Despite digital life certificates, aged pensioners face harrowing experiences during submission

All pensioners must submit a life certificate by November 30th every year in order to continue receiving pension. While the process was digitised with the intent to minimise the physical presence of aged citizens, the experience has been far from seamless for many.

All those who draw pension from the Employees  Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) under the Employees’ Pension Scheme, 1995 must submit a ‘life certificate’ attested by a gazetted officer by November 30 each year to continue receiving pension. Those who fail to do face the prospect of having their pension withheld until the submission of the certificate.

The entire process involved had come under fire for being very time consuming and inconsiderate of the needs and health conditions of old and ailing pensioners who had to wait in long queues to submit the life certificate. Pensioners who have moved locations after retirement also faced problems in submitting the life certificate. With a view to addressing these issues, the process was digitised in November 2014, so that pensioners would be able to generate and submit a life certificate online.

What is a digital life certificate?

A digital life certificate is an Aadhaar-linked biometric-authenticated proof of life certificate that can be submitted by pensioners in place of the physical life certificates that had been in use traditionally.  

Pensioners can generate this life certificate online through the Jeevan Pramaan portal, launched in 2014. The app for the same is available for Android and iPhones and for PC. Details of the pensioner’s bank account, Aadhaar number, registered mobile number with the bank and pension payment orders are to be submitted at the portal to generate the digital life certificate. However, pensioners require STQC-certified biometric device, which must be purchased separately.

In the absence of biometric authentication devices available with the pensioners, they must submit the above details at the portal after which Aadhaar-based authentication through fingerprint and retina scan must be completed at the nearest Citizen Service Center, or the office of the pension disbursing agency such as post office, banks and treasury offices and regional provident fund offices. 

To locate citizen service centers, pensioners can send an SMS to 7738299899. The SMS body must start with the keyword “JPL” and after space write your pin-code e.g. JPL 110003 and send it to 7738299899. Once the authentication is complete, the digital life certificate is sent to the pensioner. The certificate is also then automatically sent to the pension-issuing authority. Once that is completed, there is no need to visit the bank.

Pensioners can download the digital life certificate to keep a copy with them. The certificate, however, has to be renewed periodically and the validity is specified in the certificate generated.

Alternative to digital certificate

For those who are not tech savvy or unable to procure the digital certificate, a physical life certificate can be submitted to a bank branch which disburses your pension. A form for the same can be filled out at the bank branch and authorised by the bank manager. To complete this process, pensioners must submit Aadhaar number, address, contact number, permanent account number (PAN), date of birth of spouse and email address. 

On-ground travails

Despite the availability of online and offline solutions for the submission of life certificate, complaints have been pouring in from pensioners about the travails faced on the ground.

Many feel that the one-month window for the submission of the certificate from November 1st – November 30th is a short span of time within which all pensioners are compelled to submit proof of life. The experiences of those who have attempted to submit the certificate this month has thrown up various questions on the methods by which the process is carried out.

V S Jayaraman of Chennai had to make multiple visits, first to his home branch of the bank he receives a pension from and later to the regional EPFO office to complete the process of submission of life certificate. The bank did not have iris capture devices and his fingerprint authentication for Aadhaar also failed at the bank. He had to go to the provident fund office for the biometric authentication and and waited in queue to complete the process.

“What I would like to highlight is the attitude of the staff even when the banks have the paraphernalia. If only the banks share the burden, the crowd at the regional PF offices can be minimized and pensioners do not have to spend long hours standing in the queue. Considering that this is a once-a-year affair, why cannot the authorized banks deploy staff dedicated to do this job? This is the least that senior citizens can expect by way of service from the banks,” he laments.

Soma Sundaram of Consumer Association of India shares this grievance. “A visit to the RPF office at Royapettah (Chennai) will show you the struggle of the pensioners, many of them over 80, queued up for submitting life certificates for a pension amount of around even Rs 1000. We are talking digital but the waiting process is harrowing, akin to punishment, for old age pensioners. Every morning you find long queues of people waiting to finish the process by December to continue getting pension.” 

The story is the same across the country. Rekha R, 65,  in Delhi has made multiple visits over days to complete the authentication process. “I decided to go digital this year to make things easier as I had been living with my daughter in another city. Even then I had to get to the a citizen service center for authentication. There, my fingerprints did not match during the process. Ultimately I had to make a trip to my hometown to go to the provident fund office like I did earlier, to submit the certificate.” Clearly, the very purpose of a digital certificate is defeated if this is what pensioners have to go through.

An employee of a nationalised bank weighed in on the issues faced by banks in this regard. “We are overwhelmed by the number of requests we are servicing. Sometimes there is machine failure or connectivity issues in verifying biometrics. Many aged persons are facing fingerprint authentication issues as well, which is beyond our control,” he said, wishing to remain anonymous.

The failure of Aadhaar-based authentication and the lack of a dedicated staff deployed by banks have intensified the ordeal for pensioners. The promise of a seamless digital experience has proved to be a myth. One only hopes that the government and all agencies involved will make a note of the issues being raised and address them so that senior citizens of the scheme can avail its benefits without hassle.

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