We were declared dead, but now we’re alive

February 18th, Salgadih Village, Khunti District, Jharkhand

The National Old Age Pension Scheme provides financial security to over 19.2 million people over the age of 60 in India. For many, the small yet vital sum comes after jumping through many loopholes in the system. Community Correspondent Amita Tuti found one such case in Salgadih and recorded a video, which eventually helped Omto Devi and three other women receive the benefits due to them.

In 2013 the four women had been mysteriously stopped receiving their monthly old-age pension, a sum of around INR 500 per month, from the government. This pension was their only source of income. On visiting the bank, they found that they had been declared dead in the beneficiary list. The inspector who had visited the village to corroborate the list had not found them at home and therefore struck them off, no questions asked.

A 2013 survey report of the National Old Age Pension Scheme in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh confirms that there are several delays in getting elderly their pensions- this includes delays from the bank; difficulties in getting to banks as well as a few instances of corruption. It lays down certain recommendations to improve the system including an increase in the sum given out as the present amount is inadequate to cover medical and food expenses. 

For two years the women faced extreme financial hardships, becoming dependant on the goodwill of their family members and neighbours for meeting daily costs. Not confident of visiting officials, they let the matter be. Amita who has made other videos on challenges faced by people in accessing benefits says that there are some fundamental ways in which the system is flawed. She says:

"Many of the lower level officials don't do their jobs properly. In this case for instance, there should have been a public notice of the officer coming to do the check, the panchayat sevak (administrator at the village level) should have had a proper list and should have been aware of the situation with Omto Devi. This wasn't the case. Officers at a Block and District level in turn depend on accounts from the field but rarely go to visit confirm whether things are working as they should."

Amita visited the office of the Block Development Officer and the Chief Officer with the video. She took along Omto Devi and the other beneficiaries. Kanuram Nag, the Chief Officer was quick to help once he became aware of the mistake that had been made. Immediately he got the women's name added on the list. Two months later the money (a revised sum of INR 600 per month) started appearing in their bank accounts.

"I've never worked on a story where change has come so fast, so this was a new and rather heartening experience. For both, the women and me it reinforced the belief that if officials are co-operative and attentive when problems are brought to their notice, challenges will be overcome. For people in my community, who feel scared and unconfident to approach officials with problems, this is an important learning, one that reinforces the importance of starting such dialogues," shares Amita.

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