How the fakes are eating into the dues payable to genuine pensioners

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The Ministry of Rural Development’s National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) may not be paying pension money in full to those who have been identified by the government. Data from NSAP suggest all five states, for which information regarding disbursements in 2016-17 is available, have given pensions to a significantly higher number of people than those sanctioned by the government. As a result, fixed sums earmarked for pension have been distributed among a larger number of people than they were originally intended for, bringing down the average monthly pension payable to genuine beneficiaries.

The three schemes under NSAP in which such discrepancies are evident are the Indira Gandhi Old Age Pension Scheme, Indira Gandhi Disability Pension Scheme and Indira Gandhi Widows Pension Scheme. The five states where these mismatches have been noticed are Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Telangana. All these schemes are fully funded by the central government and states usually make a contribution to increase the amount of pension for people in these categories living below the poverty line (BPL). The money is paid by the Centre in the Consolidated Fund of states every year. 

Old-age pension: 17 million beneficiaries got Rs 1,654 crore meant for four million elderly

In Andhra Pradesh, the number of "sanctioned, verified and approved" pensioners was a little over 1.1 million (See Table). But NSAP figures show the number of beneficiaries who received pensions was almost 7.3 million. An amount of Rs 728 crore was paid to the so-called beneficiaries in the state in 2016-17. The Andhra Pradesh government pays Rs 1,000 every month as pension under this scheme. But the amount of pension given to 7.3 million beneficiaries works out to be Rs 83 per month. This is way below the central government's contribution under this scheme, which stands at Rs 300 a month. Those aged 80 years and above are entitled to receive Rs 500 every month from the Centre. In Andhra Pradesh, if the money would have been paid to only sanctioned pensioners, every elderly above the age of 60 would have received Rs 542 every month – a figure that corresponds more closely to the Centre’s contribution. 

The scenario is no different in neighbouring Telangana where there were 600,000 sanctioned pensioners. NSAP data suggest that more than six times the number received a total sum of almost Rs 367 crore as pension under the scheme. If the certified pensioners had been paid the money, each pensioner would have received Rs 511 every month. But the 3.6 million so-called beneficiaries ended up getting Rs 83 a month – a situation closely resembling its neighbouring state. 

In Rajasthan, the number of sanctioned pensioners was almost 900,000. However, more than 2.9 million people are listed as beneficiaries in the state, having received over Rs 177 crore during the year. Among all the five states, Rajasthan’s per capita old-age pension payments were the worst. Every beneficiary received just Rs 50 a month in pension while being entitled to six times that amount. In Gujarat, there were around 500,000 sanctioned pensioners. But almost 2.2 million beneficiaries received an average Rs 108 every month. Unlike Gujarat, Naxal-affected Jharkhand reported a narrower difference between beneficiaries and sanctioned pensioners. Each beneficiary in the state ended up drawing Rs 69 in 'pension' every month. 

Widow pension: 4.3 million beneficiaries got Rs 394 crore meant for one million widows

The Indira Gandhi Widows Pension Scheme has over one million sanctioned pensioners in these five states. Under the scheme, widows are entitled to an assistance of Rs 300 a month, completely paid from Central funds. As with the old-age pension scheme, states are free to contribute and set their individual limits. Rajasthan, for instance, pays Rs 500 a month to widows and those above the age of 80 years get Rs 750. Andhra Pradesh, meanwhile, pays Rs 1,000 a month. Like the old-age pension scheme, there seems to be a glaring chasm between beneficiaries and sanctioned pensioners. In Andhra Pradesh, there were 340,000 widows marked as sanctioned pensioners but 2.8 million beneficiaries were paid out Rs 283 crore. This works out to be Rs 83 for every beneficiary every month. Had this money been paid to the sanctioned pensioners, each widow would have received Rs 691 every month. 

In Telangana, where farmer suicides have left many BPL families with no male breadwinner, there were close to 200,000 widows for whom money was earmarked. The number of beneficiaries in the state meanwhile was thrice that figure. This meant that every beneficiary received Rs 83 every month – the same as neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. In Rajasthan, money meant for 140,000 sanctioned pensioners was distributed to more than 500,000 beneficiaries with each person getting Rs 42 a month on average. 

The discrepancy recorded in Jharkhand was the least among the five states. While there were 280,000 certified pensioners, 300,000 beneficiaries received the money. However, Jharkhand’s case points to a more peculiar phenomenon. While the discrepancy is lower than in other states, the amount of money which was to be received by certified pensioners is abysmally low – even lower than the amount of money contributed by the Centre under the scheme. Even a certified pensioner would have received only Rs 66 every month. The beneficiaries, meanwhile, seem to have got a little less than that – Rs 62 every month.  

Disability pensions: 550,000 beneficiaries got Rs 68 crore meant for 130,000 disabled

The Indira Gandhi Disability Pension Scheme, also a part of NSAP, provides Rs 300 a month to the differently-abled living below the poverty line. As with other schemes, states can contribute and fix a higher limit for such assistance. Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Rajasthan have reported the maximum differential. In Andhra Pradesh, around 44,000 disabled were certified pensioners but around 270,000 beneficiaries received Rs 36 crore. In Telangana, the number of certified pensioners under the scheme was little over 30,000 but the number of beneficiaries was four times that figure, with each beneficiary getting Rs 125 every month. In Rajasthan and Jharkhand, each beneficiary received Rs 42 and Rs 57, respectively, every month.   

A questionnaire sent to the Minister of Rural Development, Narendra Singh Tomar, did not elicit a response till the time of publication. While these numbers indicate leakages in social security in India, part of the problem lies with the process of identification of beneficiaries, all of whom have to be below the poverty line to get the money. According to NSAP, “The gram panchayats/municipalities are expected to play an active role in the identification of beneficiaries. The state government conveys eligibility criteria to the gram panchayats so that identification can take place in the sabhas or the neighbourhood committees of municipalities.”

The Sumit Bose Committee, which submitted its report to Tomar in January 2017, had presented a solution to make social security payments in India more targeted. It suggested that the government use the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) 2011 database to identify beneficiaries under NSAP instead of relying on the below-poverty-line lists of different states. The report states, “SECC 2011 data has socio-economic profile of elderly, widows and differently-abled persons. In these target populations, everyone except for those living in households that meet the automatic exclusion criteria should be eligible to receive assistance under NSAP.”  



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