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After 60,000 veterans fume about delayed April pensions, defence ministry promises payout today

The Ministry of Defence has granted 58,275 pensioners time until 25 May 2022 to get their identification data updated on SPARSH online system.

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New Delhi: Nearly 60,000 Army veterans, including Commander-rank officers, were left fuming after their pensions for the month of April were withheld for lack of Digital Life Certificate (DLC), a process which declares that they are alive.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has now granted a “one-time special waiver” to all the affected veterans, to submit their identity papers by 25 May, and said pensions pending for the month of April in the case of the 58,275 pensioners will be credited by the end of the day on 4 May 2022.

However, many of the veterans argue that the digital way of submission is actually cumbersome.

The Ministry of Defence said in a statement that it was found during the processing of pension for the month of April that the “annual identification” of around 3.3 lakh pensioners “was not updated”.

“A list was shared with all Pension Disbursing Banks to share updated identification data, if any, and as a result identification status of more than 2.65 lakh pensioners was updated on SPARSH by 25 April 2022 leading to successful processing of pension for all these pensioners,” the statement said.

“However, banks (the previous Pension Disbursing Agency) could not confirm identification for 58,275 pensioners and neither was their identification received directly on SPARSH by the time of monthly closing. Hence, these pensioners were not paid their April pension by 30 April 2022,” it added.

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What is SPARSH?

First implemented by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in July 2021, SPARSH is an online integrated system designed to perform automated sanctioning and disbursement of pensions to veterans.

As part of the identification process, SPARSH requires the submission of a Digital Life Certificate (DLC) into the system as proof of living, a process which all pensioners were to have undergone in November 2021 to facilitate the switchover from the old in-person banking system to digitisation.

“The need for SPARSH has been felt to obviate and address the current challenges in the pension sanctioning and disbursement process such as decentralised solution existing in silos, manual intervention in processing, lack of centralised information for addressing pensioner queries etc,” the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts website says.

“SPARSH will include all the processes and functionalities needed in the pension processing life cycle, i.e. initiation to disbursement facilitated through a single source of truth,” it adds.

However, this switchover seems to be encountering operational issues, resulting in several veterans landing on the receiving end of errors and delays, a source familiar with the matter told ThePrint.

“Earlier, all you had to do was go to the bank to submit your personal details, such as your Aadhaar, and collect your pension. After SPARSH came into being, we received one message to verify details but the year of birth was listed [by default] in the system as 1901. I was told to correct it and send it back, but we don’t have the user privileges to make changes to the system on our end,” the source said.

The source further added that he was among veterans who did not receive any further communication from the PCDA, adding that over 60 per cent of veterans are likely in the same boat as him.

“We have now entered May, and it will start eating into our personal funds. The budget allocation is not the issue, rather it is this migration from the banks to the [centralised] PCDA. Think of elderly veterans based in rural areas,” the source told ThePrint, stating that this is the first time veterans are facing such a delay.

Author, lawyer and former Indian Territorial Army officer Maj. Navdeep Singh concurred that numerous Army veterans have faced these delays due to this switchover to SPARSH.

“The ones who are not tech savvy will face the maximum brunt. Though I hear helplines have been established to tide over these teething issues,” Singh said.

‘Mundane reason’

Earlier this week, multiple veterans of the Indian Army reported a delay in the reciept of their pensions for the month of April.

Major General Rajan Kochhar of the Central Command, and Colonel Hunny Bakshi, a former commanding officer of the Technical Support Division (TSD), which was set up following the 26/11 attacks, were among those who voiced these concerns on social media.

The bank transferred the pension over the weekend but I am yet to receive it, said Col. Bakshi.

Maj. Gen. Kochhar, who had similar complaints, said it is upsetting that something as “mundane” as the DLC is the reason behind the delay, despite the fact that the certificate had been submitted at the bank in November 2021.

Former general officer commanding-in-chief of the Western Command, Lt Gen. Kamal Jit Singh, along with Lt Gen. D.S. Hooda, former general officer commanding-in-chief of the Northern Command, also raised similar concerns.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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