Over 10 lakh senior citizens in Jharkhand are allegedly not receiving their social security pensions for the last six months and facing hardship amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to economist and human rights activist Jean Dreze.
Dreze took part in a protest march by elders, widows and disabled on Friday at Barwadih block in Latehar district, over 180km from state capital Ranchi, and termed the denial of pension as contempt of a Supreme Court order.
“The protesters on Friday belonged to some of the poorest communities, including those from a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG). For many of them, especially the elderly people living alone, pensions are a critical lifeline despite the meagre amount of Rs 1,000 per month. However, they are not receiving their pensions for the past six months. This is in violation of the November 28, 2001, order by the Supreme Court that pensions should be paid promptly by the 7th of each month,” said the Belgian-born Dreze.
He said during their discussions with the administration and the department of women, child development and social security, senior officials admitted that the central government’s share for the National Social Assistance Programme (the central pension scheme) was diverted to pay the elderly under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) during the lockdown.
Avinash Kumar, principal secretary of the social welfare department, admitted the problem but said the allotted money has already been sent to all the 24 districts for disbursement to the beneficiaries.
“The problem arose as the funds were used up,” he said.
The protesters at Barwadih demanded apart from prompt payment, the enhancement of the pension amount to at least Rs 2,500 per month and immediate sanction of all pending applications.
Chief minister Hemant Soren has on several occasions earlier promised to increase the pension amount to Rs 2,500 per month and this pledge was also part of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha manifesto in the 2019 Assembly polls. On February 4, 2020, Soren had promised in Dumka timely payment of pension and said that, “pehle garibon ko pension, phir DC ko vetan (pension will be given to the poor before the deputy commissioner’s salary)”. On 29 December last year, the chief minister had promised universal coverage of social security pensions in Jharkhand.