The Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC) has directed the state government to improve its system to disburse pension to retired artistes after payment to over 3,000 of them was delayed between 2009 and 2014.
In 1954, the state government’s culture department had enacted a pension scheme for aged and retired folk artistes in acknowledgment of their contribution to society. Over the years, the honorarium was regularly revised keeping rising costs in mind and, according to a Government Resolution issued in 2014, was increased to Rs 2,100 a month for ‘A Category’ artistes, Rs 1,800 for ‘B Category’ and Rs 1,500 for those in ‘C Category’.
The responsibility of the disbursement had been entrusted to zilla parishads in each district, where committees had been formed to process applications from artistes and to deposit their pensions.
In 2009, however, as applications kept piling up, approvals were granted at an extremely slow pace, resulting in delayed payments. The situation continued until 2014, the year that pension amounts were last revised.
The culture department informed the commission that the payments were disbursed late as proposals were stuck with the finance department.
However, the finance department denied those claims. Inquiries revealed that the district committees constituted to approve pension applications had been delaying submitting their reports to the state government, resulting in payments being delayed.
The situation was rectified in 2015, when Rs 48.46 crore was sanctioned to pay the artistes’ pensions. M A Sayeed, the commission’s acting chairman and member, stated in his order there was a need for better co-ordination between the culture and finance departments.
He recommended in last week’s order that the government should rope in Jeevan Pramaan, the central government authority which provides digital life certificates to pensioners, to ease the process of obtaining life certificates from artistes every year.
The commission also recommended using the state government’s digital locker service to enable the retired artistes to upload, verify and submit their personal identification documents. “This will ensure that the process of document verification is hassle-proof, more organised, transparent and accountable thus in turn reducing the reasons for administrative delays arising in implementation of this scheme,” states the order.
The state government was also ordered to set up a toll free helpline number to “address queries/assist beneficiaries facing difficulty in an application form, receiving of pension etc”.