A day at the pension pay office reveals senior citizens’ helplessness and bureaucratic ineptitude
In 2004, Savithri (name changed) lost her husband. A month after his demise, she went to the pension pay office in Egmore to avail of the family pension. It took her more than three months of running around, and several visits to the office from her home which is over 15 kilometres away, to finally get the procedure completed, and to avail of the benefits.
“For someone who has to start afresh, and does not know whom to approach, it was very challenging. I was asked to approach several people, some of whom were unresponsive. By the time I got all the documents and formalities sorted, I was worn out and frustrated,” she recalled, adding that the fact that she could not hear well only added to her distress.
Almost eight years later, little seems to have changed. On a hot Friday morning, frail 60-year old Santhana Mary had arrived to make a thumb impression at the office. When she went to the office on the first floor at 10. 15 a.m., she said she was directed to wait downstairs, where an official would come. Santhana, who could not entirely comprehend the instructions, came out of the building, and settled on an open bench, and waited, almost endlessly, without knowing whom she had to see and where she had to go.
“My husband worked as a watchman, and it is his pension that I am getting now. They said someone will come,” she said. Santhana, who could muster up just enough energy to speak, added that the Rs. 500 pension that she gets is just enough for her monthly expenses. “I borrow money to travel from my son when I have to come,” she said, before she eventually fell asleep on the bench after waiting for an hour in the wrong place.
Among the litany of woes at the office where the youngest people the staff deals with is at least 60 years old, is the waiting time on most days, and the state of the restrooms. The first floor has four restrooms in total, two for men, and two for women, which has to be shared by the staff of the office and the pensioners. All of them are in poor condition.
According to a source, the delays sometimes are inevitable given that the number of staff members were inadequate to handle the increasing number of pensioners each year.
“We spend the first half of the day just attending to enquiries, and get little time to process the applications and procedures which lead to the delay,” he said, adding that they handle close to 1 lakh pension accounts.
He added that some delays recently had also been caused because of a new online programme which had been introduced. “Since it was a new system, some people made errors which we had to correct,” he said.
However, not all pensioners were willing to brand the processes cumbersome, and the office unfriendly. Saraswati K. who worked as a hospital staff member, and has been receiving her pension for 15 years, observed that she had faced absolutely no hassles so far.
“On most days my work gets completed within an hour. If you have all your documents in place, the delay is minimum,” she said.