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IN THE first signs of the SAD-BJP government feeling the heat of demonetisation in the poll-bound state, the Punjab Cabinet on Monday toyed with the idea of disbursing old-age pension and pension in a few other categories through cheques as cash crunch hit the disbursals. Although not an agenda item, sources said, the proposal was deliberated upon in the wake of pensioners facing difficulties in getting cash due to demonetisation induced cash crunch. There was consensus that beneficiaries should be paid in cheques.
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At present in rural areas, each village sarpanch draws the pension for beneficiaries and disburses it among them, getting their signatures or thumb impressions as acknowledgment.
“The idea was discussed to pay pension cheques to individual beneficiaries as village sarpanches were facing problems in drawing cash collectively for the beneficiaries in the village,” an Akali minister told The Indian Express.
“It would be relatively easy for the beneficiary to encash the cheque on individual basis,” the minister said.
In January this year, the Punjab government had enhanced the old age pension, widow pension, pension for destitute ladies, physically challenged and dependent children from Rs 250 to Rs 500.
Though the track record of ruling SAD-BJP alliance has not been much impressive in releasing the pension timely and on monthly basis, with elections round the corner, government was looking forward to streamline the disbursals. The shortage of cash due to demonetisation, however, derailed the government’s plans.
“Now, if two months’ pension is due, the beneficiary will get cheque of Rs 1,000 each,” said an Akali minister. There are nearly 18 lakh beneficiaries of old age pension alone in Punjab. Nearly 90 crore is the monthly budget to pay the old age pension.
The cabinet gave what an official said “ex post facto” approval to the discretionary grant, which is at the disposal of Chief Minister, deputy chief minister and ministers, used over and above in some cases. According to officials, as per budgetary provisions, the discretionary grants at the disposal of CM, deputy CM and cabinet ministers were enhanced by Rs 1 crore each, with CM entitled for a grant of Rs 6 crore and Cabinet ministers Rs 3 crore annually.