70,000 and counting. Out of the 2.2 lakh old age pension and other beneficiaries in Punjab,a whopping 70,000 have been found to be fake or ineligible. This includes several thousand dead people on whose names pension is being disbursed.
The state Department of Social Security,which started the exercise of weeding out ineligible old age pensioners following directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court,has till now gathered data from 16 districts of Punjab. The number of fake and ineligible beneficiaries is expected to be much more when the final counts come in. The statewide drive is being carried out by social security officials in villages,where a physical check is being made of the person listed as beneficiaries.
A similar exercise was carried out in Punjab in 2011 following high court orders. It led to the removal of almost 30,000 people from the lists of beneficiaries. This included thousands who had died long ago but their families were drawing pension on their name.
According to department officials,this time,the exercise also includes fixing of responsibility of the official concerned who got the fake name included in the list. The name of the erring official will also be provide to the high court. The initial list of such officials include mainly village sarpanchs,who along with a committee of panchs and an anganwari worker,enlist eligible persons for the pension. Sources said this time,the number of fake beneficiaries is much more,as the government had done away with the system of pensions first being sent to banks and then to the beneficiaries.
Earlier,the sarpanchs were made the sole incharge of disbursing pensions. It had led to a plethora of false names being added to the lists of beneficiaries. Sources claimed sarpanchs are not working alone in the system and that the pension scheme is used by local leaders to reward their supporters. Other than old-age-pension,where the number of fake beneficiaries is the highest,the department has also undertaken a verification drive of widow pension and disabled category beneficiaries. However,sources said not many fake names or ineligible persons draw pensions in such categories.
Simultaneously,the department has also undertaken a drive to shift the entire system of disbursal of old age pension through banks. Pilot projects have been launched in some districts for the purpose. The Punjab government gives old age pension to women above 58 years and to men above 65 years. The pension,however,is meager at Rs 250 per month.
Despite the low amount,the scheme has been ridden with scams. Largescale bungling in the preparation of these lists was discover in 1998,2002 and again in 2010. In 2002,the government had banned payment to over 1.08 lakh bogus pensioners in the state.