By Gizala Shabnam, Kargil, August 27 Huddled near the 'thup' (traditional hearth) in a dimly lit room, sixty-three year old Tashi Palmo eyes the stranger in her house with a mixed expression. ANI | 4 months ago

Her small house in a remote village of Kargil district receives few visitors. The widow raises her eyebrows and asks, "Yearang social pa ina? (Are you from the Social Welfare Department?)" A no for an answer dashes her hopes yet again - she has been expecting someone from the department to turn up.

Three years ago, Palmo, a resident of Garkhone village nearly ninety kilometres from Kargil town, had applied for the old age pension scheme. For a woman abandoned by her children and forced to live on the occasional charity of her neighbours, such Government schemes are her only ray of hope.

The Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme launched under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) was sought to help women like Palmo who belong to financially weaker sections in rural areas. The NSAP which came into effect on 15th August, 1995, introduced a National Policy for Social Assistance for the poor and aims at ensuring minimum national standard for social assistance in addition to the benefits that states are currently providing or might provide in future.

But the good intention of this programme, even after almost two decades of its launch, is yet to be translated into action on the ground. Palmo, despite having applied for the scheme for three years now, is yet to receive the benefits of the scheme.

The Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, implemented under the social welfare schemes, entitles elderly people (60 years and above) who are below the poverty line, to receive a princely sum of two hundred rupees a month.

While the Social Welfare Department of Kargil claims to have reached out to beneficiaries located in the farthest of villages in Kargil, people like Palmo reveal the other side of the story. "I have submitted every document required for the qualification but haven't received any income from the welfare department," rues Palmo.

Fatima Banoo, daughter of a sixty-one year old widow Zainab from Kartse Khar village, claims her mother has not received any sum for the last two years despite having applied for the scheme. Zainab, like Palmo, lives alone and has no one but her unemployed daughter to provide for her, and waits with little hope for the government officials to take action on her application.

The majority of widows and elderly in the far off villages are completely oblivious to any schemes available as the department has failed noticeably to move past the urban borders. The vigilant ones like Palmo have their own share of difficulties. The social welfare department has been very unfair, they assert, in accepting applications from the beneficiaries.

Another major reason for them to remain excluded from the beneficiaries' list is their inability to have regular access to the welfare departments owing to the long distances. Despite having ample funds to support their beneficiaries, the social welfare department remains limited to the accessible areas only. Consequently, widows and elderly cannot afford to travel everyday to the department offices to follow up on their claims, only to be sent back empty handed. For an individual like Palmo with almost nothing to survive on, travelling such a long distance and paying an amount of more than two hundred rupees, only to return unsuccessful, seems virtually hopeless.

Furthermore, the meagre amount offered by government doesn't give enough reasons to these beneficiaries to strive for these schemes. Fifty-nine year old Zainab Bano, who hails from the border village of Hundurman Broq, deems it highly impractical to travel all the way to town that requires her to spend more than she can afford. With no public transport services available, Zainab has to resort to private vehicles which require her to pay more than the amount these schemes ensure.

The worst is for people like Palmo who sometimes have to stay back in town, renting rooms and paying transportation charges which renders the whole process unfruitful.

Jahan Bee from Kartse Khar who has been availing her entitlement for the last five years, believes that the amount offered is too modest and does not suffice to support her children. Her son, studying to complete his matriculation, works part time in a store to ensure monthly ration for the family.

The Union Government had increased the amount of widow pension to Rupees four hundred per month in year 2010, which is yet to be implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, clearly reflecting the apathy of the state government towards its own people.

It is pertinent to note that, during the last Assembly session, the State Government had given an assurance after CPI-M legislator MY Tarigami had decided to press the private member resolution seeking increase in the financial assistance to the widows, old-aged people and other persons. While the State Government has doubled the salaries of legislators in the last four years, no heed has been paid towards the plight of widows, elderly and differently-abled persons.

There is little to show for the schemes other than the good intentions mentioned on Government websites, feels the Charkha Development Communication Network. The tedious task of travelling long distances, pleading several times before the concerned officers and, if lucky, getting an amount that would barely compensate for the hard work invested, defeats the very purpose of these schemes. In such a situation, the struggle for life of this destitute lot continues silently in this part of the country, disconnected as it already is from the rest of the world for six months each winter.

(Posted on 27-08-2014)

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