Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Life certificate saga: Digital India fails Veterans and senior citizen?

It is November, a month when most Central government retirees and pensioners in India need to submit a ‘life certificate.’ This enables them to continue receiving their pension without interruption. In most cases, the process is rather simple: one just walks into the local bank, meets the manager or assistant manager and signs the form and hands it off.

This ‘simple’ process can become a challenging paper chasing exercise for the unfortunate pensioner who is bedridden or unable to move out of home. Take the case of my father, a retired Indian Air Force officer who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Plus syndrome, a neural disease that gradually impairs motor skills. In previous years, he used to walk down to the local SBI branch near our house from where he draws his pension and sign the papers in person. This year, due to the progressive degeneration of his condition, he is unable to move out of home unassisted, and is unable to use his wrists to write or sign papers.

Go digital? Last mile is still the challenge !


A few weeks ago, I began researching options to help complete his "life certificate" and reviewed the option of "Jeevan Pramaan: Digital Life Certificate for Pensioners"

The intent behind the digital initiative is great and probably works for some people, especially those who are able to 'seed' the biometric data and information before they are incapacitated. I downloaded the app and tried to authenticate my father’s signature against the government’s database and failed.

Lesson: People like my father may not faced this predicament if they pre-register and verify their bio-metric data when they are young, fit-and-able. Now, when I aid his shaking thumb to record the digital-biometric data, it fails.

RBI directive ? Sorry, we don’t have a process yet!

A few weeks ago, I came across an article in the media  "Provide Doorstep Banking to Those Above 70 by December 31: RBI"

I decided to email SBI’s customer service a couple of times, requesting them to help in the matter and pointed to the RBI directive. My emails to "chairman@sbi.co.in" went into their cyber-black-hole and I never heard back from customer service or the branch.

I stopped by the branch a few days ago and met the assistant manager asking for his suggestion. I mentioned the ‘RBI Directive’ on “Doorstep Banking” and he began laughing. The manager explained that there were a couple of challenges:

  • SBI (his bank) had got the RBI directive but had yet to formulate a ‘process’ for rollout across branches 
  • The manager and his team had their hands full. Even assuming the process were rolled-out, it would be hard to implement (meaning: his team wasnt in any urgency to oblige on this matter0

He said that since my father had been signing papers till recently, his thumb impression would have to be ‘attested’ and accompanied by a doctor’s letter stating his condition. This began my paperwork chase.

Call the doctor…  Call the doctor… just now !

My dad, as I mentioned earlier, is homebound with a catheter attached. To take him to a doctor would require an ambulance and all the stress and strain that comes with it. The other viable option was to request a doctor to come home.

We live in the heart of Bangalore, home of digital startups and entrepreneurs. There are digital services like Portea Medical and other startups that provide in-home nursing care, at a cost. On calling, a few of them, I was told that I would have to ‘register’ and ‘book’ a service to get a home-visit that would take a few days.

I asked around and a friendly doctor in our neighborhood obliged. She came home to see Dad and wrote up a letter, and didn’t even charge for it!  I also had to get my father's thumb-impression on the Life-certificate attested. So, I requested a local Notary to come home to attest the certificate.

Armed with these documents - doctor's letter and life certificate with my dad's thumb impression duly attested  - I stopped by the SBI branch this morning. After looking through the documents, the ‘Service manager’ asked me to meet the manager. The manager politely asked me to sit and looked at the documents and remarked that notarizing wasn't necessary. Any Gazetted officer’s signature would have sufficed. The irony - that my dad himself is a retired senior Gazette officer ! – was lost on him. He continued scanning the papers and asked for a copy of my dad’s Adhaar card.

I was peeved and mentioned that my dad’s bank account was already linked to his Adhaar account, but the manager still insisted on that photocopy.

After another trip back home, I returned with that piece of paper…. I sighed with relief at the end of this saga. For now.

I was left scratching my head over the media hype about "RBI directive" to banks. Even with globalization and all the cash infusion into nationalized banks, parochial managers want to continue with status-quo. Pensioners, veterans and customers be damned!

The attitude of parochial managers at nationalized banks is perhaps the main reason my primary banking needs are serviced by a responsive private bank.

Bottomline: If a tech savvy kin of an elderly veteran pensioner living in an urban metro must jump through so many hoops for a simple ‘life certificate,’ one shudders to think of the plight of hundreds of thousands of less fortunate mortals living in other cities and in rural India. 

Acronyms: 
SBI - State Bank of India
RBI - Reserve Bank of India

[ Edited original title: SBI manager laughs off RBI ‘directive’ to banks to “Provide Doorstep Banking to Those Above 70” ]