FOR as long as I can recall, retired officers have settled down in smaller cities like Jaipur, Pune, Indore and Bhopal. Even after apartment living became an option, smaller cities continue to hold charm; the prospect of a laid-back lifestyle, a garden dotted with winter flowers, and the enjoyment of eating homegrown vegetables sounds like a recipe for contentment. But, unforeseen by some, the need for support systems surfaces as the years pass. This article describes the challenges that older pensioners face and the things the All India Services (AIS) (Rajasthan) Pensioners Association (let’s call them APRAIS for short) has done to surmount those struggles.
But, first, why should AIS retirees need special propping up? Surely everyone has to face the prospect of ageing? What is so different about these pensioners? The main difference is the transferable life that these officers lead, providing them little opportunity to bond with the community, or build durable relationships. Relocated from one district to another, constantly changing departments and offices and, later, alternating between the State capital and Delhi, each move means making a fresh start. No wonder, then, that a retired State Director of Horticulture, who has worked for three decades in the same department, often has more support systems than a retired Chief Secretary!
What do these AIS septuagenarians and octogenarians do once old age sets in? What happens when circulars emanate from New Delhi affecting their pensions and health entitlements? Every question invariably leads to an “it’s all on the website” response. But how does an 80-yearold open the website when he never learned to use a computer? Who will disentangle all the ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘althoughs’ that invariably bind bureaucratictext? Only someone conversant with the stuff can unravel those communications. Alas, at the age of 90, where does one find such a genie?
APRAIS is that genie, the perfect answer to the pensioner’s prayer. The remarkable part is that the association has provided this service not just for a year or two; it has been assisting AIS pensioners for the last 44 years! Striking is also the fact that the association is a coalition of three All-India Services (Administrative, Police and Forests), whose members shared little in common during their service When the saints go marching in years. Only retirement and pensionhood brought them together and keep them connected.
The association was the brainchild of Rajasthan Chief Secretary RD Mathur. When he retired in 1969, he had the astuteness to bring all the retirees from the three services together—with one aim—to apprise them (pun intentional) about changes in their pension and health entitlements. Mathur’s commitment kept the movement alive for the next 20 years until his failing health could no longer cope. It was then that he suggested that formal elections be held, which is how the first elected president, secretary and treasurer took office, along with one vice-president representing each service. Ever since, elections have been held every alternate year and today the association represents the shared interests of more than 600 members (stationed as far as the NCR and Chennai). The number includes 133 spouses of deceased officers (called ‘family pensioners’ in government parlance). The present executive committee will continue until 2014 with Rajendra Shekhar (Retd IPS, 1957) as its president and Prabhat Dayal (Retd IAS, 1982) as the secretary.
Pensioners and pay commissions
So what has APRAIS achieved? Several things, and all meaningful and necessary. When the Fifth and APRAIS is the perfect answer to the pensioner’s prayer. The association has been assisting AIS pensioners for the last 44 years! Sixth Central Pay Commissions were set up, the association highlighted a slew of pension anomalies before a committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary, until solutions were found. It also raised the subject of family pension and got it enhanced for those who have little voice (where and how would the widows have broached this subject?).
But even as numbers carry strength, not everything falls into place easily. That is exactly what the head of the forest service in Rajasthan found to his chagrin. Although the post of the Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) had been re-designated as the Principal CCF and he had been officially promoted to the higher post, when it came to his pension, it was pegged with the lower post. His representations to the State government went unheeded.
An identical case of an officer from Himachal Pradesh had been battled in the High Court and the pensioner had won. But even that order was not given effect to. Instead, the State as well as the Central governments went in appeal to the Supreme Court! Even more astonishing, after the apex court upheld the High Court’s decision, orders were not issued. The former head of the forest service in Rajasthan continued to draw a lower pension. It was only when justice simply could not be denied any longer that his pension was revised from 2011.
The very fact that arrears were paid from 1988 illustrates how long the process took. It is noteworthy that, throughout those hard times, APRAIS supported the beleaguered retired Principal Chief Conservator at every step!
But, sometimes, even when the Government orders are well-intended and explicit, the benefits fail to flow. Despite an enhancement in the pensions of those who attained the age of 80, 85, 90, 95 and 100 having been ordered, the banks continued to ignore the instructions. In May this year, APRAIS’ executive committee met the Chief Secretary, which led to automatic enhancement of the pension for every individual on the due date without insisting on personal presence. How many octogenarians and nonagenarians would have had the physical energy to have pursued this on their own?
Sometimes, quite unwittingly, the use of technology throws up new challenges. Rajasthan prescribed bar-coded medical diaries for pensioners, which soon became a stone around the neck for some. Although well-intentioned, no one realised how cumbersome the bar-coding process could be. It required producing all original documents before the treasury officer, the ultimate mover and shaker for pension matters. For some obtuse reason, this worthy is located in the old city of Jaipur (akin to making a foray into Delhi’s Chandni Chowk).
B Ram (IAS, 1958), a one-time member of the Rajasthan Board of Revenue and now 80 years old, managed to submit his application, but still no diary arrived. In the case of his senior (in age), Mangal Behari (IAS, SCS, 1958), ironically a former Finance Secretary of Rajasthan, a volunteer collected the papers. But even so, Behari (by then 90 years old) could not locate his original pension payment order. This is akin to losing a passport but, miraculously, with the intercession of APRAIS, both the pensioners received their bar-coded diaries. And without having to make expeditions to the old city of Jaipur! In the case of Mangal Behari, the association actually persuaded the bank to loan its copy of the original pension payment order! That the bank obliged speaks volumes for the credibility that the association has built for itself!
But more pitiable than these stories was the plight of AIS widows living in Pune and Kolkata. In their case, formalities would have ordinarily involved not just the State finance department but also the Accountants General in Rajasthan, Pune and Kolkata. The correspondence could easily have been prolonged for another lifetime. But, once again, APRAIS Retired bureaucrats: Vocation for welfare INITIATIVE all-india services (rajasthan) pensioners association played the fairy godmother and resurrected the cases just as they were doomed to dust.
On the general health coverage of AIS pensioners, APRAIS has managed to wheedle out a welcome decision. They are now permitted to avail of medical treatment, both under the Central health scheme as well as the State government’s facilities —provided the pensioners pay dual subscriptions. Why should this matter so much? Because, when an elderly person has been under the treatment of a particular government specialist for years, it is but natural to want to continue with the doctor and the treatment. If that means avoiding the CGHS’ rigmarole of referrals and reimbursements in the bargain, who can object?
Pensioners and State guesthouses
Fortunately, not all things in the lives of retirees revolve around their pensions and health. Travel within the State and to Delhi is a welcome diversion, but occasionally even these forays can pose a challenge. Where to stay and what to pay become big issues for those accustomed to staying at the State guesthouses throughout their long career span. Being treated like outsiders and paying accordingly can hurt one’s pride as well as one’s pocket. But APRAIS managed to convince the Government that retired AIS officers, who stay in State guesthouses, should be charged the same as serving officers on leave. This has given the pensioners some financial relief and certainly recognition for their past services!
The Officers’ Training School has allotted office space and a telephone to the association. Every working day, five APRAIS members are available to respond to questions across the table or on telephone. Nine neighbourhood groups have also been formed, comprising 30-40 members. Smaller clusters respond to seemingly trivial, but critically important, tussles like the need for a driver, domestic help or simply watering the garden. Of course, such issues affect everyone, but older people living alone have no links to fall back on. It is here that the friendly neighbourhood groups suggest temporary solutions until regular arrangements fall into place.
FOR all its good work, the onetime membership fee of Rs 1,000 per member was proving to be inadequate to do anything meaningful, which went beyond the members’ own interests. But, fortunately, the pay commission arrears and enhanced pension helped create a corpus fund which has collected Rs 8 lakh from 160 members.
The association is now reaching out to the less fortunate among the State pensioners. In partnership with Sumedha, an NGO set up some 10 years ago by a former Chief Secretary, the effort is to support children whose families have an annual income less than Rs 1.5 lakh per year, provided the child has secured at least 70 per cent marks in the last public examination and is pursuing a professional course. While sharing the contribution of Rs 10,000 per child, APRAIS will confine its support to the children of retired State government employees only.
Pensioners’ school time
In the meantime, it is back to learning for some members. Starting September this year, the association has organised a one-month computer training programme for interested members, lasting two hours a day. Already 15 ‘trainees’ have enrolled, the oldest nearing the age of 80! The enthusiasm is palpable and the association has decided to increase the capacity if interest grows.
Pensioners’ fun time
Every January, the members meet for lunch at one of the Forest Department’s idyllic retreats. Felicitations are given to those who have crossed the 80th milestone. Thoughtfully, someone quietly digs into the past achievements of each elder and publishes them in Sampark, a newsletter which has been published annually for the last 17 years. This unpretentious little bulletin not only carries key information about pensioners’ benefits and entitlements, but also gives updated contact details of all retired officers and their widowed spouses. The first step towards re-connecting!
An association member, Inderjit Khanna, a former Chief Secretary, had this to say, “If only All-India Services pensioners in other cities understood the benefits of working together as a group! Protection and security are the best takeaways.”