LAHORE: Retired employees of Pakistan Railways started receiving their pension on Wednesday evening, about five hours after a pensioner died and two others fainted while standing in long queues outside a bank in Mughalpura.
Mahmood Khan had come to the bank near the Carriage Shop in Mughalpura on Tuesday morning. Unable to reach the bank’s window to get a ‘token’ for payment, the 70-year-old retired bus driver of the Mughalpura Workshops decided to spend the night there like many others in the hope of getting paid on Wednesday.
“There were four people between Khan and the window when he collapsed at around 9:15am. We took him to the nearby PR hospital in a rickshaw where doctors pronounced him dead,” said Qayyum who had spent the night with his former colleague.
The death of the elderly could not move the bank management and only one employee was there to make the payment and he took 15 to 20 minutes on each case.
Pensioners had to wait for hours for their turn in scorching sun. There was no arrangement for drinking water or a shade in a clear violation of a State Bank order in this regard.
Because of the unbearable heat, another pensioner Syed Jaffar Hussain fainted after about an hour. The 75-year-old retired employee, however, gained consciousness after some time and a relative took him to his house in Nabipura. After another pensioner Muhammad Shafi fainted half an hour later some officials of the Shalamar Town municipal administration arrived there with some packs of juices.
“My family is on the verge of starvation. I have not been paid pension for four months. I will be forced to start begging if I don’t get pension today,” the 85-year-old man said.
When Kulsoom Bibi, a widow, was narrating her ordeal, bank manager (operations) Ehsan came out at around 2pm and announced that the branch would remain open till all pensioners were paid and more employees would be there to deal with their cases.
He did not answer questions about there being no shade and no arrangement for drinking water outside the bank. The bank’s provincial management issued a statement in the evening: “The National Bank of Pakistan is making all-out efforts to facilitate Pakistan Railways pensioners at all its pension disbursing branches. “All the staff in branches from where pension distribution is managed will work till late hours to help all pensioners present at these branches.
In addition to this, the number of pension distribution counters at all these branches has also been increased to speed up the process.
“The NBP has also made arrangements to provide shade and water for those who are waiting outside the branches. We may add that NBP disburses pension of all government organisations/departments as per their mandate and funds being available in their respective accounts with the bank,” said the statement.
Railways Director (Public Relations) Abdul Hameed Razi told Dawn that Rs363 million had been transferred to the pension account of the bank and majority of retired employees would get their dues by Thursday evening and all employees and pensioners would be paid before Nov 5.
Expressing sympathies with the family of Mahmood Khan, Mr Razi said Minister for Railways Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour had announced a compensation of Rs500,000 for his heirs.
Amin Ahmed adds from Islamabad: President Asif Zardari expressed concern over the death of the pensioner the and long queues at the branch of the National Bank of Pakistan at Railways Headquarters and ordered an immediate inquiry.
According to his spokesperson Farhatullah Babar, the president directed Railways’ Secretary Javed Iqbal to visit Lahore, investigate the matter and submit a report to the prime minister within three days and its copy to the Presidency.
Railways’ General Manager Saeed Akhter told Dawn that the secretary would be in Lahore on Thursday.
He said the secretary also spoke to the NBP president and urged him to take to task the staff of the branch.
It is learnt that the NBP president assured Mr Javed Iqbal that arrangements would be made to ensure prompt and smooth payment of pensions.
Video footage of TV channels on Wednesday morning showed that the NBP had taken no measures for quick payment of pensions.
Besides, the NBP management had asked women pensioners and widows to approach the same window which was meant for male pensioners.