Mrunal Manmay Dash

Irregularities in the old-age pension system have become a headache for the Social Security & Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Department (SSEPD) of Odisha.

While there are many beneficiaries awaiting their inclusion in the pension system, there are people like the 90-year-old Katialu Mallik from Badakhani panchayat under Gajapati’s Mohana block who has been running pillar to post for her old-age allowance after she was excluded from the beneficiary list two years back.

“I do not get any allowance. Everybody else is getting it but not me. I am 80 years old. How will I survive if the government will not help me?” asked Mallik.

Similarly, Alekha Kuldip and Madhuri Mallik from Jharigaon block in Nabarangpur district have applied for the allowance many times but in vain.

“The government has launched many schemes, but we cannot get the benefits. There are 30-35-year-old youths who are getting old-age pension but despite being 62, I cannot get my name enrolled in the beneficiary list,” lamented Kuldip.

“I went to everybody including the BDO and Sarpanch urging them to include me in the widow beneficiary list as my husband died years back. But all I received from them was assurance. I have two children. I do not even have a ration card. How will I survive?” asked Madhuri.

The departmental review has exposed the irregularities in the old-age pension system. The letter written by the department secretary to the district collectors after a review in October speaks volumes about how the elderly are being deprived of their rights.

There are 12,405 vacancies in the Madhubabu Pension Scheme and 6,614 seats in the National Security Assistance Scheme. Despite this, it is a matter of regret that eligible applications have not been sanctioned, the principal secretary of the department wrote, adding that due to the DBT disruption, 41,046 beneficiaries of the National Security Pension Scheme have not received the pension money for years.

However, no one seems to care about it. The Secretary expressed concern over this and directed to take immediate action. The most surprising thing is that while the eligible are not getting the allowance, the money is being withdrawn in the name of the deceased beneficiaries. Therefore, BDOs were asked to check every month and exclude ghost beneficiaries, and add the beneficiaries who are awaiting approval.

The opposition has attacked the government after the loophole was exposed in the pension system.

“When the Centre began Aadhaar card linking, Odisha was the first state to deny the advice and said that it would rather deliver cash on the doorsteps of the beneficiaries. This letter to the Collectors is eyewash after the CAG report on ghost beneficiaries in Odisha,” said BJP Spokesperson, Anil Biswal.

“This is only a ploy by the government to make themselves look honest by directing the Collectors to weed out ghost beneficiaries. But before that, the government should catch all those involved in embezzling the money,” said Congress MLA, Taraprasad Bahinipati.

However, the ruling BJD denied the allegations. Ruling party chief whip, Prashant Muduli said, “More than 95 percent of people aged more than 60 are getting allowance in Odisha. So, almost nobody is left out of the scheme.”