons being a vote-bank of the government. The government has also been alleged for neither recovering the money nor taking any action even during 2010 too when around one lakh pensioners were found ineligible.
Whatever may be reason behind extending the benefit of old age pension to cover the ineligible pensioners, but over time, the budget for the scheme will be too high for the next government. What, if the existing government has to be continue for the next term is a question to be given a second thought before revising the scheme. This practice has to be stopped as it has a long term trickle down effect up to the root level.