Before the 2019 general and Odisha Assembly elections, Navin Pattnaik-led BJD had announced a major cash benefit scheme for small farmers in the state. Termed ‘Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation’ or ‘KALIA’ (the popular Odia word for Lord Jagannath) was meant to financially benefit millions of small and marginal farmers, and landless labourers in the state.
The KALIA scheme was seen as BJD’s speed-train that carried it successfully to a consecutive 5th term in Odisha. The main opponent BJP, despite winning a massive mandate in the national general elections, managed to get only 26 assembly seats out of the total 147 in Odisha.
BJD won the election riding on KALIA scheme
Over 51.05 lakh individuals in the state had received Rs 5000 each under the KALIA scheme, in the first instalment. The scheme was announced in December 2018. The BJP had been alleging that the scheme is nothing but the state govt’s cash for vote plan in disguise. In March 2019, the Chief Election Commissioner of Odisha had stopped money distribution under KALIA scheme citing the model code of conduct before elections. One of the major pre-election promises of Navin Pattnaik was, a BJD government will transfer 2 instalments of KALIA (Rs 10,000) to beneficiaries on the very next day of coming to power in the state, and he did.
Interestingly, while the verification process and identification of eligible beneficiaries for a government scheme should ideally be done before the money gets credited, the Odisha government seems to have done the exact opposite. After distributing the money, adding thousands of new beneficiaries for every new instalment and winning en election riding on its popularity, the BJD government in Odisha took the verification process seriously only after allegations of genuine beneficiaries being left out started to surface.
Govt employees, pension holders, minors and big farmers got money
The state agriculture ministry under minister Arun Sahu appointed Panchayat level nodal officers and started the verification process for 51.05 lakh beneficiaries in August. The verification exercise was carried out from August 6 to August 31. Two days back, Odisha Agriculture Minister Arun Sahu informed that the process has discovered that over 3.41 people who have already got the money, were not eligible for the scheme. The loss to the state exchequer is pegged at a staggering 170 cores.
Government employees & pension holders who have availed benefits under KALIA scheme will be asked to refund the money or the amount will be adjusted against their salaries & pension: #Odisha Agriculture Minister Arun Sahoo #IneligibleBeneficiaries pic.twitter.com/mQqnF3U9q2
— OTV (@otvnews) September 17, 2019
Arun Sahu told that his ministry has identified that over 20,000 government employees and pension holders had posed as poor landless farmers to get the KALIA money. Over 9,000 beneficiaries are actually minor children and there are thousands of families who have received the money for multiple members. Over 12,000 beneficiaries are big farmers with landholdings of above 5 acres. Simply put, lakhs of people who have got the financial benefits were ineligible for it.
‘We told you so’, says opposition
Opposition parties are already in ‘We told you so’ mode. Congress leader Suresh Rautray said, “Only BJD workers and supporters have benefitted from the KALIA scheme while genuine eligible people have been left out”
BJP’s Pradeep Purohit said, “Since the days the scheme was launched we have been raising questions over its yardsticks for enrolling beneficiaries. The government had no yardstick. They only tried to buy votes by giving cash.”
No mechanism to verify beneficiaries
Minister Arun Sahu and most BJD leaders are totally silent on how exactly 3.41 lakhs people who were not eligible managed to register as beneficiaries and took the government’s money. Times of India has quoted one government officials as saying, “Instead of placing a mechanism to identify beneficiaries, the scheme relied on self-certification by people for their inclusion in the scheme. In the name of landless farmers, thousands of people without documents were brought under KALIA scheme. This resulted in large-scale errors”.
Odisha govt says ‘we will get the money back’
CM Naveen Pattnaik has said that the government will try and bring the money back. Arun Sahu has stated that the government employees and pensioners who have taken the money will be asked to give it back. Else the amount will be deducted from their respective salaries or pensions. The money that was released in the name of minors will be adjusted while granting the next instalments to their parents and for the families who have received money for two members, it will be considered two instalments of the KALIA scheme.
While the government may make grand statements claiming they will recover the money, for practical purposes, it seems a distant dream. They might manage to recover the amount from the government employees and pensioners, but recovering the amount from other ineligible persons, whose numbers run in lakhs, seems doubtful.
The questions that arise now is, will the Odisha government admit openly that in the hurry to ensure votes, they overlooked the fact that they did not have a system in place to check misappropriations at this large a scale? In 2017 and 2018, there were several reports on how the mandatory AADHAR had identified 4.4 lakh fake students in mid-day meal schemes in just three states. There is a long list of schemes where thousands of crores of public money has been wasted due to cheating, false claims and middle-men. In 2018, the central government had informed that AADHAR-based verification for DBT schemes had saved the public exchequer a whopping 90,000 crores. It is indeed a sad spectacle that despite tools being available for effective verification and identification of an eligible beneficiary, there are political parties willing to throw away money at people, just to ensure votes, not sparing a thought for the loss that it causes.
The issue also puts a giant question mark on the public. While we demand development and facilities as per twenty-first century standards, there are people among us who are willing to claim government money that they do not have any right to, the money which could have brought some respite to a poor landless labourer’s family struggling to make ends meet.