Elderly people in rural Bajura face hassles in getting allowanceAs the villages have no transportation services, most of the beneficiaries have to walk quite a distance to receive the social security allowance from the designated banks.
The branch office of Himalayan Bank at Juddi, the administrative centre of Jagannath Rural Municipality in Bajura, last Sunday was crowded with senior citizens waiting in a serpentine queue to receive their elderly allowance.
While some of the elders were seen sitting on the floor to rest their tired bones, the others were leaning hard on their walking sticks to keep straight.
Rithu Oda, aged 72, was amidst the crowd waiting for her turn at the counter. A chronic patient of asthma, Oda set off for Juddi from her residence at Danachauka at dawn. She reached the bank at 2pm and was worried about her journey back home.
“I am not in the best of my health. The path to my village is steep and I will not be able to cover the distance today. I will stay the night somewhere on the way and then make my home the next morning,” said Oda.
The difficulties she faces to reach the bank every three or four months are taking a toll on her physical and mental health, says Oda.
“This could very well be the last time I’ve come to the bank to collect my allowance,” she said. “The travel to and from home is too much for my frail health. The government allowance helps me financially but I will have to give it up because I may not be able to come back here again.”
The federal government under the social security scheme provides Rs 12,000 quarterly to each senior citizen above 70 years of age as social security allowance through the local units. But most of the beneficiaries who have to be physically present to receive the allowance at the designated banks have to travel quite a distance from their remote villages with no transportation services.
Many settlements in Jagannath Rural Municipality do not have motorable roads and banking services, which means the elderly citizens have to walk all the way to the bank in Juddi to collect the allowance.
“I had initially planned to send my son to receive the allowance. But the bank employee said that I had to be physically present at the bank to collect the allowance. On my way here, I slipped and fell down twice and sustained minor injuries,” said Dhanjite Sarki, 71, of Luma village.
Like Oda, Sarki is also not in the best of his health and says that this may be the last time he is collecting his allowance since the money is not worth the difficulties.
“I usually fall ill for a week or two when I visit Juddi for the allowance. It’s difficult to cross the foot trail, which becomes very slippery during the rainy season and when it snows,” said Tulachha Chandar, 72.
Until August 2020, the rural municipality used to disperse the allowance to senior citizens through the ward office. Chandar hopes the government will again do the same for the benefit of senior citizens like herself.
But according to Rabindra Bahadur Shahi, the chief administrative officer of the rural municipality, some employees of the ward office were involved in financial irregularities, which prompted the local unit to hand over the allowance distribution to a financial institution.
“We started distributing the allowance through the bank following irregularities by the ward office employees while distributing the amount,” said Shahi. “The employees were not honest while disbursing the allowance to the elderly.”
According to the rural municipality, around 3,100 people receive social security allowance and child nutrition allowance in the rural municipality.
“Among them, more than 200 people cannot walk properly. Some people have not visited the bank though their allowance has been deposited in their personal accounts,” said Rem Kandel, branch manager of Himalayan Bank at Juddi. “The bank cannot go to the villages to give the allowance. The beneficiaries have to come to the bank.”
According to him, the bank could have provided online service from various places but since there is no internet service in rural areas, the service cannot be activated.
The people’s representatives say they are aware of the difficulties faced by the elderly in collecting their allowance from the bank and that they have informed the concerned authorities about the impracticality of disbursing the allowance through financial institutions to people in rural areas.
“The disbursement of the elderly allowance from the bank in Juddi is unsuitable since there is no transportation service in rural areas,” said Kali Bahadur Shahi, the chairman of Jagannath Rural Municipality. “I repeatedly informed the higher authorities about the problem but the issue remains unaddressed.”
Senior citizens in Himali Rural Municipality, another local unit in Bajura, have to go through twice the trouble to receive their allowances since the far-flung villages are at least a day walk away from the nearest bank.
The beneficiaries from Gumba, Bamu, Baudi, Paudi, Kiudi and Bichchhya, among other settlements in the local unit, have to walk for days to reach the nearest bank in Kawadi and walk as many days to return home.
“It is impractical for the rural folks to receive the social security allowance from the bank. Many elderly people have not received the allowance for months as they are unable to walk to the nearest bank,” said Dhanlal Thapa of Gumba.
Around 3,000 people receive social security allowances in Himali Rural Municipality. “We informed the district administration office and the federal ministry about the problem faced by rural folks to reach the designated financial institutions. Such an arrangement is suitable for cities but not in remote villages where there is no transportation or internet service,” said Gobinda Bahadur Malla, the chief of Himali Rural Municipality.
Senior citizens in almost all the villages in the nine local units of Bajura face the same ordeal to receive the social security allowances.“The system of providing allowances through banks leaves beneficiaries in remote villages in hardship. Either the bank employees should provide services to the beneficiaries at their doorsteps or the government should make alternative provisions for people in remote areas,” said Madanraj Joshi, a civil society leader in Bajura.