Corruption in the garb of pension schemes has known no bounds in Western Maharashtra’s sugar belt of Kolhapur.
When The Indian Express visited villages in the district, there were glaring instances involving local politicians, government officials, village chiefs and private agents.
Dead but ‘Alive’
Kagal resident Shivaji Patil died on October 26, 2013. But on government records, Shivaji drew old-age pension even last month.
After first denying the fraud, Kagal’s Nayab Tahsildar Shivaji Gavai ordered a probe after The Indian Express confronted him with evidence.
Ironically, the state has launched a pilot project in Kagal in association with a leading bank where biometric thumb impressions are matched for disbursing pension grants.
Documents accessed through the RTI Act show that the first pension installment to Shivaji was released after he died. His application was processed only a month before his death. What’s more, Shivaji did not even meet the required criteria for a pension grant. A local panel, headed by an aide of former Maharashtra minister Hasan Mushrif, and comprising Tahsildar Shantaram Sangde as a member, however, granted his request.
Kagal’s medical superintendent B Gaikwad issued a certificate on August 17, 2012, claiming that Sutar’s age was 66 years, which was considered as a valid proof for his pension application processed a year later. But records maintained by Vidya Mandir, which was the school where Shivaji studied, show he was 57 years old when he died.
His pension application was cleared based on the claim that his mother Akkubai features in the 2002-03 Below the Poverty Line (BPL) list. What was however kept under wraps was that Akkubai is now a Karnataka resident and that she does not stay with Shivaji’s family. Also hidden was the fact that Shivaji used to stay with his two sons, Pandit (in the photo) and Ravindra, both employed and earning salaries greater than the permissible limits for the family income as per norms. A two-wheeler stands parked outside their house, which Pandit later confirmed was his. The house has cable television and a sofa set. Pandit also confirmed that his family cultivated sugarcane on a 10-guntha plot of farm land.
The pension application of Shivaji’s wife Laxmi, which also referred to Akkubai’s name, was approved on the same day as Shivaji’s own application. Her age was shown as 66 at the time of application.
Dead woman’s pension for bogus beneficiary
More intriguing is Dattatray Sutar’s case, another bogus beneficiary residing in the same village, Malage Khurd.
Although his name does not feature in the BPL list, the gramsevak and the sarpanch issued a certificate claiming Sutar’s name featured at Serial No 79 in the BPL list. Suman Patil, a woman who died in December 2012, is actually the name at Serial No. 79. “We haven’t availed any pension on her name since her death,” said Suman’s daughter-in-law Sangita, who seemed unaware that someone else from the same village was drawing pension using Suman’s name.
Malage Khurd’s sarpanch Reshma Sable, when contacted, said she did not recollect the individual case, but admitted that she might have signed a few dubious records under duress. A former Hasan Mushrif aide, Sable recently fell out with the former minister.
Sutar later admitted his name was not in the BPL list. While school’s records make it clear that Sutar turned 51 this year, the Murgud rural hospital in the region certified his age as 66 on September24, 2013. “He had produced a
record showing he was born in 1947. Our certification is based on documents produced and visual examination. It cannot be accurate at all times,” medical superintendent S B Thorat said.
Sutar does not fit the income profile too. While his pension application and tahsildar’s report on his income profile claims that Sutar is a destitute and has no source of income, the farmer himself admitted owing a 6-guntha sugarcane farm. He also owns a bullock and has a television set in his house.
Faking a marriage
Anant Patil, 77, a BPL person, is married to 50-year-old Matabai. The couple lives with their son Vitthal and his family at their home in Malage Khurd. But on the government’s records, one Shanta Patil is drawing pension money as Anant’s wife. Anant’s family claims it does not even know Shanta, though she resides in the same village. RTI documents reveal that on her request, the gramsevak and village sarpanch issued a certificate on September 03,2013, where she was shown as being married to Anant.
In real-life Shanta is married to Dattatray Patil, whose name does not figure in the BPL list. The local panel and the tahsildar’s office approved her application without scrutinising this basic fact.
Ironically, Shanta’s son Sagar, who is differently abled, also gets government’s financial assistance. Her elder son, Pandit, is employed. “He has separated from us,” Shanta claims. The local panel headed by an NCP politician approved Shanta’s application on October 11, 2013.
Interestingly, it also approved another bogus case the same day where Anant’s name was again misused. One Pundalik Patil, whose names do not figure in the BPL list, availed pension, with the gramsevak and sarpanch issuing a bogus document certifying him in Anant’s Patil name. To meet the eligibility criteria, Pundalik’s son Narayan, who is a grampanchayat employee, also submitted a bogus affidavit claiming he had parted ways with his father and does not support him.
When The Indian Express visited his house, Narayan himself said both of them live together. The talathi also understated Pundalik’s farm landholding.
Meanwhile, Anant’s son Vithal, an MSEB employee, claimed that they could never avail the pension benefit. “Our application won’t ever be considered since we support the rival political party (Shiv Sena),” he said. The family was unaware about their bogus relatives.
Bungalow, Car and a ‘destitute’ widow
The picture says it all. This is the house where Radhabai Khot, a pensioner, resides in Karvir’s Nagdevwadi village.
A Congress politician-led local committee approved Khot’s application for pension meant for a destitute widow, even as she resides with her son Sandeep, who is employed with the Maharashtra State Electricity Board.
The family resides in a lavish bungalow, owns a four-wheeler, and is well to do. While Khot herself could not be contacted, Sandeep confirmed that the family also owns a 16-guntha sugarcane farm. “We will not avail the benefit from now. My mother just went with the flow. In the run-up to elections, a number of women from our village had applied for pension,” he said.
In the run-up to the state polls, an NCP-led local government panel in Kagal sanctioned old age pension for Malubai Patil, who resides on the outskirts of Malage Khurd.
Malubai’s application was cleared on the ground that his son Shamrao’s name figures in the BPL list. But the BPL list actually refers to another Shamrao Patil, who resides inside the village. The fact that the family owns 2.16-hectare farm land remained undisclosed.
‘Everyone was cheating. so, why not me?’
“Gaon main sab kar rahen the toh maine bhi kara (Everyone in the village was applying, so I applied too,” said Karvir resident Krishna Dhaire, whose application for old-age pension was approved in the run-up to state polls even though he himself admits being just 45 years old.
“I was born in 1968,” Dhaire admitted. “In the run-up to the polls, they (local politicos) were saying you just give us your Aadhaar card and three photos, and we would ensure you get an additional Rs 600 a month,” he added. “Most in the village applied. I did too,” he said.
Dhaire does not fit the income criteria too. He admitted that his annual family income was much higher than the Rs 21,000 cap for availing old age pension. He owns a one-acre sugarcane farm, two animals, two motorbikes, and resides with his family in a ground plus one pucca house.
When biometric thumbprints of some beneficiaries did not match, I had raised the matter in the gram panchayat. But they (other members) brought a no-confidence motion against me forcing me to retreat. I might have signed some dubious documents under duress. I would have been targetted for blocking the benefit to a villager.
Reshma Sable, Sarpanch, Malage Khurd
I was not the sarpanch when the bogus applications were accepted. As a gram panchayat member, I had raised my voice against such cases arguing that these would eventually show the village in bad light.
Sharad Nigde, Sarpanch, Nagdevwadi
Once the gramsevak certifies that someone’s name appears in the BPL list, why should we crosscheck this detail. It is the responsibility of the circle officer to verify the income profile of applicants whose annual income is below Rs 21,000.
Shivaji Gavai, Naib Tahsildar, Kagal
Action will be taken against all those responsible for the bogus cases. We have already initiated a drive.
Kiran Kulkarni, Dy Collector, Kolhapur