Heartless TN corrupt officials are playing with the hapless lives of farmers who are the backbone of India’s economy, by swindling Rs 110 crore in Tamil Nadu which rightfully belongs to the farmers of the state. The officials have instead cornered the benefits of the PM Kisan scheme designed to help small land holding kisans. A few cases of fake entries in Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana by state agricultural officers came to light in Villupuram district which is now found to be the epicenter of the scam. The officials have been suspended.
Their modus operandi is simple. Falsification of records, add ineligible beneficiaries and pocket the money. The corona lockdown has helped this well-oiled gang of officials to go ahead with their game. More cases of fraud came to fore in Villupuram, Kallakurichi districts. Venkatesan, Ajith, Mugilan and Muthukumar of Kallakurichi in Tiruvannamalai district were the first ones to be arrested in the scam. Rishivandyam Asst. Agricultural Director Rajasekaran, Tyagadurgam Asst. Agricultural Director Sumathi was later suspended. The action was taken based on advice from the Centre that found something was fishy in implementation of the flagship scheme.
Talking to media persons on 8th September, TN Agriculture Secretary Gagandeep Singh Bedi said an estimated 110 crore was fraudulently credited to the bank accounts of 5.5 lakh ineligible persons in 13 districts during the past few months. He said 80 officials have been dismissed and ‘major disciplinary action’ initiated against 34 government officials. Bedi said so far 32 crores has been recovered from them.
“Three assistant directors have been suspended. The staff, who were shown doors included the staff working at the computer centre and block managers. A CB-CID probe is on and after getting a report further action would be taken” Bedi explained. The CB-CID team has detained 18 people in this connection. Block level agricultural and horticulture officers have been engaged to recover the amount who have got it fraudulently.
In Cuddalore district accounts of 37,000 people who have received the money fraudulently have been blocked while in Salem district recovery proceedings are on to recover money from 14,000 accounts. Police are interrogating owners of two private computer centres Rahul and Kalaiarasan. In Madurai district 11,000 people received money by misusing the scheme. Officials have recovered 7.20 lakhs. It is a herculean task to recover the money from them which they might have already spent.
It is learnt that most of the fake entries were made during the lockdown period, taking advantage of the option of leaving out farmers to file applications online. Failure of field-level verification during the lockdown period turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the fraudsters. Bedi blamed the staff in computer centres and private agents for the irregularities. “They have colluded to cheat gullible farmers by misleading and asking them to share the bank account details by promising farmers of helping them to get “corona money”. Fake beneficiaries of the scheme have been found living in metros like Chennai urban centers like Ambattur, Alandur, Maduravoyal, Tiruvottiyur, Sholinganallur where there are no arable lands as per revenue records. This shows the magnitude of the scam. In Chennai, Rs.7.6 lakhs have been disbursed to such ‘farmers’”, he revealed.
Bedi assured that no eligible farmers would be left out of the scheme and stern action would be taken against both government officials and private persons.
As per the PM Kisan scheme announced by PM Modi in December 2018, eligible tiny and small farmers will get Rs.6,000 annually, in three equal instalments of Rs 2,000 each. This would be credited in their bank accounts to avoid middle men pocketing it. In Tamil Nadu, 42 lakh farmers are eligible beneficiaries”, said Bedi.
Sr journalist Rangaraj Pandey said, “While the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme (NREGA) or 100 days minimum job guarantee scheme of UPA government was to help farm labourers, the PM Kisan scheme is to support the land holding farmers’ for their livelihood. The scheme specifically says former or current ministers, MPs MLAs and members of Local bodies are ineligible to benefits of the PM Kisan scheme. Both State and Central, public sector current and retired employees whose pension is above 10,000 per month or taxpayers, doctors, advocates, chartered accountants are not eligible to avail the benefits even if they have lands. Bedi , who is considered to be an upright officer, has openly admitted they have discovered the scam, knowing fully well that it would affect poll prospects of the current AIADMK government in the next year’s assembly polls. The open confession by the government will not absolve its sin entirely”, he opined.
Pandey further said, “To avail the benefits, Aadhar number, Pan Card, Mobile number, passwords are needed. If they can do frauds with such security features, what will they not do in future? It is a threat to such security measures. It raises a question in what could have happened in other schemes and how many crores could have been looted. After linking the Aadhar number with Ration cards, we were able to weed out nearly 10 lakh bogus cards. It was the Centre which first smelt the scam and started taking action. Then only the state government followed it with full vigour, as a damage control exercise. The arrests are only the tip of the iceberg. A thorough probe is needed to find the entire network and the brain behind the scam, who abetted them, officials who turned blind eyes and those who encouraged them. They misused the scheme even in difficult pandemic times. Bedi says, so far 32 crores have been recovered. It was a good and appreciable move. It is impossible to recover money from all accounts. The magnitude of the scam running to over 100crore by Bedi’s admission, shows they were careless. Definitely there could be a link of politicians in this scam and without their role it could not be possible. Someone found the loophole and did it in all 13 districts. The TN government should arrest all those behind these, otherwise opposition parties would term it as ‘eyewash probe’. The state government should put in places measures to avoid recurrence of the same in future”.
It is pertinent to point out that during a meeting in Chennai ahead of the 2019 LoK Sabha elections, the then BJP president Amit Shah remarked that Tamil Nadu was among the “most Corrupt States” in Bharat. The ruling AIADMK, part of the BJP led alliance in the state, objected to his comments. The recent exposures of rampant corruption in all schemes by the AIADMK government and its officials beat its rival DMK which is a synonym of scientific corruption.
Complaints have been pouring in PMAY (house of for all) and Swacch Bharat yojana. In that also without building houses and toilets, officials claimed money by making bogus lists of beneficiaries. In some cases, ruling party men were given the cash benefits.
Journalist Jai Krishna says the AIADMK government’s term will end next May. CBI officials raided over 40 properties belonging to T N Health Minister C Vijayabaskar, DGP T K Rajendran, former Minister B V Ramana, former Chennai Police commissioner S George in 2018 as part of the multi crore Gutkha scam probe. It is alleged that a large misappropriation of funds meant for Corona. Opposition parties have been accusing the state government of misusing the Corona relief fund. It said there were irregularities in buying tin-sheets, foods and medicine for patients, procurement of masks, protection gear for doctors and frontline health workers etc. They have been demanding a probe by an independent agency. It is expected that these charges will pick up speed during the election campaign.