The government’s Defence Accounts Department (DAD) on Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding with CSC e-Governance Services India Limited to make pension-related online services accessible to former servicemen settled in remote parts of the country, the defence ministry said on Thursday.
The development comes at a time when millions of former servicemen are set to be transferred from a legacy system to a new online pension disbursing model called SPARSH (System for Pension Administration-Raksha). CSC e-Governance Services India Limited is a special purpose vehicle under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
The tie-up will allow former servicemen to access SPARSH services at more than four lakh common service centres (CSCs) across India from March, as first reported by Hindustan Times on February 22.
The MoU will provide last mile connectivity to pensioners, especially those who reside in remote areas and those who do not have the means or technical wherewithal to log on to SPARSH, the ministry said in a statement.
“For these pensioners, the service centres will become an interface for SPARSH and provide an effective medium for pensioners to perform profile update requests, register grievances and seek redressal, digital annual identification, pensioner data verification or simply fetch detailed information regarding their monthly pension,” the ministry said.
The MoU was signed by Controller of Defence Accounts (CDA)-Pensions Sham Dev and CEO of CSC e-Governance Services India Sanjay Kumar Rakesh in the presence of defence secretary Ajay Kumar.
SPARSH was implemented last year to ease different aspects of defence pensions including initiation, sanction, computation, revision and disbursement. The system involves crediting pensions directly into the accounts of former servicemen without relying on banks.
India has more than 3.3 million defence pensioners. About 500,000 of them have been moved to the new system and the migration will be complete over the next six months.
The defence secretary said the MoU will help deliver pension services digitally to the farthest corners of the country and ensure that no pensioner is deprived of their rightful benefits due to technological or geographic difficulties.
DAD has tapped into a key initiative under the Digital India programme at a time when some former servicemen have flagged concerns about the accessibility of SPARSH portal services in remote areas.
Earlier this month, Hindustan Times reported initial glitches in SPARSH that resulted in hundreds of former servicemen not getting dearness relief along with their January pension and several women officers not being paid pension for almost a year.
DAD resolved the first matter in 48 hours while the process to grant pension to short-service commission (SSC) women officers along with arrears has already begun. They are expected to get their dues by the end of the month.
DAD on Thursday also signed a pact with Kotak Mahindra Bank for setting up SPARSH service centres at 14 branches located in areas with a high concentration of ex-servicemen. These centres will be in addition to more than 800 SPARSH service centres already functional in State Bank of India and Punjab National Bank branches across the country, 161 DAD offices and 50 record offices on the armed forces.
SPARSH has been implemented at a cost of around ₹160 crore. Switching to the online pension disbursing system will result in the government saving around ₹250 crore annually as banks no longer have to be paid monthly charges for processing pensions.
The switch to SPARSH, however, is still being greeted with scepticism by some former servicemen.
“I believe the legacy system worked well for veterans. The government should have continued with it. Connectivity in remote parts of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh is a problem,” Lieutenant General DB Shekatkar (retd) said earlier this week.
The ministry said SPARSH has “fundamentally re-engineered” the process of pension disbursement, with the motto of “right pension delivered at the right time.”
“A recent example of effectiveness of SPARSH was the release of more than ₹196 crore of additional gratuity within just 30 days for 43,370 pensioners, a mammoth exercise which would have taken more than six months to process through the legacy system of disbursement. The additional gratuity was the result of announcement of DA increase for veterans who retired between June 2021 and January 2022,” the statement added.