“Come September” was a popular, catchy tune that caught our fancies in our adolescent high school years in the early 1970s. In our fertile imagination, fuelled by Hollywood and Bollywood movies of the 1960s, the melody conjured up visions of handsome young men and pretty girls dancing in ritzy restaurants and the ballrooms of five star hotels. Cut to forty odd years later and a different refrain “Come November” occupies the minds of those who, having navigated the corridors of government to eke out a living, are now government pensioners. This has nothing to do with romantic music; it refers to that annual rite of passage to prove one’s existence through the provision of a “life certificate” to continue enjoying pension benefits for yet one more year of one’s life.
But why is this such a big deal, you may ask. To answer this million-rupee question, I will need to go into the convoluted process for securing and submitting this blessed “life certificate”. For starters, the pensioner, who may have his pension account in a branch of a nationalised bank in Delhi and happens to be visiting his daughter in Dharwad, needs to locate a branch of the same bank in Dharwad. This is necessary since branch managers of a particular nationalised bank refuse to accept the certification by their sister (or brother) branch managers of other banks. Many other categories of signatories (including gazetted officers) are specified in the websites of banks, but I find bank managers are quite chary of accepting any individual other than one tied safely to their own bank. I had to go through this experience last November in Bangalore, when I scoured the web for a branch of the said nationalised bank in Bengaluru and was relieved to find one not very far from the place I was staying. You then check on phone when the branch manager is available and free so that your trip to the bank is not wasted. Of course, once I reached the branch, I got immediate service from the manager and was out in fifteen minutes. But this may not necessarily be the experience of everyone who visits a bank branch for this purpose. With the precious “life certificate” in hand, I summoned my friendly neighbourhood auto rickshawallah to reach the nearest post office and despatch the certificate to one of my former associates in Aurangabad (Maharashtra) for onward transmission to my bank manager there.
It is no surprise that this annual ritual is uppermost on the minds of pensioners as October draws to a close. Aged people visiting relatives or on pilgrimages time their schedules to keep November free for this exercise. I wonder what arrangement exists for those who are ill or otherwise incapacitated to complete all these formalities. I know that some banks do maintain that they will arrange to provide the certificate at the house of the sick/infirm person, but how far these instructions have percolated to their rank and file in different locations is a matter of conjecture. In any case, the “life certificate” still has to be posted to the pension-drawing branch and the pensioner is on tenterhooks till she gets confirmation of receipt.
I suggest that we use technology to sort out this issue so that pensioners can be sure of their continued existence on this earth being confirmed in their bank’s records without having to visit the bank or speculate whether the envelope with their “life certificate” has been received in the bank. For those pensioners who are tech-savvy and use internet banking, the bank can incorporate software that allows users to confirm their being alive through a simple click of a button. The usual checks of transaction passwords and specific personal questions can be added to provide reassurance to the bank. For those pensioners who cannot or are not able to access the internet, there should be a provision for them to visit the nearest branch of any bank (or be visited by a branch manager, in the event of their sickness/incapacitation) and show their pension payment orders to the branch manager. The branch manager can then access software which enables him to send the “life certificate” with his digital signature to the pensioner’s bank branch. If funds can be transferred online through RTGS/NEFT mechanisms, there is no reason why a simple certificate cannot be sent through a similar mechanism.
I welcome responses to this piece, especially from my fellow pensioners who feel simpler and pensioner-friendly procedures can be put in place. I intend to bring this issue to the notice of the Secretary of the Department of Pensions, Government of India for ensuring that, at least from 2014 onwards, we hum “Come September” and don’t have the spectre of November hanging over our heads.