A combination of factors, such as relaxation of norms in enumeration of farmers, delegation of the power of authentication, emergence of a syndicate and discrepancies in data concerning land holdings, seems to have caused the ₹110 crore scam in the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM Kisan) in Tamil Nadu.
The Central government, a year ago, introduced online provision for self-registration of prospective beneficiaries, after furnishing the required details. This arrangement allowed a section of field officials at offices of Assistant Directors of Agriculture to collude with private computer centres in the Kallakurichi-Villupuram belt.
The COVID-19 pandemic was used by the alleged culprits, as the field-level officers were occupied with immediate requirements of farmers and many could not visit their offices. Agriculture Secretary Gagandeep Singh Bedi recently acknowledged that as some of the officers were not that tech-savvy, they had to be reliant on data entry operators for authentication. The government has now initiated action against those officers for “not having protected” the passwords.
There are reports of multiple beneficiaries in families. While a family may have four individuals, each owning farm lands, there can be only one beneficiary in the family. This is why the State government has sought the Centre’s permission to make the submission of rationcard details mandatory so that the problem of duplication can be eliminated.
Data on land holdings
In addition, discrepancies in land holding data have been bothering the authorities from the beginning of the scheme. The Agricultural Census 2015-16 reveals that there are about 79.38 lakh farm holdings, regarded as farmers, whereas the State Agriculture department is of the view that the total number of farmer-beneficiaries is estimated at 41 lakh.
Dwelling upon this issue, farmers’ leaders P.R. Pandian and K.M. Rama Goundar, want the State government to hold a State-wide survey of all the farm lands, as was done in 1984. “There are numerous instances of farmers having partitioned their ancestral lands informally. If these farmers have been included, the present action of the authorities is to get them eliminated from the scope of the scheme. My request to the government is to conduct the survey; issue pattas to those who do not have one and include such farmers in the scheme,” says Mr. Rama Goundar.
Mr. Pandian claims that officials have told him that there were 1.25 crore families in the State dependent upon agriculture but only 60% of them can be covered under the scheme.
However, the Agriculture department has requested the Centre to grant permission for making use of the database of ‘Tamil Nilam,’ a web-based system on land administration and management, for validation of applicants' claims on land records. “We are confident of getting the Centre's approval,” the officials add.
S. Venkatesan, a farmer leader of Cuddalore, wants the authorities to look into reports of bank accounts of even eligible farmers having been put on lien.