Why Life Certificates For Pensioners At All?

I remember taking my father, most probably in 1989, to his pension issuing bank branch thinking that he must have had some banking business to do. Arriving at the branch we entered the chamber of the bank manager whom my father knew well. After the customary ‘hi, Hellos’ there followed a casual chat, and then we left. I was curious as I saw none of the usual withdrawals or deposits or anything of the banking sort done there. So, I asked my father what was the purpose of the visit to which my father, with an ironic smile, said that he had to ‘show his face’ to the bank proving that he was still alive and kicking. Yes, every retiring or superannuating person from central or state governments or any other government organizations in India (I’m not aware of procedures followed in other countries) have to ‘show his/her fact’ to the issuing bank in the month of November every year mandatorily so that his/her pension is not interrupted. This is called Life Certificate to guarantee the continuation of the pension. I did not like it from that time—why to force people, some of them being very old and with illnesses, to compulsorily visit the bank just to prove s/he is alive. Why at all?


Over the decades there have been various certificate forms to be signed by the pensioner physically present at the banks apart from showing the face to familiar bank managers to generate the life certificates. With the launch of Jeevan Pramaan in November 2014 (a site and also a mobile app for pensioners to generate life certificates digitally) and the launch of Digital India to improve internet connectivity in the rural areas the Life Certificate exercise became digital and Aadhaar card linked. The Jeevan Pramaan (evidence of being alive) site is friendly guiding the registered users to get to know about generating life certificates from their homes. However, it is not that easy as it sounds.


When it was my turn to superannuate, in the month of November itself in 2019, I had to know all about this procedure notwithstanding my inherent dislike. I asked several of my retired colleagues about how to do it. They all said that it could be done online now. Therefore, in November 2020, with COVID-19 restrictions very much in force, I tried to do it online. I registered in Jeevan Pramaan with the normal OTP business and became a user. But, I found that to generate the life certificate I must buy a biometric device from outside, register that with the authority and to attach it to my computer or smartphone in order to authenticate the application with fingerprint o iris scan. Finding it a cumbersome process I gave it up.


I had then finally to go to my pension-issuing bank branch and was horrified to find queues of eagerly waiting old and frail pensioners without any social distancing and the process was extremely slow. I had no other alternative but to join the queue hoping for the best, even though I knew one always-helpful lady executive there very well; because I did not want to jump the queue considering the fact that most of the people there were much older than me. As luck would have it, the lady noticed me waiting and fidgeting impatiently due to violations of norms by the very people whom the governments always asked to stay at home safely, and called me over to her counter. I produced my Aadhaar card, my pension book containing the Pension Pay Order no. and gave these to her. It was done under five minutes taking my fingerprint on the attached device. Relieved, but with sense of guilt seeing the older people still waiting, I walked away with a copy of the life certificate she gave me.


Now, to the question of why at all these certificates are needed. Well, it can be said that without this ‘proof’ the death of any pensioner may not be reported to the bank in which case the next of kin would go on drawing the full pension, perhaps indefinitely; but that is not possible for two reasons: first, most bank branches have a locality-based clientele and the word-by-mouth always reaches them; second, most of the families losing the primary pensioner would consider completing the process of the ‘family pension’ issue more important. However, this problem of possible fraudulent practice cannot be resolved by the life certificates. Because, the certificate is generated on a particular date of November when the holder is declared to be alive, now if, unfortunately, the pensioner dies the next day or days later the bank would face exactly the same problem of getting the information.


Majority of the Indian population cannot afford a smartphone or laptops or desktops, forget about the biometric devices, and despite Digital India the rural areas still suffer from the connectivity hassles as have been proved in the lockdowns with most of the rural students getting deprived of online classes. Besides, many among those who can afford the devices financially do not possess the technical knowhow. The net result of all this is that during the month of November every year the bank branches or the Jeevan Pramaan centers are always crowded with old people which is unpardonable not only in pandemic times, but also otherwise, forcing them to come out of homes—some tottering with sticks, some frail and weak and some with illnesses.


So why should the life certificates be compulsory or for that matter necessary at all? Why should it not be scrapped like the Modi Government has done with so many archaic laws or practices? The banking business has been extensively personalized in recent years with millions of phone calls made every day to customers on various schemes or benefits. So, why don’t they just make it routine to redirect some of these calls to their pension-drawing customers, maybe twice or thrice in a year as the most effective way of finding out if they are still alive or not? The inherent problems of generating life certificates have also helped the emergence of ‘agents’ who are ready to come to your home to do it on the spot for you, of course, for a handsome amount ejected out of you. This is one more of the undesirable results of the unnecessary practice of life certificates. I’m not suggesting that people should not acquire new and newer knowledge about easier digital ways; I’m only saying this particular practice does not serve any purpose.