What is common among Lord Hanuman, ejected ISI spy Mehboob Rajput and actor Riteish Deshmukh? According to the records of Centre’s PM-KISAN scheme, they are all small and marginal farmers eligible for social security. Each of them has also received Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) instalments of Rs 6,000, 4,000 and 2,000 respectively.
At a time when farmers across states have been agitating against agriculture laws that they say will rob them of fair compensation, a Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scam through identity impersonation has been siphoning funds meant for the most marginal farmers in India.
According to payment records accessed by The Quint, scamsters successfully registered for the scheme on the PM-KISAN portal using publicly available Aadhaar numbers of the above mentioned persons, a bank account number, land record details and a phone number. This data was accepted by the official Public Financial Management System (PFMS) software, thereby making them eligible to receive DBT of Rs 2,000 per instalment, up to Rs 6,000 a year.
How did this happen? Scamsters used Aadhaar numbers of Deshmukh, Hanuman and Mehboob – all available in the public domain – to create fake Aadhaar cards. The Aadhaar cards were then used to create a new bank account that matches the given name in the Aadhaar card.
While a valid Aadhaar number was issued in the name of Lord Hanuman in 2015, ejected Pakistan High Commission official Mehboob Akhtar was found with a valid Aadhaar as “Mehboob Rajpoot” in 2016.
Experts tracking DBT programs told The Quint this scam using publicly known Aadhaar numbers would be happening at a much larger scale given over 10 crore beneficiaries are registered with the scheme and Tamil Nadu alone has been found to have at least 5.5 lakh ineligible beneficiaries in a recent government probe resulting in a loss of Rs 110 crore to the exchequer.
The ease with which ineligible persons not only registered for the scheme but were approved and even received cash raises serious questions about the dangers of availability of Aadhaar numbers in public, checks carried out by banks as well as the verification mechanism of beneficiaries at the state and central levels.
“The scheme checks whether you have a valid Aadhaar number and a bank account linked with the Aadhaar and that’s good enough,” explained an expert tracking public distribution programs, adding “What allows this modus operandi to thrive at scale are systemic vulnerabilities that have crept in at various parts of the loan dispersal mechanism.”
PM Kisan’s Scam-Ridden Database
PM Kisan Samman Nidhi or PM-KISAN is a central sector scheme 100 percent funded by the Government of India. It was operationalised on 1 December 2018.
Under the scheme, an income support of Rs 6,000 per year in three equal instalments is meant to be provided to small and marginal farmer families having combined land holding/ownership of up to 2 hectares.
According to a reply in Lok Sabha by Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on 9 September, a total amount of Rs 94,119 crore has been disbursed to 10.21 crore beneficiaries across the country.
This, however, isn’t the first time irregularities in the centrally funded scheme have been exposed. According to reports, in September, Tamil Nadu agriculture secretary Gagandeep Singh Bedi had announced that the state had lost Rs 110 crore in a scam involving siphoning of PM-KISAN funds in the state. Officials said a probe had identified 5.5 lakh ineligible persons across 13 districts.
Similarly, at the other end of the country, Assam saw similar irregularities in its list of beneficiaries where the Union agriculture ministry had asked the Assam government for a report and a probe into a potential fraud. Following a probe initiated under the orders of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, field officials said they were able to identify 9,000 ineligible persons on the beneficiary list from a single district – Lakhimpur.
What has now come to the fore is the modus operandi. While news of corrupt officials in Tamil Nadu and Assam allowing access to beneficiary database has been reported, The Quint can now confirm that publicly accessible Aadhaar numbers have been used to open bank accounts and use them to sign up for the PM-KISAN scheme.
PM Kisan Portal Shows Money Transferred
In order to verify the information received through sources about a possible case of DBT transferred to ineligible entities using Aadhaar numbers allotted to the above mentioned names, The Quint carried out a two-step check.
First, The Quint did a Google search of the “names” + “Aadhaar number”, and indeed, the Aadhaar number of each showed up among the top searches as they were all reported widely.
Second, The Quint entered the publicly available Aadhaar numbers in the PM-KISAN portal’s “Beneficiary Status” page to check. Here’s what we found:
I. Riteish Deshmukh
An account has been registered under actor Riteish Deshmukh’s name on 1 August in Gulbarg village in Gujarat’s Dohad district.
The account is active at the time of writing and a Dena Bank Account is registered along with his name and Aadhaar number. His “farmer record” has been accepted by the PFMS and he received aa DBT instalment of Rs 2,000 on 10 August.
“I had no idea that an account was opened in Gujarat using my Aadhaar card details,” Deshmukh told The Quint when asked if he had been informed about his Aadhaar being used.
“We have written to the authorities to take action against this this fraudulent activity. Thank you for bringing this to my notice,” Deshmukh further said.
II. Mehboob Rajput (Pak ISI Agent Mehboob Akhtar)
Ejected Pakistan High Commission officer Mehboob Akhtar’s Aadhaar name “Mehboob Rajput” had also been used to create a PM-KISAN account in Jammu & Kashmir’s Bandipora District.
On 27 October 2016, the Delhi police had detained Mehboob Akhtar for allegedly possessing sensitive defence documents. He, however, identified himself as Mehboob Rajput, and even produced an Aadhaar ‘card’ bearing the name and an address in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk.
His Aadhaar card turned out to be a valid one issued by the UIDAI. While Mehboob was ejected from the country on charges of espionage, his Aadhaar number has been used by scamsters to open a bank account and enrol in the PM Kisan scheme.
The account is inactive at the time of writing citing “death” of beneficiary and a J&K Grameen Bank Account is registered along with his name and Aadhaar number. His “Farmer record” had been accepted by the PFMS and he received two DBT instalments of Rs 2,000 each on 10 and 11 August.
III. Lord Hanuman
Lord Hanuman was issued an Aadhaar number as far back as 2014 in Rajasthan’s Sikar district. UIDAI officials had termed it as an “exceptional case” and the number was deactivated in 2015. However, it appears to be good enough for a bank account to have been opened and for it be accepted by the PFMS software.
In the PM-KISAN portal, an account has been created using Hanuman’s Aadhaar number but with the name “Ramnath” who has been shown as a farmer in UP’s Ballia district.
The account is still active and the farmer records have been accepted by the PFMS despite the portal saying that “Aadhaar number is not verified”. The account has received Rs 6,000 in three instalments of Rs 2,000 each in a Purvanchal Bank account.
The Quint had reached out to officials at PM KISAN and UIDAI with a detailed questionnaire on the issue on 4 November but is yet to receive a response. The story will be updated should they respond to the queries.
(This is Part-I in an investigative series on how money meant for small and marginal farmers under the PM KISAN scheme was diverted to accounts opened using publicly available Aadhaar numbers. Part-II on Friday will focus on the modus operandi of the scam.)