The allowance is used to buy health services or pay for the education of the grandchildren in a private institution

Although the local levels are obligated to distribute the social security allowance to the beneficiaries only through the banking channel, they have not adhered to the mandatory provision. So, the Ministry of Federal Affairs, through a circular on Tuesday, has directed the local levels to adopt the banking system for the purpose. This comes in response to a notice of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives that some locals were distributing the social security allowance in cash. Elected people's representatives at the local levels are known to be making home visits to hand out the government allowances personally, apparently for political gains and to impress upon the beneficiaries. The provision of bank transfer of the allowance came into effect on November 16 last year and covers 499 local levels. It will be applicable to all the remaining local levels by November 27 this year. Thus, it is only right that the local levels abide by the government instruction to make payments only through the banking channel by maintaining the records of the beneficiaries for greater transparency.

The social security allowance was introduced by the CPN (UML) government under Manmohan Adhikari in 1994 and has continued till date. It began with a meagre allowance of Rs 100 a month for senior citizens, which was to be collected at the ward office.

Over the decades, the social security allowance has been increased time and again, and today the beneficiaries include senior citizens of different categories as well as differently-abled people, people from endangered ethnic groups, and children and Dalits from the Karnali region. Depending upon the category, the recipient is paid Rs 2,000 or Rs 3,000 a month, while children below five years of age and Dalits in Karnali get Rs 400 monthly. The allowances are distributed every four months, thrice a year.

Today, nearly 10 per cent of Nepal's 30 million people are eligible for the social security allowance, which costs the national treasury more than Rs 65 billion a year. And the number of beneficiaries are expected to double every 10 years. Moreover, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli the other day announced that the allowance would be increased from the next fiscal year that begins in mid-July. Given the ever-rising cost of maintaining the social security allowances, it has raised questions about its sustainability over the long term. So is the social security allowance a burden to the nation? At least two studies have been carried out by the National Planning Commission, which showed that it greatly benefits the people in their old age. While those in the urban centres might squander the allowance in a day or two, in the poor households, the money is actually used to buy health services or pay for the education of the grandchildren in a private institution. Some families have even been known to use the allowance as collateral to borrow money from a micro finance company to start a small business or agro farm. There is, thus, cohesion in the family, where old people are likely to be seen as a burden. The local level must see to it that the beneficiaries receive their allowances without hassles and in time, especially in the rural areas.

Threat of bird flu

No sooner was bird flu detected in Tarkeshwor Municipality in Kathmandu about two months ago than another episode of avian influenza was confirmed in Lalitpur Metropolitan City on Monday, forcing the concerned authorities to cull more than 1,500 fowls and destroy 1,000 chicken eggs. A total of 335 kilograms of grain were also destroyed. According to the Department of Livestock Services, H5N1 was confirmed while testing the collected samples of local chickens, quails and ducks from a poultry farm at Nakhu, Lalitpur.

According to the department, besides the Kathmandu Valley, avian influenza has also been detected in Surkhet and Jajarkot districts in recent times. While it is necessary to bring the disease under control by culling the infected domestic fowls and their feed, the three tiers of the government should also come up with a plan to provide relief assistance to those farmers involved in the poultry business. The spread of bird flu has incurred huge economic losses to the poultry farmers for the last several years. It is, therefore, imperative that the government introduce an insurance policy to support the poultry farmers, who have immensely contributed to making the country self-sufficient in meat and egg production.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 1, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.