SPARSH will create unending problems for the pensioners, widows and disabled veterans, and as such, should have been discussed with veterans before commencing its implementation
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
SPARSH is an integrated system for automation of sanction and disbursement of pensions to defence veterans and families. The scheme was ostensibly initiated on the premise to save the money being paid to the banks as the pension disbursement authority (PDA) in the existing scheme. Under SPARSH, the pension will keep coming to respective banks of the pensioners but the control will be transferred to the PCDA. SPARSH envisages establishment of Service Centres to provide last mile connectivity to pensioners who may be unable to directly access the SPARSH portal for any reason. For this, a chain of additional Service Centres are to be established across India on permanent basis.
This would involve acquiring accommodation for the Service Centre and the staff, expenditure on establishment of the set up and recruiting additional PCDA personnel replete with pay and perks, faster promotions with NFU, and recurring expenditure. In addition, fresh deal has been signed with SBI and PNB to act as Service Centre for undisclosed amount. It would no doubt help the bureaucracy to recruit more PCDA personnel to man the additional Service Centre but the overall costs will end up manifold than what is supposedly being saved from payment to banks as PDA.
Bulk of the veterans, disabled and widows especially JCOs and soldiers live in villages and most do not possess laptops or androids
SPARSH will create unending problems for the pensioners, widows and disabled veterans, and as such, should have been discussed with veterans before commencing its implementation. Bulk of the veterans, disabled and widows especially JCOs and soldiers live in villages and most do not possess laptops or smart phones. Moreover, the network of Service Centres planned is unlikely to be within easy reach of all pensioners. The least that should have been done is that if fresh deal was signed with SBI and PNB to act as Service Centres, then why not with all banks?
With 60,000 personnel retiring annually from the Army alone, how are pensioners supposed to access SPARSH from the Service Centres or SBI/PNB? How many service points will a Service Centre have for the pensioners to log on to SPARSH? SBI and PNB will unlikely have more than one. How long the waiting lines will be at the Service Centre?
The process of data transfer of earlier batches, post January 2016, from bank PDA to SPARSH reportedly commenced in October/November 2021. Data transfer of pre-2016 pensioners to SPARSH is underway. But reports of non-credit of pensions during September, October and November 2021 in many cases proves that data transfer of pensioners from Bank (CPPC) to SPARSH (CPPC) has major problems. Obviously no attention has been paid towards detection, flagging and spot rectification of errors pre-existing in such databases, prior to bringing pensioners under SPARSH. Do the policy makers realise the pain of aged pensioners, disabled and widows who survive solely on pensions?
SPARSH will become a boon for scamsters and hackers who will exploit the user ID and password of pensioners
On transfer from bank PDA to SPARSH, pensioners are to receive user ID (permanent?) and password (supposedly temporary which can be changed) but what about pensioners who do not receive the user ID and password due to absence of or incorrect mobile numbers and/or e-mail IDs? What about many pensioners’ inability to interpret what the message is all about and deleting it? Has the aged Sepoy Bhup Singh living in a remote area been apprised what is coming and has he understood what he is supposed to do?
SPARSH will become a boon for scamsters and hackers who will exploit the user ID and password of pensioners; intercepting them and sending fake messages to pensioners on behalf of SPARSH. Already there are reports of a pensioner having lost 45,000. What are pensioners to do in such instances – report cyber crimes and twiddle their thumbs? What are the safeguards against the technically unaware and aged pensioners getting duped and criminally exploited? What about vulnerable segment of pensioners being exploited when forced to use internet cafes etc to activate and access their SPARSH account?
A veteran General who served as Senior Directing Staff (Army) at the National Defence College, New Delhi writes, “I think SPARSH is going to create lot of confusion. CGDA wants the handle, but do they have the wherewithal? Were the Services HQ consulted? The Services HQ cannot play the ostrich; they have to take the initiative and express our concerns. Serving people will become ESM tomorrow. CDA(O) can handle 60 odd thousand officers. They are captive to them. They can simply deduct in case of overpayment. Try doing this to ESM. Court will intervene. It is a different ball game. There are so many complaints, anomalies, policy confusions. Will the CGDA be able to handle all this in the new scheme? Since banks are not party to it anymore, they will simply say buzz off. Finally, before taking any major policy decisions we must see how this is going to be implemented. My greatest concern is we are forgetting Sepoy Bhup Singh. In the far flung areas of our land will he be able to access all these? There is a saying don't trouble trouble, till trouble troubles you.”
Knowing the soldiers, their families and the responsiveness of PCDA (Pensions), SPARSH will create more problems for veterans than before
Most significantly, as of today PCDA (Pensions) have not even been able to solve the existing issues of veterans, their families and the disabled. Knowing the soldiers, their families and the responsiveness of PCDA (Pensions), SPARSH will create more problems for veterans than before. This will be in complete contrast to celebrating the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, ceremonies at the National War Memorial and honouring veterans of the 1971 war. SPARSH no doubt will expand the empire of the PCDA but the ground situation is similar, if not more about the hype over online education of youth where only 70 per cent of children in India have access to online education.
Today the situation is that pensioners who do not receive the pension and do manage to get through to the CDA in Allahabad are told that this is because of a “glitch in the software”. But what about those who cannot get through and the glitch persists? Cursing policy makers in desperation will not solve their woes. The issue of SPARSH and its hasty implementation requires urgent review and personal intervention of the Defence Minister.