For the past two years, SPARSH has been a significant topic of discussion in both print and electronic media, particularly in various social groups. This comprehensive article by Cdr Ravindra Pathak and Wg Cdr Ravi Mani provides a detailed overview of SPARSH and its implications for military and retired military personnel. It aims to adequately inform all readers about the subject and associated issues. We urge you to circulate and publicize this information, ensuring it reaches the policymakers and top executive decision-makers who can act in the best interests of military personnel and pensioners.
The question arises: who is the best person to address and rectify this apparent discrepancy? What options do armed forces personnel and their hierarchy, including the Defence Minister, have to correct this issue?
Ideally, a team comprising users/CGDA (SPARSH), TCS, and representatives from all three services should be formed to understand and resolve all related issues.
Foreword By Group Captain AG Bewoor (Retd)
Attached is a paper written jointly by Commander Ravindra Pathak and Wing Cdr Ravi Mani.
- You are fully aware about Sparsh and its problems. We all accept that one day we all will be with Sparsh, and accept this inevitability. My personal opinion is this. Sparsh is getting pensioners every month as they retire from service, that influx will continue and cannot be interrupted. But it is also true that Sparsh is unable to handle all their pensioners and absolutely ridiculous situations are developing with disastrous results.
- Let Sparsh stabilise with their Pre 2016 retirees they have taken over so far, and the steady influx they keep getting every month. Until they can genuinely tell themselves and prove to everyone that they are rock steady and have de-bugged every problem, they must stop importing more Pre - 2016 pensioners. These pensioners are happily receiving pensions from CPPC via Paying Banks. Leave them alone till you are established and the system is running flawlessly without any impediments. This cannot happen swiftly, it must take time, it is not magic. They are doing it thru TCS I believe, Pathak & Mani know everything.
- I can write to you and get a loud demonstration of the problem to be heard world wide through MVI, but what about the widow in a small town? The old Lt Col in his village without any children/grandchildren to do his digital work
- They are safe with their CPPC-Paying Bank system, he can talk to them, he knows the bank employees, they know him as Tauji, and his wife is Chaachi ji. But Sparsh will treat him as just another number with a password. Such old pensioners in the evening of their lives should in truth be left alone to continue with the existing system till both pass on. The Govt pays just ₹ 12 per pensioner to the bank. Consider the cost of reviving Taujis pension if screwed by Sparsh, and Sparsh has screwed hundreds of pensions.
- If you wish to seek clarifications from the officers, I have copied this email to them. But I am sure this matter will be well recd on MVI site. It is a severe fauji problem totally neglected by MOD/CGDA and they are running roughshod over us.
This integrated system for automation of sanction and disbursement of Defence Pension was formulated in 2017 and launched in July 2021 with the stated objective of providing a single window only for Defence Pensioners to avail all Pension related services, including the facility to view their Pension details, Pension entitlement, view and manage Pensioner profile details, Income Tax forms etc.
It was also based on the premise of good and extensive internet connectivity even in remote rural areas including an online facility for grievance redressal and correction of any data/ details of Pensioners.
The system had aimed at:
- Ensuring payment of Right Pension at the Right Time.
- Reduced errors and processing time due to data capture at source and automation of process.
- Introduction of Pensioners Data Verification (PDV) to ensure transparency and pensioner satisfaction.
- Centralized revision and disbursement leading to shortened timelines and high accuracy.
- Centralized grievance portal for improved management of customer grievances raised via multiple channels.
- Integration with external agencies for validation of all data related to a pensioner.
Having been conceived in the air-conditioned portals of the HQ Controller General of Defence Accounts in the National Capital with good connectivity, it was to be the new system to replace a well working and well settled system (now called the Legacy system) which had its own hiccups initially but had the advantage of easy accessibility at the door step through bank branches with human touch and interaction by concerned Bank Staff who were paid Rs 12/- per month per pensioner for all the services.
The issues faced by pensioners in the legacy system were largely on account of incorrect data received from Office of the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Pension) who transcribed personal information provided by Service HQ/Defence Ordnance Factories etc. It was also due to absence of knowledgeable staff( due to rotation of Bank’s branch staff) or delayed payments due staff’s lack of knowledge on Defence Pension Regulations and the myriad Circulars.
With banks setting Central Pension Processing Cells (CPPC) which largely led to data integration and by and large timely and accurate payment of pension. Even with the system as it exists/existed if the bank delayed payments the RBI had mandated payment of interest on delayed payment due reason attributed to banks. The errors in the database, however small in number in relation to the numbers serviced, remained an issue.
However, the advantages of the CPPC system were:
- Personal touch and interaction
- No need for any digital knowledge or internet or smart phones on the part of the pensioner
- Ease of communication in local language
- Easy accessibility as the Bank was just a short distance from the residence.
- Excellent training of CPPC staff leading to digitization, and reducing delays and errors in pension disbursement, as well as speedier, centralized grievance resolution
Now let us examine if the new system has actually maintained the advantages of the legacy system.
So is that the total sum of problems with the new system? Certainly not but for the purposes of increasing awareness of the Prime Minister these would suffice as examples to prove that the system was ill conceived, not correctly implemented and further that the authorities are not even willing to accept /acknowledge faults despite many mails and letters to all authorities concerned including the highest office at whose behest this digital drive is being forced.
Is there a solution? Yes if suggestions are accepted. Have they been? No, except that no pension has yet been stopped for many pensioners (in thousands) who have not been able to submit their annual life certificate due in Nov 2022 till date.
In conclusion the new system has not achieved its stated aim so far. There is a need for a dialogue with the suffering pensioners.
As regards Database the new system does allow correction to certain data without any document support but critical data still needs document support. This data will continue to be far more corrupted as the older pensioners migrate due their data being hand written and thus has many shortcoming due entry errors, wrong information provided by relatively illiterate pensioners.
To retrieve the situation the authorities have conducted a series of outreach programs at bigger military stations. The result has been minimal contact with pensioners who have disabilities and without electronic means with ever fewer solutions at a cost to the exchequer and the pensioner.
If however the staff at the number of Common Service Centers at all banks and PAO at the Records Offices of Regimental centers were fully made conversant with the new system the lasting availability of an informed and knowledgeable outreach staff would have been achieved without adding to the Pension budget which is perennially being commented as the bugbear. The staff at ZSWO is both inadequate as well as ill trained to take on this additional workload. More expenditure will be incurred just to achieve average (50%) satisfaction levels.
Bank cum CPPC system was long digitized- so the other basic "Jumla" USP by which they (including Defence Minister/Secretary) are deceiving the Prime Minister by giving him the feedback that MoD is increasing the digitization footprint towards achieving the Digital India goals.
About The Author
Cdr. Ravindra Waman Pathak (Retd) has been instrumental in retrieving Defense Land from Mrs Pratibha Patil, was a active member of IESM in veterans fight for OROP, is an authority on Pension related issues, is actively involved with ECHS work being on the advisory body of Khadki ECHS and has been recognized for his social work by being nominated as a Pune Hero in Indian Express. He was also awarded the Prerana Pursakar by Maharashtra Seva Sangh, Mulund. Since 2010 he has been fighting corruption in the Department of Sainik Welfare, Maharashtra and is keen on resolving Veterans issues with the department.