Lakhs of beneficiaries under the Prime Minister Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme, who received the assistance of ₹2,000 in three instalments, are in a soup. Two years after the Centre introduced the scheme, the government now wants to recover money from many farmers, saying they were ineligible.
The scheme envisaged protecting small and marginal farmers with income support of ₹6,000 in three instalments a year. It excluded affluent, tax-paying farmers; serving and retired government servants; politicians; bureaucrats; professionals like doctors, engineers, lawyers, and chartered accountants; who also did farming.
But over the past few months, agriculture departments across the country received instructions from the Centre saying lakhs of farmers across states claimed the benefit when they were not supposed to.
Now, the agriculture department officials are coordinating with banks, the Income Tax Department and the central authorities to get the money back from farmers.
For instance, about 5.38 lakh farmers in Tamil Nadu; about 85,000 farmers in Karnataka; and 2.3 lakh farmers in Maharashtra are considered ineligible. Reportedly, in Tamil Nadu alone, the government recovered about ₹130 crore over the past few months. The Federal could not ascertain the total number of beneficiaries across the country.
When asked about where the system failed, Karnataka Agriculture Commissioner Brijesh Kumar Dikshit told The Federal that they went ahead analysing the beneficiaries based on the Bhoomi (land records) and Aadhaar data of farmers but did not consider the income tax records. “We took a self-declaration from farmers that he/she is eligible under the scheme before transferring the money. But we are dealing with various agencies on how to recover the money,” he said.
But not every farmer received all the three instalments. Over the years, the beneficiaries under the scheme have reduced drastically. As per government data, though 10.87 crore farmers were considered eligible, only about 10.53 crore availed the first instalment and by the time the government disbursed the fourth instalment (second year), the beneficiaries reduced to 7.83 crore. About 2.7 crore farmers or beneficiaries reduced between the first and fourth instalment disbursal.
West Bengal is the only state which has not joined the PM-Kisan scheme.
Even as farmers are protesting across the country over the contentious farm laws that the centre claims may increase their earnings, farmers are sceptical about the government’s move and are miffed that some haven’t even got the complete benefit of the income support.
Kuberappa, a farmer from Belaguthi village in Davanagere districts, who earns a yearly income of ₹50,000-60,000 with maize crops says he only received the money for two instalments. Amid lockdown increasing the financial woes, he says, though the first two instalments helped him, he did not get it when in distress this year.
In certain cases, farmers who are fighting for their records of Rights, Tenancy and Crop (RTC) could not even apply for the benefit.
Farmer leader Badagalapura Nagendra questioned the government as to why they could not have verified it first before disbursing the money. “It is wrong to first make someone a beneficiary, transfer money and then call it a scam. Farmers are distressed and hence seeking financial assistance from the state,” he said.
He further noted that, in present times, even private banks demand income tax certificates while applying for loans and hence it may not be prudent to say that all tax-paying farmers are affluent. “There needs to be stringent checks beforehand and farmers should not be questioned after the government errs,” Nagendra added.
To read the first story in the series, click here: Punjab farmers’ smile belies deeper angst of debt, poor prices