SPARSH (System for Pension Administration (Raksha)) is an online pension management system introduced by the Ministry of Defence, Government of India. It is designed to streamline the pension disbursement process for Indian defence pensioners. The system aims to ensure timely and accurate pension payments directly to the accounts of pensioners, reducing the need for intermediaries and simplifying the management of pension records and documents. SPARSH stands for a shift towards digital governance, intending to enhance transparency and efficiency in pension administration for defence personnel.
Aim of SPARSH
SPARSH (System for Pension Administration (Raksha)) aims to modernize and streamline the pension disbursement system for defence pensioners in India. Specifically, it seeks to: –
Ensure Timely Pension Payments
Automate and expedite the process of sanctioning and disbursing pensions.
Minimize errors and discrepancies in pension payments.
Improve transparency in the pension administration process.
Eliminate intermediaries by facilitating direct bank transfers to pensioners.
Create a centralized digital repository of pension records for easy access and management.
Reduce the administrative overhead and costs associated with the pension disbursement through banks.
These objectives are part of a broader effort to align with the Indian government’s ‘Digital India’ initiative to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
Change over to SPARSH
The Indian government undertook the SPARSH initiative to modernize and digitize the pension sanction and disbursement process for defence pensioners. It aims to ensure timely sanction and disbursement of pensions based on accurately calculated entitlements for each veteran.
This system is expected to eliminate the need to audit numerous pension payment vouchers from thousands of bank branches, thus streamlining the process.
The SPARSH portal provides a centralized platform for managing pension-related documents and services, which is accessible to pensioners for submitting life certificates and managing their accounts. The move towards SPARSH is part of a broader push within the Indian government towards digitization and efficient governance.
SPARSH Initiative: A Bane or a Boon
The SPARSH initiative by the Ministry of Defence in India has been met with criticism and challenges. It was designed to streamline pension disbursement for military veterans through a digital system.
However, the rollout of SPARSH has faced issues, such as the non-crediting of pensions for many veterans due to non-submission of life certificates, and it was implemented without proper testing, which is not standard practice for new systems.
Furthermore, there needs to be more concern about the ability of veterans, especially those in rural areas with poor internet connectivity, to use this digital system. Critics have suggested that these actions are part of a pattern where changes are imposed without adequate consultation with the military or considering the impacts on veterans.
In-efficiency of Banks in Pension Disbursement
Banks’ inefficiency in disbursing pensions to defence personnel was not directly attributed to the employment of senior retired defence officers. However, there have been challenges with the legacy system managed by banks.
The transition to SPARSH was partly due to the aim of reducing the complexity and potential errors inherent in the old system, which required auditing numerous pension payment vouchers from thousands of bank branches.
However, the SPARSH system has faced significant issues, such as user-friendliness and technical glitches due to faulty software inputs, resulting in hold-ups in pension disbursement. These issues suggest that the banks’ inefficiency may have been a systemic problem rather than one related to the personnel employed.
SPARSH – Limited to Defence Pensioners
The migration of defence pensioners to the SPARSH system while other government pensioners remain on the legacy system has raised concerns among the affected community. Critics argue that defence personnel are being used as test subjects for a new and unproven system and are experiencing shortcomings and inadequacies first-hand without the system being adequately trialled.
This perception is exacerbated by the reported difficulties faced by pensioners in accessing and using the SPARSH platform, which has led to delays and errors in pension disbursement. The transition appears part of a broader push for digitization but has not been without its challenges and dissent.
Implementation of SPARSH
Despite the concerns raised by various stakeholders, including defence advisors and retired service chiefs, the implementation of SPARSH indicates a significant shift in the approach to pension management for defence personnel. The decision to implement SPARSH was made with expectations of cost savings and increased efficiency. However, it has faced criticism for its execution and impact on the welfare of veterans and their families.
There are reports of technical issues, a need for proper training for users, and an overall dissatisfaction among the community. These issues have necessitated interventions from the army to rectify the problems, which some see as a failure to consider the practical realities for pensioners, particularly those in remote areas who need access to digital resources.
This situation highlights the challenges of implementing new systems without comprehensive planning and the need for more involvement from service headquarters in decisions affecting military personnel and veterans.
SPARSH – a big bite more than could be chewed
The sentiment that SPARSH was a more considerable undertaking than could be effectively managed reflects the difficulties and setbacks experienced in its implementation. The system, intended to digitize and streamline pension disbursements for defence personnel, faced significant hurdles, from technical glitches to user accessibility issues.
This has led to criticism that the transition must be better thought out and executed, impacting veterans who rely on these pensions. The situation underscores the complexities of large-scale bureaucratic reforms, mainly when they directly affect the livelihoods of a specialized and widespread community like that of military retirees.
SPARSH – Remedial Measures
Enhanced User Training
Organize extensive training programs for pensioners and their families, especially in rural areas, to help them navigate the SPARSH system.
Increase the number of service centres and ensure they have staff who can assist with technical issues.
Simplify the user interface of the SPARSH portal to make it more intuitive for all users, particularly those who need to be tech-savvy.
Robust Technical Support
Establish a solid technical support system that can quickly address and resolve issues as they arise.
Create a transparent and effective feedback mechanism that allows pensioners to report problems and suggest improvements.
Provide alternative offline pension-process methods for those who cannot access digital services.
Communication and Outreach
Ensure clear communication about any changes, updates, or required actions to avoid confusion and missed deadlines.
Policy Review and Adaptation
Regularly review the impact of SPARSH on pensioners and be willing to adapt the system based on the feedback and challenges encountered.
Inefficient SPARSH Portals
The SPARSH system to improve its efficiency and accountability, especially concerning its website and portals developed under the oversight of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the following recommendations could be considered:
Conduct an independent audit of the system to identify the areas lacking the implementation.
Strengthened Project Management
Implement more robust project management practices with clear milestones and accountability measures.
Redesign the portal, focusing on user experience, ensuring it is user-friendly and accessible to all pensioners.
Establish performance metrics for the system, with regular reporting on these metrics to stakeholders.
Apply continuous and rigorous testing processes that simulate real-world usage scenarios to catch issues before full-scale implementation.
Hold the vendor (TCS) contractually accountable for the system’s performance, with clear consequences for failures to meet agreed-upon standards.
Regularly solicit and incorporate feedback from end-users and other stakeholders to ensure the system meets the needs of its users.
Maintain transparency about the system’s performance and challenges with all stakeholders, including resolution timelines.
Consider rolling out changes incrementally, starting with a smaller user base to gather insights and iron out issues before expanding to all users.
TCS Assistance Booths
Setting up assistance booths at Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) premises could effectively support pensioners facing challenges with the SPARSH system. This would provide direct, on-the-ground assistance, especially for those who need to be more technologically adept. It would also ensure that help is available at locations that pensioners are familiar with and likely to visit regularly.
As the service provider, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) could staff these booths with trained personnel to guide pensioners through the SPARSH portal and address any issues they face in real-time. Such a measure would be in line to improve the accessibility and user-friendliness of the pension administration system.
Adhar Card is not linked to the Mobile Phone
The issue with Aadhaar not being linked to the mobile phones of pensioners, particularly in rural areas, is significant as Aadhaar linkage is often essential for digital identification and authentication processes in India. On-the-spot assistance by TCS can help pensioners overcome this barrier.
TCS could facilitate UID-mobile linkage through these assistance booths, making the process more convenient for pensioners and ensuring they can access the SPARSH system without this technical hurdle. This would be a practical step towards bridging the digital divide and ensuring that the benefits of digitization reach all pensioners, regardless of their location or technological proficiency.
Rectification – Service details Pensioners
Co-locating TCS staff with the Military Personnel-5 (MP-5) directorate at RK Puram and equivalent directorates in the Navy and Indian Air Force could be a strategic move to rectify pensioners’ service details. This co-location would allow for direct communication between the personnel responsible for maintaining service records and the technical staff who manage the SPARSH platform. This would lead to more efficient and accurate updates and rectifications in the pensioners’ service details. It would also facilitate quicker resolution of discrepancies and issues faced by pensioners, improving the overall pension management process.
SPARSH – Direct reach to Defence Pensioner
Stepping up SPARSH’s direct reach to the defence pensioner community is indeed crucial. Until the system is robust and glitch-free, increased support can be provided by undertaking the following initiatives.
Mobile Help Desks
Deploy mobile vans with SPARSH access and support staff to remote areas.
Establishing dedicated helpline numbers with multi-language support.
Organizing regular workshops to educate pensioners about using SPARSH.
Partnering with local NGOs and veterans’ associations to assist pensioners.
Provide updates and tips through SMS or community radio stations to inform pensioners about the system’s use.
Implementing a robust feedback mechanism to continually improve the system based on user experience.
While emblematic of India’s stride towards digital empowerment and modernization of pension management, the SPARSH initiative has encountered significant challenges. Despite its aims to enhance transparency, efficiency, and direct disbursement of pensions, the rollout has been marred by technical difficulties, accessibility issues, and user-friendliness concerns. Particularly affected are defence pensioners, who have faced delays and errors in their pension disbursements, highlighting the system’s shortcomings.
In response, a multifaceted approach has been suggested to address these issues. This includes improving user training, enhancing technical support, simplifying the system’s interface, and establishing robust communication channels. Additionally, there is a call for increased accessibility through service centres and alternative offline methods for those unable to use digital services.
Moreover, the role of TCS in this context is critical, with recommendations for independent audits, strengthened project management, continuous testing, and on-site assistance booths, especially on ECHS premises. These steps aim to improve user experience and ensure the system is inclusive, especially for those in remote areas or with limited tech savvy.
The involvement of stakeholders, including the government, defence advisors, and the pensioners themselves, is essential for improving SPARSH. The collaboration aims to align the system with the practical needs of its users, ensuring that the transition does not adversely affect the welfare of veterans.
While SPARSH represents a forward-looking vision for India’s defence pension system, its implementation underscores the complexity of digitizing such a critical and wide-reaching service. For SPARSH to be a boon and not a bane, the initiative must be recalibrated with user-centric improvements, transparent governance, and inclusive outreach, ensuring it adequately supports the individuals it intends to serve—India’s defence pensioners.