An estimated ₹110 crore was fraudulently credited to the bank accounts of 5.5 lakh ineligible people in 13 districts of Tamil Nadu under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) Scheme during the past few months, Agriculture Secretary Gagandeep Singh Bedi said on Tuesday. As much as ₹32 crore has been recovered so far.
Addressing the media in Chennai, Mr. Bedi said 80 people had been dismissed and “major disciplinary action” initiated against 34 government officials.
Among them were three Assistant Directors of Agriculture, who were suspended. The dismissed staff included those working at computer centres and as block managers. Further action would be taken based on the probe report of the CB-CID. As many as 18 persons had been arrested so far, he added.
The government is hoping to recover the remaining amount within a couple of months as it has the bank account and Aadhaar card details of the beneficiaries in question.
Blaming the “staff in computer centres and private agents” for the scam, Mr. Bedi contended that they had conspired to cheat “innocent farmers” by misguiding them and asking them to share their bank account details with the promise of getting them “Corona money”.
Under the PM-Kisan Scheme, eligible farmers will get ₹6,000 annually, in three equal instalments. The amount would be credited to their bank accounts. There are over 40 lakh eligible farmer-beneficiaries in Tamil Nadu.
Mr. Bedi said the login IDs and passwords of government officials were misused by agents through data entry operators to validate the applications of ineligible persons. The passwords have since been reset.
A syndicate of computer centre operators is suspected to have been behind the scam in 13 districts, including Chengalpattu, Cuddalore, Dharmapuri, Kallakurichi, Kancheepuram, Krishnagiri, Ranipet, Salem, Tiruvannamalai, Vellore and Villupuram. Kallakurichi and Villupuram districts were the ‘epicentre’ of the scam, Mr. Bedi said.
While over 5.5 lakh ineligible persons from 13 districts had been included as beneficiaries since March, the remaining 25 districts accounted for just one lakh new applicants.
The scam is believed to have taken place when most of the Agriculture Department officials were involved in COVID-19-related work, Mr. Bedi said, adding that it came to the government’s attention by August. However, he acknowledged that there could be “some black sheep” among government officials too.
The State government had zero tolerance for such illegal acts, the Agriculture Secretary said. It had recovered a huge sum in just 10 days, unlike what happened in other States like Assam, Manipur and Uttar Pradesh, which had seen similar scams, he added.