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How appeal to govt for pension turns into painful struggle for destitute

By Hirra Azmat

Srinagar, Apr 10: Nearing 60 and ailing, Khadija has no one to look after her.
Her life is a constant struggle for survival, solely dependent on her married daughter, who visits her occasionally with monetary help.
Fifteen-months-ago, her husband, a labourer, died from a prolonged illness.
And three weeks later, she turned to the Social Welfare Department for widow pension, which is yet withheld for the clearance of her case by the authorities concerned.
“My husband’s death pushed me to the brink. Had it not been for my daughter, who helps me monetarily, I will be on begging on the roads,” she says.
Sitting next to Khadija in the Social Welfare Department’s office in Old Secretariat here, Hajra Begum, a widow, breathes heavily while sifting through the official papers in a dog-eared file.
Acute pain in the joints makes movement a struggle for her. However, Hajra says she cannot afford a fresh appointment with her doctor.
Since the death of her husband two-years-ago, she has been pursuing her case for widow pension.
“So far, all my efforts have proven futile, as I have received no relief from the government,” Hajra says.
While Hajra completed narrating her ordeal, four other widows ascended the stairs of the decrepit building housing the department, all panting and sighing with no relief in sight.
“We have been making rounds of the department, but to no avail,” one of them says.
As per the official figures, around 65,000 pension cases, including that of widows and senior citizens, have been awaiting disposal by the Social Welfare Department.
Under the Integrated Social Security Scheme (ISSS) and National Social Assistance Programme, financial assistance of Rs 1,000 per month is offered by the department to old-age persons, widows, physically challenged, and people living below the poverty line.
As on date, 2,42,668 people get help under ISSS while 78,658 are getting benefits from the NSAP in the Kashmir division.
The data reveals that the department presently spends Rs 327 crore annually on these cases.
An official acknowledges that they have many cases pending with them and the number keeps on increasing by the day.
“Old-age, widow, and disability pension cases have not been cleared by the government due to a paucity of funds,” he says.
He says no verification has been done since 2008.
“We have no idea if the people who benefit under this scheme are genuine or not, as no verification has been conducted in the last one decade,” the official says.
Director Social Welfare Department, Kashmir, Mohammad Qasim Wani, says the department has been making efforts for benefits to 65,000 applicants.
“The department is going to conduct a verification to weed out the undeserving cases and replaced by genuine people. The issue has been raised with the government to provide redressal at the earliest,” Wani, who recently took over as the Director, says.
“The minister of the department has taken the issue very seriously to ensure all the deserving get benefitted under the welfare schemes.”