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Two months after the three-day ‘delay’ in the payment of pensions to 58,759 military retirees for April, 2022 created a hullabaloo, misgivings about the System for Pension Administration Raksha (SPARSH), which was deemed responsible by angry veterans for the putative delay, continues unabated.
However, the gratuitous misgivings regarding SPARSH need dispelling, as this system is intended to ensure timely sanction of various types of pensions and their timely disbursement based on accurately calculated monthly entitlements for each veteran.
The digitisation of these functions will also obviate the need for auditing pension payment vouchers generated by thousands of bank branches across the country that are presently responsible for determining and disbursing monthly pension payments to retiree servicemen.
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about SPARSH:
What is SPARSH and which categories of pensioners are covered by it?
SPARSH is an automated pension sanction-cum-disbursement system, managed centrally by the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Pensions) (PCDA(P)), Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad), which is one of the Defence Accounts Department’s (DAD) field offices.
It was introduced for current retirees in phases: in October, 2020 for defence civilians; in February, 2021 for the Indian Air Force; in June, 2021 for the Indian Navy; and in August, 2021 for the Indian Army.
All ‘legacy’ pensioners who had retired before these dates are also being gradually ‘migrated’ to SPARSH. Ultimately, all 33 lakh-odd defence pensioners will be covered by SPARSH, under which the PCDA(P) will function as both the Pension Sanctioning Authority (PSA) and the Pension Disbursing Authority (PDA).
Will SPARSH make any difference to the way the monthly pension of legacy pensioners and current retirees is credited in their bank accounts?
No. Even after the legacy pensioners are migrated to SPARSH, their monthly pension will continue to be credited to the designated bank account through which they had been receiving their pension before migrating. The monthly pension of the current retirees too will, ab initio, begin to be credited to the bank account designated by them at the time of retirement.
Does a pensioner have to register or open an account on the SPARSH portal?
No. However, as soon as any retiree’s pension is sanctioned, or a ‘legacy’ pensioner is shifted to SPARSH, the system creates an individual account whose login id and password are automatically conveyed to the pensioner, both on his/her registered mobile number and via email. This enables them to access their personal pension account, if desired, but it is not obligatory.
What does the SPARSH portal contain?
It’s a comprehensive portal that displays pensioners’ profiles, along with all respective pension related documents like Pension Payment Order (PPO), monthly pension pay-out slips, PPO corrigenda and Certificate of Tax Deducted at Source (Form 16), alongside other related documents.
What about Life Certificates?
Life Certificates are principally, proof of a pensioner’s existence.
All SPARSH-onboarded pensioners can submit this certificate on the Jeevan Pramaan portal at any SPARSH service centre. They can also use the Jeevan Pramaan Face Application of the Department of Pension and Pensioners’ Welfare on their Android mobile phones.
Directions for using this application are available here.
They can also visit any of the 4.5 lakh Common Service Centres (CSCs) for any pension-related assistance. These centres have been set up by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) across the country, right down to gram panchayat level, to provide a wide range of services.
Approximately, 8,600 SPARSH and non-SPARSH pensioners availed of the services provided by the CSCs in May and June, 2022.
More than 800 branches of the State Bank of India, Punjab National Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank; 161 offices of the DAD, and some other Designated Service Centres (DSCs) also provide this service. This network is scheduled for imminent expansion.
As both these modes are inter-linked with SPARSH, the pensioners’ status will be automatically updated in their accounts once they submit their Life Certificate, which will also be reflected in their pension account on the portal. Certificates submitted directly on the SPARSH portal will be valid for 12-months from the date of submission.
However, legacy pensioners not migrated to SPARSH can use the Jeevan Praman Application or visit the agency from where they are currently drawing their pension to complete their formalities and continue drawing their pensions as earlier.
Where are these CSCs and other DSCs located?
Apart from submitting their Life Certificate, sundry services provided by the CSCs and other DSCs include the submission of details about personal savings to enable tax payments at source, upgrading pensioners’ profiles and reporting his/her demise. It also includes initiating a family pension claim and personal data verification in new cases under process to facilitate the sanction of pensions.
How can pensioners track grievances or other pension-related requests submitted online?
As soon as a grievance, request or query is submitted online, a tracking number is generated and conveyed to the pensioner via SMS/email to facilitate tracking on the SPARSH portal, without having to log in to the personal pension account. Requests for updating the personal profile can also be submitted and tracked online through this portal.
Will the pensioners receive intimation about the initial sanction, any subsequent revision and monthly disbursement of pension?
Yes. Intimation (including the Pension Payment Order) will be posted in the pensioners’ account on the SPARSH portal and sent on to their registered email when the pension, or any other entitlement, is sanctioned.
Granular details of the monthly pension payouts – basic pension, dearness relief, commuted amount and related dues – will also be communicated similarly. In both instances, an SMS on the pensioners’ mobile number will alert them to the matter.
And lastly, there is a concern that some pensioners are computer/IT illiterate and that, lost in the maze of technology, they will be unable to receive their pension money every month. What help is there at hand for them?
There is no operation whatsoever that pensioners need to necessarily perform on the SPARSH portal for their pension to be sanctioned, revised, or credited to their bank account every month. From the pensioners’ perspective, these functions will continue to be executed automatically the way these were being executed before the migration to SPARSH.
The pensioners’ profiles, a facsimile of the Pension Payment Order, and details of the amount of the monthly pension pay out, will be stored in the personal account of the pensioners on the SPARSH portal. This can be accessed, if considered necessary, with the help of the service centres, free of cost. They are available down to the level of every gram panchayat for pensioners who are computer-illiterate, do not have an email account, or do not own a mobile phone.
Amit Cowshish is a former financial advisor (acquisitions), Ministry of Defence.