In a stinging rejoinder to Union Minister Amit Shah’s allegations about the DMK being party to the 2G Spectrum scam, party chief MK Stalin recently said it was the ‘twins’ – Edappadi K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam- backing Shah in Tamil Nadu, who have been engaged in corruption for the past four years.
True to what Stalin said, Shah while criticising the DMK seems to have missed how deep-rooted corruption has led to the crippling of key central schemes in the state.
Almost all central schemes in the state have been found mired in corruption, whether it is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, BharatNet or the funding for the newly-elected rural local bodies.
Bungling of funds in MGNREGA
Take MGNREGA for example. One of the allegations is that many people enrolled under it in the state just sign the attendance register and get wages without doing any work.
As per reports on the MGNREGA website, the financial misappropriation in Tamil Nadu was more than ₹37 crore in 2019-20, while the same was over ₹116 crore in 2018-19. However, very little of that amount has been recovered.
Under the Act, the works undertaken by villages should be audited by Gram Sabhas twice a year and the reports be kept public. The social audit reports have details about financial deviations, financial misappropriation, and process violation.
Cases where individuals get wages without working or where wages are transferred to non-labourers come under financial misappropriation while financial deviations are works carried out without the permission of the Gram Sabh
Process violation is the act of not adhering to guidelines – like not sticking to the prescribed square feet.
“Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Gram Sabhas could not be convened this year and social audit could not be conducted. Other states are conducting concurrent audits (audits by resource personnel of social audit society), but the same has not been implemented in Tamil Nadu,” said an official closely involved in the scheme.
Organised scam in PM-Kisan
In August this year, funds to the tune of ₹110 crore were found to be bungled from the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme and paid to bogus farmers, particularly in the northern districts of the state.
At least ₹72 crore was recovered from ineligible beneficiaries while 18 people involved in the scam have been arrested by the Tamil Nadu CB-CID wing so far.
The recovered amount is reportedly equivalent to 70 per cent of the total funding.
Under the scheme, the Centre deposits ₹6,000 in three instalments every year into the bank accounts of small and marginal farmers with land less than 2 hectares.
The scam, which was done by a few agricultural department officials in connivance with local computer centres, came to the fore after the district collector of Cuddalore raised suspicion over a sudden increase in beneficiaries under the scheme after the first instalment was paid to eligible farmers.
“As this was an organised scam in a particular part of the state, the department was able to recover the money quickly. But, the MGNREGA scam is different – it is unorganised and widely distributed,” said an MGNREGA official under condition of anonymity.
House for namesakes under PM-Awas Yojana
Similar irregularities have been reported in the implementation of the PM Awas Yojana in Tiruvannamalai, Thanjavur, and Tiruvarur districts.
In Tiruvannamalai, while at least 60 houses meant for the tribals of Jawadhu Hills were allotted to non-tribals with similar names, the cash meant for the construction of the houses was transferred to similar non-beneficiaries in the other two districts.
When the irregularities came to light, Congress leader and Arani (Tiruvannamalai) Lok Sabha MP MK Vishnu Prasad filed a complaint with the Lok Ayukta in February this year.
“After requests and reminders for the past four months I got the beneficiary list of PMAY of Vandavasi area. Physical verification was done to check the ground reality. To my shock, it was found that several cases of non-existence of such houses in that address, non-existence of such beneficiaries in that house, different persons are living in that address in the beneficiary’s name, same house is shown for more than one and such misuses are present,” he wrote in the complaint.
Prasad told the media he approached the Lok Ayukta after he received no correspondence or answer from the Prime Minister, ministry concerned and Tamil Nadu chief minister in this regard.
Favouritism in BharatNet
BharatNet, the Centre’s telecom infrastructure provider, has also been lately mired in controversies.
In June this year, the Centre’s Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) scrapped a ₹1,950 crore tender for the BharatNet project in Tamil Nadu, citing bidding conditions to be “restrictive” and “discriminatory”.
A second tender floated in October was put on hold after Arappor Iyakkam, a Chennai-based organisation, alleged the bidding gave preference to foreign companies.
DPIIT in a strongly worded official communication to Tamil Nadu Fibernet Corporation Limited (TANFINET), the implementing agency of BharatNet in the state said, “disciplinary action may be considered against erring officers where restrictive conditions against domestic manufacturers have been imposed in a malafide fashion”.
“The corruption in central and state schemes flow from top to bottom. The CBI has withheld the action against health minister C Vijayabhaskar in the Gutka scam. It has not even initiated an enquiry on our complaints regarding ₹1,500 crore scam in state civil supplies, where again the tenders favoured a particular group of companies. Without the backing of politicians, the officers cannot indulge in such activities. Likewise, the ruling state politicians are protected by the Centre,” said Jayaram Venkatesan, founder, Arappor Iyakkam.
Centralising panchayat funds
Several panchayats in the state have been facing financial constraints since the state government centralised the disbursal of money after the local body elections were stalled for three years since 2016.
“Earlier, panchayats received funds both from the Centre and the state. The Centre’s share would be more and the funds would be distributed among the district, block and village panchayats for development activities. The village panchayats would get a lion’s share of the funds,” said R Elango, former panchayat president, Kuthambakkam village, Tiruvallur district.
However, the state government stopped entrusting panchayats with spending their allocated money after the tenure of the last elected representatives got over. Despite the presence of block-level officials, it was the state government which took a call on spending thereafter.
Although the local body elections were finally held in December 2019 and the representatives were sworn in in January, the state government is yet to hand them back their responsibility.
“In the last four years, the Directorate of Rural Department has come out with nearly 130 GOs, of which many orders were passed by bending the laws. Since there were no local bodies, the state kept all the money meant for the purpose with it. It sets tenders for unnecessary amenities like sodium vapour street lights or dustbins for the whole state and the money is debited from panchayat’s account. In case a panchayat has no money, the government first spends it from its own account and debits it from the panchayat’s account once the latter is allocated funds,” alleged Elango.
Corruption is rampant not only in central schemes but also in state schemes like Kudimaramathu.
“The government has set tender for ₹106 crore to desilt 47 waterbodies in Chennai. But there is no transparency on how far the work has been completed,” alleges Arappor Iyakkam.