Goa: Seafaring Community At Sea Over Government's Unsettled Pension Scheme

Goa: Seafaring Community At Sea Over Government's Unsettled Pension Scheme

Pension applications piling up at NRI Affairs office with no scrutiny panel in place.

THE GOAN NETWORKUpdated: Saturday, December 23, 2023, 07:38 PM IST
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File photo of a protest by retired seafarers and widows over their demands for pension. | The Goan Network

Margoa: Caetano Francis Dias, a seafarer from Ponda, had retired from service around five years ago in 2018. In January of the same year, he applied to the government to avail pension under the Goa Welfare Pension Scheme for Seafarers and Widows.

Like Caetano, Gururprasad Mohan Sukhtankar too had applied for the Seamen pension the same year, with the hope of receiving the government pension for the retired seafarers and widows. That’s not all. Along with the retired seafarers, many a widow of seafarers too had applied for the pension under the scheme for seafarers over the last five years.

250 retired seafarers applied for pension scheme

In fact, around 250 retired seafarers and widows had applied for pension under the scheme through the office of the Goan Seamen Association of India. These pending applications, sources say, is just the tip of the iceberg with many an application from retired seafarers and widows sent directly to the Office of Commissioner, NRI Affairs for pension.

Half a decade down the line, these retired seafarers and widows have found themselves at sea as the Home Department is yet to scrutinise the hundreds of applications for pension. In fact, while the existing pension beneficiaries have started receiving the pension again after the Goa government earlier this year extended the Goa Welfare Pension Scheme for Seafarers and Widows for a further period of three years, the same has not rung in good news for seafarers who had applied for the pension around half a decade ago.

Pension scheme applications still under process

For, the Home Department is yet to put the scrutiny panel in place till date to scrutinise the new applications for pension. As a result, hundreds of applications from retired seafarers and widows have been piling up in the office of NRI Affairs for want of the panel to scrutinise the forms.

There’s another issue staring at the seafaring community. While the government in July notified an extension of the pension scheme for three years, the government has capped the total beneficiaries to 3,000.

Says GSAI president, Frank Viegas: “Right now, the NRI Affairs is providing pension to around 2,450 beneficiaries, including retired seafarers and widows. This implies that the government at the most can provide pensions to another 550 beneficiaries once the scrutiny panel is set up. From the GSAI office itself, around 278 applications have been sent to the NRI Affairs since 2018. Our office is now in receipt of around 200 requests from retired seafarers and widows for pension, but the same has not been conveyed to the NRI Affairs for want of applications from the government.“

Frank said the State government and especially the Home Department and NRI Affairs must come together in the interest of the seafarers' community by expediting the evaluation and processing of pending applications, availability of new forms, putting the scrutiny committee in place, etc, ensuring that all deserving seafarers/widows receive the benefits which they are entitled under the scheme.

“The seafarers of Goa have contributed significantly to the socio-economic fabric of the State, and the government must reciprocate their dedication and service with concrete support,” he added.

Frank recalled that the scheme for seafarers was introduced by former chief minister late Manohar Parrikar to provide financial support for retired seamen and widows. “As seafaring is an arduous profession with its fair share of challenges and risks, the scheme was seen as a gesture of recognition and gratitude towards these hardworking individuals. Initially, the government declared the Goa Welfare Pension Scheme for Seafarers in 2012, demonstrating its commitment to the seafaring community. However, after five years, the scheme was temporarily stopped, causing disappointment and unrest among many seafarers who relied on this pension for their well-being,” Frank added.

Pension scheme was discontinued in 2019

The GSAI president recalled that the pension scheme was discontinued in 2019 only to be revived 18 months later for a six-month period, and extended from time to time, raising questions about the government's commitment to the welfare and interests of seafarers, leaving them in a vulnerable position once again.

“Regrettably, the government announced that the Goa Welfare Pension Scheme for Seafarers will now only be available for three years as per Notification No. 4/9/2020-HD(F&CD)/NRI/222 dated: 30/06/2023 and is yet to be made permanent. It is disheartening to note that the government has not given due consideration to several deserving seafarers who have already submitted their applications for the scheme to the NRI department.

Continuous changes in the scheme's duration and the exclusion of new applicants have caused confusion and frustration among the seafaring community, leaving many aspiring beneficiaries without a clear pathway to avail themselves of the benefits promised under the scheme,” he added.

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