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Sunday, September 6, 2020

PM-Kisan scheme scam ! ~ fraud accounts and beneficiaries !!

 Nadodi Mannan – released in 1958 was a film directed by MG Ramachandran – besides MGR in dual roles, there was P Bhanumathi, MN Rajam, Sarojadevi, PS Veerappa, MN Nambiar and others.   Like many MGR films this too spoke about socio economic upliftment of farmers and this song  sung by Bhanumathi and TM Soundararajan was quite catchy !  

சும்மா கெடந்த நெலத்தக் கொத்தி; சோம்பலில்லாமே ஏர் நடத்தி

கம்மாக் கரைய ஒசத்திக் கட்டி; கரும்புக் கொல்லையில் வாய்க்கால் வெட்டி  

சம்பாப் பயிரைப் பறிச்சு நட்டு; தகந்த முறையில் தண்ணீர் விட்டு.. .. ..

காடு வெளைஞ்சென்ன மச்சான் நமக்கு; கையுங் காலுந்தானே மிச்சம்


Anniyan [literally Stranger] had a great theme – conceptually it was the guilty being punished… through the character of an innocent and honest lawyer.  One powerful dialogue penned by the Great Sujatha became an instant hit – but remembered more of a comedy… it was - “Anju paisa thiruduna thappaa? (Is stealing of five paise is wrong)” ~ it is not that 5 paise but the act of stealing and the impact is not that of that single act – but that of attitude – when lakhs of people all steal 5 paise – the effect is manifold and corruption is the biggest disease that afflicts the Nation.  So does ‘triviality’ matter indeed ??   

PM Kisan is a Central Sector scheme with 100% funding from Government of India.  It became operational in Dec 2018.  Under the scheme an income support of 6,000/- per year in three equal installments is being  provided to small and marginal farmer families having combined land holding/ownership of upto 2 hectares. Definition of family for the scheme is husband, wife and minor children.  Under the scheme, State Government and UT administration will identify the farmer families which are eligible for support as per scheme guidelines. The fund gets  directly transferred to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries.  It is not even 2 years fully operational – and there are news of a major scam in Tamil Nadu !

Under the Prime Minister Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme, the present  Modi Government has sent  6000 rupees to the bank account of 8 crore 95 lakh farmers till 3 September 2020.  These are farmers whose records have been registered with the authorities.  Central government has implemented this scheme to support farmers in distress.    SAD that even during difficult Covid 19 times, with Govt focused on fighting the dreaded Virus,   a big network of fraudsters devised plans and ate away PM-KISAN funds for which farmers were desperately waiting.

Indian Express had this report in detail  :  The lush fields and scenic hills around Varappalayam camouflage the distress of farmers living in the village very well. For the impoverished workers of the perennially ailing sector, the Covid pandemic and associated lockdowns were a brutal body blow. K Ranganathan, one such farmer from Varappalayam near Coimbatore, pinned his hopes on the Central government’s financial assistance programme, to tide through the tough times. The officials executing the programme, however, seemed to have different ideas.

“I had heard of the PM-Kisan scheme, and wanted to avail the benefits doled out for the sake of farmers by the Central government,” says Ranganathan. “However, when I visited a nationalised bank’s branch, they kept persuading me to take a crop loan if I wanted to get a Kisan card. The interest rate at the bank is a whopping 8 per cent. Why would I do that? I would get the same loan at a much cheaper rate of interest from a cooperative society.” Then, why not get a Kisan card from a cooperative society? “I tried, but the society wanted me to buy fertilizers from them in return for the Kisan card.  

The trouble with that deal is that the society does not give us the fertilizer we want. They try to push the product they prefer.” Ranganathan has been trying to get a Kisan card since June, but his attempts have gone in vain. “If I had the card, I would get the Rs 6,000 financial incentive being offered by the government to farmers to help us tide through the Covid-related distress.” Not just that. The Kisan card would also help Ranganathan take small bank loans without giving any collateral, at an interest rate of mere 2 per cent. Considering the benefits, Ranganathan has not given up trying. S Nachimutu, a farmer from Madukkarai, has had similar experience while applying for a Kisan card. The only difference is that Nachimutu has been trying for the last six months. For both these farmers, Kisan card is the panacea for which they have been looking. It is right there in front of them, but out of reach.  

Now, cut to Virudhachalam, in the northern part of Tamil Nadu. Daily wage labourer Bhavani* has been unemployed since the lockdown began. In April, when her family was struggling without her meagre income that, until then, kept them afloat, a neighbour told Bhavani about a new financial assistance programme of the government. All that Bhavani had to do was fill out a few forms, submit her Aadhaar details and ID proof, and she would get money from the government.  Thrilled, Bhavani did as she was told. When asked, the neighbour told Bhavani that she had found out about the scheme through a relative who works with the Agriculture Department in Cuddalore. “A fortnight after I completed the formalities, I received Rs 2,000 in my bank account, of which my neighbour demanded Rs 1,000 as commission.” Only then did Bhavani realise that she was an illegal beneficiary of the PM-Kisan scheme.

There is no farmer or farm worker in Bhavani’s family, yet she got the money meant as assistance for farmers. It appears Bhavani’s neighbour, or the relative who works in the Agriculture Department, used Bhavani’s credentials to open a fake beneficiary account. They gave half the money to Bhavani to make her a party in the crime. “I have never met this relative of my neighbour ever, not even during all these transactions.” In August too, Bhavani got Rs 2,000, of which the neighbour took Rs 1,000. Bhavani is at the tail end of a massive scam that has recently come to light in Tamil Nadu.  

It is suspected that there is a big network behind this scam, comprising corrupt bank and government officials apart from people with powerful links. The network corrupted a novel scheme, conceived to alleviate the distress of farmers, to swindle money meant for the poor. As a result, farmers like Ranganathan are running pillar to post to secure the benefits for which they are eligible, while those like Bhavani have been made unwilling parties to a financial fraud.  

So, how deep is this corruption? In Cuddalore alone, officials have unearthed a whopping 38,000 fake Kisan accounts so far. The process is continuing as more suspicious accounts are being audited. Till April, there were only 1.79 lakh beneficiaries of the scheme in Cuddalore, explain sources. After that there was a spurt -- 80,752 fresh beneficiaries got added; most of them were between July 15 and 31. A joint committee formed by the government -- comprising agriculture, horticulture, and revenue department officials -- expanded the probe beyond Cuddalore to 12 other districts. The also suspended the scheme to avoid further damage.  It has come to light that the scam is centred around Villupuram, Kallakurichi, and Cuddalore. In the Karmangudi revenue village of Cuddalore, for instance, only 172 out of the 474 new beneficiaries are genuine farmers, point out members of farmers associations, who are now up in arms against the fraudsters.

The fake accounts, according to sources, were in the names of school-going children, housewives, and others who had never done farming.  The scamsters  hoodwinked vulnerable citizens, used their documents and identification proofs, and opened fake accounts.  Last Saturday, one such common service centre in Kallakurichi, opposite the Shankarapuram Revenue Divisional Office, was sealed as part of the probe. The centre was allegedly forging documents of ineligible persons for the scheme after taking bribe from them. The issue was brought to light by farmers, with help from the Left parties. The District Collector then ordered a freeze on all beneficiary accounts linked to the centre until further instructions. In some other cases, it has also come to light that these contractual staff charged Rs 500 from applicants as “computer fees” and misused their Aadhaar details to open fake accounts.

More than half the beneficiaries in Kallakurichi are fake, say officials. “A total of 1,40,000 Kisan cards were sanctioned to beneficiaries of which, 75,000 were found to be ineligible,” says joint director of agriculture Velayudham. “Investigation has revealed that two government officers leaked the user ID and password of the database to contractual employees of computer centres, including the one that was sealed. Using the login details, fake applications were uploaded on to the database.” So far, three Assistant Directors based in Villupuram and Kallakurichi have been suspended by the agricultural department, suspecting they had links with the scam. Officials in Chennai say the investigation is almost over, and that the “kingpins” behind the scam would be nabbed in the next few days. “Every penny swindled illegally will be retrieved. After all, we have all their bank account numbers. There will be no loss of money for the government,” a senior official said. A few staff members working at computer centres there have been fired. 

Another report of the Express adds that the authorities have recovered Rs. 2.25 crore from ineligible accounts of farmers who were enrolled under PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana (PM-KISAN) scheme in Tiruvannamalai district. The Crime Branch-CID (CB-CID) has nabbed a woman heading a self-help group (SHG) in connection with the irregularities. Top authorities of Agriculture and Revenue departments initiated the inquiry following the irregularities in enrollment and disbursal of cash under the PM-KISAN came to light recently. They found that 32,000 accounts belonged to farmers who are ineligible to get the financial succour from the Centre. Consequently, the process to retrieve the cash from their accounts was initiated. “Rs. 2.25 crore cash has been recovered from ineligible accounts,” Tiruvannamalai district collector KS Kandasamy said on Saturday.

He added, “All the cash transfer made into the account since 1 April have been subjected to scrutiny to find how much cash was received by the ineligible farmers.” The accounts of the suspected farmers have also been held up by the bank authorities so that they can’t withdraw cash, but allowed to deposit. The field-level officers of Agriculture and Revenue departments have been visiting those farmers who run out balance in their account to persuade them to return the cash received under PM-KISAN.  In Vellore, Tirupathur and Ranipet districts, it was found that about 10,000 ineligible accounts were opened to avail of the dole, according to a senior officer.

Meanwhile, the sleuths of CB-CID, which has been probing the financial irregularities, has arrested a woman heading an SHG in connection with the scam. Thirty-five-year-old Jeeva, a resident of Perungalathur, Thandarampattu Taluk, in Tiruvannamalai, was held by a team of CB-CID led by Inspector Dhanalakhsmi on Friday, sources said.  She was produced before a local court and subsequently, remanded to judicial custody. Jeeva, who headed an SHG, was alleged to have faciliated enrollment of ineligible farmers in the PM-KISAN scheme, CB-CID sources said.  Irregularities in PM-KISAN have been committed in 13 districts, including Kallakurichy, Cuddalore and Villupuram, of Northern Tamil Nadu and several crores of money was swindled. Local authorities of Agriculture department and data entry operators have allegedly colluded with farmers to enrol ineligible hands to avail of the financial benefits.

It is a sad state of affairs – but one would not find it strange that media would not discuss this, politicians won’t raise voices and even common man would act as if nothing happened.  Has corruption become so normal ! ~ and  why the direct beneficiaries, the farmers, are not agitating ?  Ideally the farmers and their many Associations should have been on the streets protesting !   for it was the money meant for them that had been swindled ! – Corruption has really affected the society !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar



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