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Maharashtra Welfare fund scam: Politicians diverted taxpayers’ money for electoral mileage

In the run-up to state Assembly polls in October, powerful leaders milked welfare schemes.

scam-l Pundalik Patil’s (left) name does not figure in the BPL list. Bogus reference to an unrelated name in the list was used to make him eligible. His son Narayan (right) lied on oath that he had parted ways with Patil. (Source: IE Photo by Deepak Joshi)

A day after The Indian Express reported on a multi-crore scam in which funds for welfare schemes for the poor and destitute were misappropriated through large-scale use of bogus income and age certificates, it emerges that the fraud was executed with the connivance of powerful politicians who milked these welfare schemes, diverting the taxpayer’s money for electoral gains.

Also Read: Bogus proofs helped swindle money meant for old, poor

The Express report highlighted how a cartel of politicians, government officials, village chiefs and private agents connived with each other and used  bogus records and documents to let thousands of illegitimate beneficiaries pocket the money. In Western Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, pension money was even drawn on names of those who had died.

Also Read: In Kolhapur, pension scheme knew no rule

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Officials documents show that in the run-up to the Assembly elections in October, scores of beneficiaries were paid money through these welfare schemes without the mandatory scrutiny of applications, and the applicants’ income and age profiles.

A financial assistance of Rs 600-900 a month is extended to destitute senior citizens, divorced and abandoned women, women rescued from prostitution rackets and differently-abled persons under various welfare schemes such as the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Anudan Yojana, the Shravan Bal Seva Nivrutti Vetan Yojana, the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, the Indira Gandhi National Handicapped Pension Scheme and the Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme. To be eligible, an applicant’s annual family income must not exceed Rs 21,000. Bogus income and age certificates and fake Below Poverty Line (BPL) records were used to plunder taxpayer money.

There is evidence that the scam peaked during the pre-election period. Between March 31 and November 30 this year, beneficiaries in Kolhapur alone rose from 61,307 to 90,110 — a 47 per cent jump. General elections in Maharashtra took place in April and Assembly polls were in October.

While government norms require the revenue department and the gramsevak to scrutinise each application in detail, documents show this wasn’t done in several cases in the run-up to polls.

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The Indian Express visited villages in Kolhapur’s Kagal and Karvir talukas, where complaints of bogus beneficiaries were rampant.

In Kagal, the number of beneficiaries increased by an 102 per cent — from 7,300 on March 31 to 14,754 on November 30. In Karvir, the percentage rise in number of beneficiaries was a staggering 186 per cent (from 3,885 in March to 7,263 in November). Kolhapur South (66 per cent) and Bhudargad (48 per cent) also witnessed an abnormal increase during these eight months.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and former Special Assistance Minister Hasan Mushrif represents Kagal constituency in the Assembly, while Shiv Sena’s Chandradeep Narke is the MLA from Karvir. Former minister of state (home) Satej Patil (Congress) represented Kolhapur South seat in the previous government. He lost the seat to Bharatiya Janata Party’s Amal Mahadik in the October Assembly polls.

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Most of these talukas are well developed. In comparison, some of Kolhapur’s backward talukas, where one would expect to find more destitute, have fewer number of beneficiaries. As of November 30, Gangabawda, Azra and Chandgad had 743,  2,344 and 3,393 beneficiaries, respectively.

A taluka-level committee headed by a political nominee, has to approve applications of beneficiaries after ground-level scrutiny by the revenue staff and the gramsevak.

Documents point to an unusual haste in approving cases in the run-up to polls. “They (the political workers) said we just needed to give them three photographs, Aadhaar card and that they would do the rest,” said Karvir’s Nagdevwadi resident Krishna Dhaire, a bogus beneficiary, whose application for old-age pension was approved even though he is just 45 years old and earns well. “Sab gaonwalon ne kiya. Humne bhi kiya. (Most in the village applied. I applied too),” Dhaire said.

In Kagal, the taluka panel cleared 2,559 applications in a single meeting held on February 18. Orders to the beneficiaries were issued in March. Nearly 2,000 other beneficiaries were approved on August 12. On November 6, the panel cleared another 986 applications in a single day.

The collector’s office has now ordered a probe into the matter. A  fresh survey of beneficiaries in Kolhapur has been ordered. Collector (in-charge) Ajit Pawar said directives for a social audit of the schemes had been issued too. Deputy Collector Kiran Kulkarni said “all those responsible for bogus beneficiaries getting money will face action”.

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Mushrif, when contacted, denied allegations of politicians’ involvement in the fraud. “There could be some cases where undeserving applicants have availed of the benefit. But we must not lose focus on scores of deserving persons it has helped,” he said. Mushrif refused to reply to allegations that he had used the scheme for benefiting in the elections. “I can’t divulge details now. I will personally meet you after the winter session for further discussion,” he said.

Aadhaar reform to curb bogus cases
Not ruling out existence of bogus beneficiaries in welfare schemes to “some extent”, Principal Secretary (Social Justice and Special Assistance) R D Shinde said the state had plans to link payments under the scheme to Aadhaar cards and tie up with banks for payments across the state. A pilot tie-up with a leading bank in Kagal has, however, failed to check bogus cases.

First published on: 24-12-2014 at 06:05:12 pm
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