Maya Shinde (name changed), resident of Bhawani Peth, has been diagnosed with HIV and cervical cancer. Daily, she visits the Talathi’s office to request an income certificate. At 65, she does odd jobs at people’s homes and earns Rs 15,000 annually.
“Now I feel extremely tired, have no money and was hoping to apply for monetary assistance from some of the social security schemes. The talathi office tells me there are too many names on the ration card, but I told them my husband and daughter are dead,” she says.
As AIDS day, which falls on December 1, draws near, HIV-positive people in Pune like Maya continue to struggle as several cannot avail of monetary benefits offered by social security schemes. Rules made two decades ago about the minimum criteria for eligibility for social security schemes being an annual family income of Rs 21,000 prevail, which has led many to forego the benefits.
For instance, a scheme like the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Anudan Yojana is applicable to destitute persons of age below 65 years, orphans and those suffering from critical illnesses. Under this scheme, Rs 600 per month is given to a single beneficiary and Rs 900 if there are two or more beneficiaries.
But the annual family income should be below Rs 21,000. Another scheme like Shravan Bal Nivrutti Yojana also provides a monthly cash amount of Rs 600 for destitute persons above 65, and here too the applicants have to meet the criteria of annual family income of less than Rs 21,000.
Manoj Pardeshi, General Secretary of Network of Maharashtra People with HIV (NMP+), said that there are 1.84 lakh HIV-positive people registered with the network. In Pune district, the number is 26,000. “We receive so many complaints every day from people living with HIV applying for this income certificate,” he said.
According to Avinash Shinde, Programme officer with the orphan and vulnerable children project of NMP+, there are several people who are economically backward but their annual income ranges between Rs 30-35,000. Even if the drugs for persons suffering from HIV are free at the anti-retroviral treatment centres, they cannot meet various expenses like hospitalisation and travel costs, Shinde said.
Collectors of each district will be given a memorandum of demands on December 1 by members of NMP+ who have now urged an immediate joint meeting on the issue. Along with providing income certificates for the destitute persons, the NMP+ has also called for free bus passes for persons diagnosed with HIV. When contacted, Divisional Commissioner S Chockalingam said that applications under Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Anudan Yojana are immediately processed.
“Especially in the rural areas, the officers are aware of the known sources of income of the applicant. In the urban areas it becomes very difficult to ascertain that the application is genuine. There are many takers in the rural areas but today, living with just Rs 2,000 per month is a difficult proposition in the urban areas,” he admitted.
However, district collectorate officials too said that the number of officers to verify income sources was limited to just one talathi per lakh population.