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Senior citizens trudge uphill for pension

Balurghat, Nov. 14: More than 6,000 pensioners have to trudge up a flight of stairs at the two main banks here every month — an uphill task for most of them — to get what is rightfully theirs.

Worse still, in November, even those who are quite advanced in their years and who at other times draw their pensions through nominees, have to appear in person at the banks to prove that they are alive and submit their “live” certificates.

Both the United Bank of India (UBI) and the State Bank of India (SBI)’s pension cells are on the first floor of their respective buildings.

Recently, Bimal Bhattacharya, a pensioner of over 70 years old, had fallen down the stairs and was injured at the SBI branch.

Jitendranath Chowdhury, who had come to the SBI to submit the “live” certificate today, said he was scared. “I may die while trying to prove that I am alive. I have a weak heart, I suffer from asthma and I am 77 years old. Trudging up and down at this age takes its toll,” he said.

Surbala Ghosh, 62, and Madhabi Roy, 65, also voiced the same complaint. “We have to bring someone along to help us up and down the stairs,” Roy said. Both of them draw their pensions from the SBI.

“We have been drawing the attention of the bank authorities to this injustice being meted out to the senior citizens but no one has paid any heed to us,” said Dilip Siddhanta, the South Dinajpur district secretary of the West Bengal Government Pensioners’ Association. He said over 5,000 pensioners get their payments through the SBI and 1,000 through the UBI.

Three months ago, the SBI had shifted its branch to the Municipality building. But hardly any care was taken to ensure that the senior account holders were not inconvenienced. Earlier, the pension cell was on the ground floor of the bank, Siddhanta said.

“The counters at the SBI face each other and has a gap of 15 feet between them, making the place congested during the banking hours. With queues building up back-to-back, and no place to sit, customers often feel suffocated,” he alleged.

The senior citizens first have to cope with the jostling people standing at the counters and then negotiate the steps to the pension cell. “Some of them often fall ill in the congestion. This is inhuman. When we tell the bank officials about the problem, they behave as if they are doing a favour to the pensioners,” Siddhanta said.

Arijit Ghatak, who is currently the in-charge of the SBI branch, admitted that there were problems but refused further comment.

Alok Saha, the UBI branch manager, however, said the pensioners themselves had opted for the bank.

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