AP: Around Rs 700 cr funds meant for various direct cash transfer schemes found to have gone to wrong hands

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A staggering sum of Rs 700 crore might have gone into the wrong hands so far this year under the various direct cash transfer schemes being implemented by the Andhra Pradesh government, a cursory verification by the Finance Department has established.

The Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy government has claimed it has doled out a sum of over Rs one lakh crore under various freebie schemes between June 2019 and June 2021.

When state Finance Minister Buggana Rajendranath recently undertook a review of the cash flow situation, with top officials of his department, it was decided to go for a revalidation of all beneficiaries’ data under different schemes to plug the leaks.

A test check of some major schemes then exposed the gaping holes in the beneficiaries’ data and indicated that “huge sums of money” fell into the wrong accounts, authoritative sources in the Finance Department said.

“We have only just started but the basic findings itself are startling. We now suspect that more than Rs 3,000 crore might have gone to dubious persons in the last two years,” the sources told PTI on the condition of anonymity.

Prime among the annual schemes that entail a large sum of money to lakhs of beneficiaries are Amma Vodi (Rs 15,000 to each mother), PM Kisan Rythu Bharosa (Rs 13,500 to each farmer), Cheyuta (Rs 18,750 to each BC, ST, SC and minority woman over 45 years of age), Vahana Mitra (Rs 10,000 to each cab/auto driver) and Matsyakara Bharosa (Rs 10,000 to each fisherman).

On June 22, the Chief Minister clicked a computer button to transfer Rs 18,750 each to 23,41,827 beneficiaries under the Cheyuta scheme.

But subsequently, payment amounting to Rs 168.17 crore has been stopped for 89,694 women as the government sought to verify the genuineness of the beneficiaries, sources in the Finance Department said.

On May 18, Jagan pressed the computer button to credit a sum of Rs 119.88 crore into the bank accounts of 1,19,875 fishermen under Matsyakara Bharosa.

But later the dole amounting Rs 21.73 crore was stopped for 21,736 perceived beneficiaries as officials smelt “something fishy” about their veracity.

The parched Anantapuramu district has 5,76,972 total beneficiaries under the PM Kisan scheme, for whom Rs 205.43 crore was distributed in 2020-21.

A physical verification of only 28,622 farmers in the district revealed that 235 of them were ineligible to draw benefits under PM Kisan.

“In this case the amount is only Rs 31.72 lakh but it could be crores of rupees if a full verification of all beneficiaries is conducted. In the 13 districts, tens of crores of rupees may actually have gone into the wrong hands so far,” sources in the Finance Department pointed out.

The government has been borrowing huge sums from the open market to keep the freebie schemes running month after month but the beneficiary identification process left much to be desired, officials aver.

Amma Vodi (meaning mother’s lap), which is intended to encourage mothers to send their children to school, is one major scheme that has virtually gone unchecked for any veracity so far.

“The scheme was launched in January 2020 but thereafter schools functioned hardly for two months due to the outbreak of coronavirus. So, there has been no way to validate if the targeted children have been enrolled in schools, which is mandatory under the scheme,” a top official said.

With online classes being the order of the day, attendance of students is also not actually captured.

“We have received many complaints about dubious beneficiaries under Amma Vodi. There are cases where the students are residents in the neighbouring state but drawing the freebie benefit here,” the official pointed out.

As the next Amma Vodi cash transfer is due only in January 2022, the government has decided to conduct a thorough audit to weed out bogus claimants, the official added.

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