Pension delivery in Odisha
By Charudutta Panigrahi
Pension is a dignified means of sustenance for at least 44 lakh families in Odisha. If not absolute sustenance, it certainly adds to the livelihoods of as many individuals who could be senior citizens, widows or persons with disabilities. It is the State’s responsibility to ensure that the pensioner receives correct amount of pension, hassle free and honourably. We are reminded of Bollywood stories of the harassed pensioners, the hapless fathers and widowed mothers, at the hands of dealing assistants and officers and their torture. Pensioners are not recipients of charity.
They have a right to the social security arrangement. Kerala has an estimated 32 lakh welfare pensioners whereas Odisha has 4.4 million (about 44 lakhs) pensioners with many residing in the remotest parts of the state. In Kerala the State government has adopted Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) of welfare pensions to some 12 lakh beneficiaries, while about 18 lakh welfare pensioners would continue to receive their pensions through the postal network and the remaining 2 lakh through money orders, with the option open to switch over to the DBT system. The decision to switch over to the DBT system in Kerala was taken following serious lapses in pension disbursement through the postal network.
In the recently concluded crucial Inter-State Council meeting at Delhi on 16th July, Odisha expressed reservations with the DBT system of disbursal of pensions and justifiably so. DBT system is not without its pitfalls, and we have to be cautious in the context of Odisha. Let’s not shy away from acknowledging that the state’s pension distribution system including a fixed day approach for disbursal at the gram panchayat has been lauded widely as one of the finest disbursal systems in the country. Linking the Panchayats with the pensioners/ their households establishes a direct contact which augurs well for the percolation of social security measures to the last mile. In Odisha there are many rural areas and tribal areas without any banking facility and road connectivity.
And the banking correspondent (BC) model would not be viable by distributing small amounts to about 44 lakh people every month. There is a looming scare of the model spurring rent seeking behaviour, corruption and misrepresentation. From the pensioner’s angle, a BC model in Odisha is not desirable, at least for the time being. Odisha in the past has tried doorstep banking without much success and the pilots which were implemented have never been able to scale up.
Nevertheless, the state is operating 100 mobile vans with banking services to the unbanked villages with an aim to provide banking facilities to the remote unbanked areas. A mobile van would provide banking with ATM service to six Gram Panchayats in a week. The mobile banking vans will operate in haats/market areas. 24 mobile vans are currently providing banking facilities in the unbanked areas.
The banks which had appointed Business correspondents to enrol beneficiaries in rural areas have had to face problems at the grassroots – BC opening more than one account for each beneficiary for incentives, BC not giving pass books to beneficiaries, BC not making the beneficiaries aware of the scheme and illiterate, hard-to-reach beneficiaries are even more vulnerable.
Odisha government has used ICTs to make social security measures efficient and better serving. It has launched a portal to help create digital life certificates for smooth transaction of the monthly pensions. The Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS) portal under the Finance department is implementing the ‘Digital Life Certificate Initiative’, named -Jeevan Pramaan. IFMS would improve governance through better financial management, enhance transparency and accountability by means of information and communication technology. The Digital Life Certificate would help deliver the essentialservice through the ‘Aadhar’ platform to the senior citizens of the state who have retired after rendering service under the government.
This would fall under the umbrella e-governance initiatives and would be more user-friendly, because the Collectors, Treasury Officers and Branch Managers of the authorised banks disbursing pension are working towards ensuring the sustainability of the Digital Life Certificate initiative in the interest of the pensioners of the state.
The state government pensioners drawing pension from different Treasuries and banks are enabled to generate Digital Life Certificate through Aadhaar based biometric devices installed in over 165 Treasuries across the state. The pensioners are able to generate and submit Digital Life Certificate at their place through the Jeevan Pramaan Portal. The pensioners, the senior and infirmed need not be physically present before the Pension Disbursing Officer.
The budget of Odisha is about Rs. 94,053 crores for 2016-17. The plan outlay includes Rs. 45,600 crores for the government sector and Rs. 4,400 crores for the public sector undertakings while non-plan expenditure includes Rs. 18,800 crores for salaries, Rs. 9,500 crores for pensions and Rs. 4,650 crores for interest payments.
It is not about systems only; it is about people. The pensioners carry the right to receive rightful pension every month, in time and through a fool proof delivery mechanism. For our seniors and eligible, we need a system which works and not a branded program which risks efficiency.
(Author, Public Policy specialist Charudutta Panigrahi can be reached at: email@example.com)