A scam amounting to Rs 110 crore was unearthed in the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) scheme in Tamil Nadu. Fraudsters allegedly siphoned off crores of rupees, by crediting central funds to the bank accounts of 5.5 lakh ineligible beneficiaries in 13 districts in Tamil Nadu over a period of four months, according to the state government. At least 18 people have been arrested so far.
What is the PM-Kisan scheme?
The PM-Kisan is a central scheme launched by the Union government in December 2018. The scheme aims at helping small and marginal farmers holding land upto 2 hectares by providing them an assistance of Rs 6000 per year. As per the scheme, state governments and union territory administrations will identify the eligible beneficiary, transferring the amount of Rs 2000 every four months directly to their bank accounts.
Those ineligible to receive the amount include those of higher economic status.
Uncovering the scam in TN
According to the Tamil Nadu government, the scam came to light at the end of August by the Agriculture Department. Officials witnessed a sudden increase in the number of beneficiaries, going from around 41 lakh in March to 46 lakh in August. Most of these illegal beneficiaries were from 13 districts in Tamil Nadu, with Tamil Nadu Agriculture Secretary Gagandeep Singh Bedi stating that the epicentre of the scam was in Salem, Dharmapuri, Cuddalore, Kallakurichi, Villupuram, Tiruvannamalai, Ranipet, Salem, Chengalpattu and Kancheepuram districts.
Suspecting fraud in the sudden increase in beneficiaries, the Agriculture Department launched a probe along with the district police.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami blamed the Centre for the scam, alleging that fraudsters took advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown and relaxation in norms to siphon off crores of money. Prior to the lockdown, agriculture officers verified beneficiaries by visiting them on the ground, before transferring the amount. However, owing to the COVID-19 lockdown, the Centre had allowed eligible beneficiaries to apply for the scheme online. ‚ÄúThe Centre‚Äôs revised guidelines allowed farmers to register themselves using Aadhaar or ration cards. This led to the problem,‚ÄĚ said the CM speaking to reporters in Tiruvannamalai on Wednesday.
Explaining the modus operandi of the scam, Gagandeep Singh Bedi said some officials who were involved in verifying the beneficiaries online allegedly shared their login and password details with agents. According to the Agriculture Secretary, these agents would call up ineligible farmers promising to get them ‚ÄėCorona money‚Äô if they shared their bank account details. Using data entry operators to validate these ineligible beneficiaries, these agents would in turn demand Rs 1500 from each individual for their services.
‚ÄúBy August 24, I informed the District Collectors, the Ministers and the Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami about the possible scam. We found that internet cafes received the Aadhaar card and other details of ineligible farmers or other people and registered with the PM Kisan Yojana website,‚ÄĚ said Bedi, ‚ÄúThe data entry workers informed individuals that they will receive Centre‚Äôs ‚ÄėCorona money‚Äô and in return they should provide them Rs 1,500. These persons would then provide the details and receive the funds.‚ÄĚ
Probe so far
The case has been transferred to the state‚Äôs CB-CID. Eighteen people, all reportedly agents, have been arrested so far. Eighty officials, who are involved with agricultural schemes, have been dismissed, while 34 government officials have been suspended. Those suspended include three Assistant Directors of the Agriculture Department.
The Agriculture Secretary said that Rs 32 crore has been recovered so far. He said, ‚ÄúThere is a clause that gives liberty to the bank to transfer the swindled government money to the account of the Collector. Using that, we have retrieved Rs 32 crore and we will get the remaining amount in one month.‚ÄĚ
The Secretary also assured that genuine beneficiaries of the scheme will not be affected. Bedi also said that the Tamil Nadu government is intolerant to all such scams and swindling of money meant for the underprivileged. He said departmental action will be taken against all officials involved.