August 3, last year, seemed quite an ordinary day for most of us, but not the seafarers’ community in Goa, who watched former Goa MP Luizinho Faleiro represent them in the Rajya Sabha. “It's a shame, these people don't have a pension scheme,” he asserted in the House and went on to spell out the seafarers’ contribution to India’s economy.
Exactly 11 months after Faleiro made that speech, on July 3, 2023, the Goa government under the leadership of CM Pramod Sawant devised the Goa Welfare/Pension Scheme for Seafarers 2023. The scheme was to take effect from June 1, 2023, providing financial assistance of Rs 2,500 per month to retired seamen.
COMES WITH AN EXPIRY DATE
Although the scheme has been notified, the seamen are not enthused. The reason: Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, who had promised on the floor of the House that the scheme would be a permanent one, failed to keep his word as the scheme is valid only for the next three years. Furthermore, the beneficiary fulfilling the conditions will be eligible only if the total number of such beneficiaries does not exceed 3,000 in number.
Frank Viegas, President of the Goan Seamen Association of India, has urged CM Sawant to reconsider this decision and end the suffering of the aged seafarers and widows. “It’s disturbing as seafarers are the backbone of the economy and 80 per cent of the world trade is dependent on shipping,” he said.
Although he will continue to pursue the government to make the scheme permanent, Benaulim MLA Capt Venzy Viegas says new seafarers can now join the scheme up to a maximum of 3,000 beneficiaries.
Under the ex-gratia scheme funded by the Seafarers Welfare Fund Society, previously retired seafarers and widows of seafarers would receive a petty sum of Rs 200 per month. But, with survival impossible on that trivial amount, better policies for retired seafarers, especially those in a medical emergency, and families of those who’ve lost their lives at sea, was demanded.
The pension scheme for seafarers, which was first announced by late CM Manohar Parrikar after the 2012 elections win, ended in October 2019. The scheme was revived in June 2021 under CM Pramod Sawant for a period of 6 months, followed by some extensions.
THE PLIGHT OF BEING UNAIDED
After 44 years of working in every section of the ship, Custodio Andrade retired as a seafarer six years ago. But receiving any sort of assistance for his dedicated service has been a distant dream.
“I’ve visited several offices. They say your form has been forwarded, and then there is no response. Many of my companions, some who’ve passed away, still haven’t got anything for themselves or their families. Now I don’t know if the pension scheme is true or not,” he says disheartened.
Ship/cruise companies haven’t introduced any retirement investments other than the lump sum amount they hand over when one retires. And at the age of 55-60, many seafarers are left with no other financial support.
As a senior citizen, Custodio receives Rs 2,000 per month but had requested to switch and applied for the seafarers’ pension, which amounted to Rs 2,500 every month. But he has given up on that idea after the constant disregard.
There are many challenges seafarers endure in their profession – long work hours that sometimes exceed the standard working week, being subjected to physical and mental fatigue, limited access to medical facilities, contract violations, delayed payments and subpar living conditions.
And, as they voyage, leaving behind their families, there’s no respite from the uncertainty of what the future holds. When returning to the ship is not an option, they are left to fend for themselves.
As the scheme is notified, for seafarers like Custodio Andrade it’s a small flicker of light seen in the endless dark sea. More efforts can be taken to ensure a comfortable retirement for these servicemen, who brave the seas in the hopes their families can live in a dignified way.