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Rajasthan’s living dead: Thousands of pensioners without Aadhaar or bank accounts struck off lists


Some of the most vulnerable people have been denied meagre pensions due to errors in linking their details with Aadhaar numbers.


On July 11, Rajsamand district’s Kushalpura panchayat held a ratri chaupal. District collector Archana Singh arrived to listen to the grievances of villagers at the late evening meeting at the village square. The majority of villagers there had complaints about irregularities in their social security pensions.


They asked why they had not got their Rs 500-Rs 750 monthly pensions under the National Social Assistance Programme for months. Though meagre, these pensions are the main source of sustenance for the elderly, widows and the disabled, who are the most deprived even in relatively better-off households.


Hazaari Singh, a frail man in his 70s had walked a kilometre with the help of a walking stick to attend the meeting. “Why was my pension stopped last October?” he asked “Whom should I approach to get it back?”


The district collector offered Singh the plate of cashew nuts set on the table in front of her to calm him down. But Singh would have none of it. “Please eat the kaaju-badaam (dried fruits) yourself,” he retorted. “All I ask is, give my pension back.”


Singh had already made several unsuccessful trips to the panchayat head and the block office to enquire about his pension. That night, he returned empty-handed once again to the half-built structure that he lives in on the side of his son’s one-room house.


‘Power of disruption’


Rajasthan has 68.6 lakh pension beneficiaries who fall in the old age, widows and disabled categories.


In October 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of Aadhaar, India’s biometric-based identity number for residents, to access public benefits like pensions and provident fund was voluntary, not mandatory.


But the Rajasthan government started the process of seeding or linking the Aadhaar numbers of all pension beneficiaries to bank accounts in March of that year.


In Rajasthan, along with Aadhaar, pensioners details were also to be linked to the Bhamashah database that the Rajasthan government has created building on the Aadhaar infrastructure so that it can transfer benefits to recipients directly and in a transparent manner.


By June, the state government claimed that it had saved Rs 600 crore by stopping pensions for 3.5 lakh beneficiaries and cancelling pensions for 7 lakh beneficiaries. The 7 lakh figure included 2.97 lakh pensioners declared dead and 1.7 lakh duplicates.


Nandan Nilekani, the former chairperson of the Unique Identification Authority of India that administers the Aadhaar project, has described the transition to the biometrics-based system as a “period of disruption” in which it will be “up to individual players to take advantage”.


But in Rajasthan, the disruption comes at a huge cost to the elderly, women and the disabled.


When the Rajasthan government shifted pension payments from local post offices to banks as part of the switch to Aadhaar-based payments, the names of several thousands of pension beneficiaries were simply struck off lists if they had failed to open a bank account or enrol in Aadhaar, or if E- Mitras, the local e-governance service providers, linking the details of beneficiaries with their Aadhaar numbers online made errors while doing so.


Thus, across the state, beneficiaries who are alive have been declared dead in official records.


Dead on paper


In Kushalpura, though not declared dead, Hazaari Singh found out in late July, two weeks after the ratri chaupal, that his pension was being credited into someone else’s bank account.


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