It is imperative to ensure banking services in all the local levels to make the social security scheme more systematic

When Manmohan Adhikari, chairman of the CPN-UML and its first democratically-elected prime minister, formed his minority government way back in 1994, he introduced an 'old-age allowance scheme', which many believed was a populist programme and was deemed to fail because of the huge financial burden on the state treasury. His cabinet had just announced that every senior citizen above 75 years of age would receive Rs 100 per month as old-age allowance. He is still remembered for this scheme and 'Build Our Villages by Ourselves', the only two programmes which have become an integrated part of every government formed since Adhikari left office through a no-confidence monition in 1995. The social security allowance has now expanded to other groups of the society, including those above 60 years of age (Dalit), single women, senior citizens above 70 years, senior citizens above 60 years of specified areas and others belonging to endangered ethnicity as well children from Karnali province below five years of age. They get a monthly allowance ranging from Rs 4,000 to Rs 3,990 every month as social security allowance. The children in Karnali region below five years of age and Dalits are paid Rs 532 per month under the social security allowance.

As per the Department of National ID and Civil Registration, there are a total of 3,465,427 listed beneficiaries as of fiscal 2020-21. This time, the government has allocated Rs 100 billion to meet the cost of social security allowance.

However, this scheme has been mired in irregularities, mostly by the locally elected representatives, who are supposed to distribute the allowances to the listed beneficiaries.

As per the 58th annual report of the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) (2019-20), the irregularities occurred as the local level officials distributed the monthly allowances to the beneficiaries in cash, instead through the banking channel. In response to the OAG report, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration (MoFAGA) has instructed all local levels to distribute the allowances through the banking channel and avoid duplication and remove fake beneficiaries from the list to make the scheme more systematic.

The ministry has also directed the local levels to delist the persons appointed, elected or nominated for any public office and those receiving pension from the government fund from the programme, which is meant only for those who need state support.

Despite repeated instructions from the ministry to follow the mandatory provision, some local levels have not distributed the social security allowances through the banking channel. Therefore, there were reports of theft, robbery and loss of social security money. It is also true that some local levels still have no access to banking services. For example, out of the total 88 local levels in Sudurpaschim Province, 56 local levels still lack access to a banking facility. Therefore, the elected officials have to dole out the allowances to the beneficiaries in cash by visiting them door-to-door. This problem is particularly acute in Karnali Province. It is, therefore, imperative to ensure banking services in all the local levels to make the scheme more systematic and free it from irregularities pointed out by the OAG.

Private cargo service

private cargo train has arrived in Nepal for the A first time after Nepal-India railway service began in 2004. The train of Hind Terminal Pvt. Ltd., carrying food from Haldiya Port in India, arrived at Birgunj-based Sirsiya Dry Port Wednesday morning.

The entry of Indian private railway service providers became feasible after the monopoly of Container Corporation of India (CONCOR), owned by Indian Railways, was broken through an amendment in the railway service deal between the two nations in July this year. The amendment has allowed private Indian cargo railway companies to also ferry goods to Nepal.

It is to be expected that more of them will join the fray in transporting goods to Nepal from Indian ports. According to officials, two other private Indian companies have also shown interest in providing their services to Nepal. Businessmen had been demanding an end to CONCOR's monopoly due to the arbitrary train fares it charges. The entry of private companies should invite competition among the service providers and, hopefully, reduce transportation costs, provided, of course, they do not form a syndicate. It will also allow choices to Nepali importers based on cost and service.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 17 2021, of The Himalayan Times.