Last month, prime minister (PM) Narendra Modi announced that the Central government had deposited Rs18,000 crore in the bank accounts of more than 90 million poor and marginal farmer households under the PM-KISAN Samman Nidhi Yojana (PM-KISAN Yojana) and that he would ensure that it would go to only the genuine beneficiaries. However, as per information obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, a whopping Rs1,364 crore have been given to ineligible/income-tax-paying farmers. Apparently, now some states like Maharashtra have launched a campaign to reverse the funds given to ineligible farmers.
The RTI application, which was filed with the department of agriculture, cooperation, and farmers’ welfare, sought information on the total amount of funds that were deposited in the bank accounts of ineligible people in every state and union territory (UT) and the total amount of funds that have been reversed from the bank accounts of these non-beneficiaries in every state and UT since the inception of PM-KISAN. Having received no response from the CPIO of the public authority, Venkatesh Nayak, the RTI applicant, filed his first appeal with the first appellate authority who directed the CPIO to part with the information.
Says Mr Nayak, “The CPIO of the department of agriculture, cooperation & farmers' welfare, supplied us with information about two categories of undeserving persons who received PM-KISAN pay-outs since the inception of the scheme. According to this data, this department has identified two sets of undeserving recipients, namely, 'ineligible farmers' and 'income-tax-payee farmers'.
The CPIO provided detailed information in the form of Excel sheets, graphics and pdf presentations. After painstakingly analysing all of them, Mr Nayak has come out with some startling facts. As per his study, “A total of 20,48,634 undeserving persons across the country had received PM-KISAN payouts until 31 July, 2020. More than half (55.58%) of these undeserving persons belong to the "income tax payee category." The remaining 44.41% belong to the 'ineligible farmers category.'
Mr Nayak further explains, “Although the datasets do not mention how many of them are covered under which exclusion criteria listed above, it is clear that I-T payee farmers are being treated as a separate category. So it must be presumed that the remaining recipients belong to one or more categories mentioned in the exclusion criteria mentioned above.’’
The data supplied by the CPIO indicates a whopping Rs1,364.13 crore was paid out to undeserving recipients. At Rs985.09 crore these payouts to 'I-T payee farmers' constituted 72.28% of the total (even though this category includes only 55.58% of the total number of recipients). Payouts to 'ineligible farmers' at INR 379.03 crore amounted to 27.78% of the total.
As a sequel to this RTI information, as per news reports, proceedings have already been launched in some districts of Maharashtra to recover payments made to undeserving recipients. However, Mr Nayak rues that, “recovering more than Rs1,300 crore from the ineligible and I-T payee farmers will be a herculean task, given their geographical spread. The financial adversity suffered by members of the farming community due to the nation-wide lockdown in 2020 makes this task even more daunting. Interestingly, the officials monitoring the implementation of the PM-KISAN Yojana have unequivocally stated in their internal correspondence emailed to me that they have not yet begun maintaining a database of recoveries made from undeserving recipients. So, I could not get that part of the information which was written in the RTI application."
Being a scheme, which has large public interest, the working and the beneficiaries of the PM-KISAN Yojana require the proactive disclosure of the list of beneficiaries in every gram panchayat. These are available on the relevant websites. However, Nayak feels that the civil society and community based organisations have their task cut out to use this ever-expanding database to verify whether or not the listed recipients are deserving of the payouts or not.
Punjab tops the list accounting for 23.16% (474,000) of the total number of undeserving persons across the country who received payouts, followed by Assam with 16.87% (345,000) and Maharashtra with 13.99% (286,000) in the 2nd and 3rd places, respectively. These three states account for more than half (54.03%) of the number of undeserving persons who received pay-outs.
As per the scheme, only small and marginal farmers owning less than two hectares of land were eligible to benefit from it. Later, the scheme expanded to include all farmers irrespective of their land holdings. However, some categories who are excluded from these payouts are the following:
1) institutional landholders;
2) farmer families in which one or more members belong to the following categories:
a) former and present holders of constitutional posts;
b) former and present ministers at the central and state level, former and present members of parliament, members of legislative assemblies and legislative councils, former and present mayors of municipal corporations and former and present chairpersons of district panchayats;
c) all serving and retired officers and employees of central and state governments, central and state public sector enterprises and autonomous institutions under government as well as regular employees of local bodies except multi-tasking staff, class IV and group D employees;
d) all pensioners receiving monthly pension of INR 10,000 or more, excluding multi-tasking staff, Class IV and Group D employees;
e) all persons who paid income tax in the last assessment year; and
f) professionals such as doctors, engineers, chartered accountants and architects registered with professional bodies and carrying out profession by undertaking practices.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.