Video Editor: Sandeep Suman
Actor Riteish Deshmukh, Lord Hanuman, and a Pakistani spy walk into a... wait, wait, wait, that sounds like the set up for some sort of joke, right?
In truth, it's just the beginning of what we know about how the government's flagship PM KISAN scheme, meant to help the most marginal farmers, is being defrauded to line the pockets of clever scamsters.
The scamsters are using publicly available Aadhaar to open bank accounts, sign up for PM KISAN and even actually get cash transfer from the scheme! The scary part is thousands of Aadhaar numbers are available on Google image search.
So, yes, it is a joke, just that the joke is on all of us.
Let's back this up a bit and get some context.
What is PM KISAN Scheme?
In February 2019, the Modi government operationalised the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi or PM KISAN scheme. It provides income support of Rs 6,000 a year in three equal instalments to small and marginal farmer families, ie those having a combined land holding/ownership of up to 2 hectares.
According to a government reply in the Lok Sabha, a total of Rs 94,119 crore has been disbursed to over 10.20 crore beneficiaries under the scheme till now. So far, so good.
But from September 2020, we've begun to hear about serious problems with the system. The numbers already paint a scary picture.
Tamil Nadu announced in September that the state had lost a staggering Rs 110 crore because of siphoning of PM KISAN funds by 5.5 lakh ineligible persons across 13 districts. Assam officials found that 9,000 ineligible persons were on the beneficiary list from just one district – Lakhimpur.
How the Scam Happened
But how is this possible? Corrupt officials adding random people to the system is only one part of the jigsaw puzzle.
And that's where, improbably, Bollywood actor Riteish Deshmukh, an ejected Pakistani spy, and Lord Hanuman, have come into the picture.
Thanks to them, we now know one modus operandi by which the PM KISAN scam is being defrauded; here's how it works.
First the scamsters look for publicly available Aadhaar numbers. This isn't quite as difficult as you might think – two years ago we revealed to you that you could find thousands of such numbers by just searching Aadhaar.jpeg on Google.
Riteish Deshmukh's Aadhaar number was leaked online and can be found with a Google search.
In 2015, an Aadhaar number was generated for Lord Hanuman by the UIDAI. The card even had a picture of Hanuman! This was reported in the press, making that Aadhaar number public.
And in 2016, Pakistan High Commission agent Mehboob Akhtar was found with an Aadhaar number bearing the name Mehboob Rajput, with a name and address in Chandni Chowk, when the news broke, this number also became public.
The scamsters then used these Aadhaar numbers to create new bank accounts. Deshmukh's number was used for a Dena Bank account in Gujarat with his name, the Mehboob Akhtar one again used the name Mehboob Rajput for a Grameen Bank account in Jammu & Kashmir. And the Lord Hanuman Aadhaar, which was supposed to have been deactivated in 2015, was used for an account in Uttar Pradesh in the name of "ramnath". Just ramnath, no capital letters, no surname.
Third, using these details, they then registered to become a farmer in the PM-KISAN portal. The Portal asks for land record details, Aadhaar number, a bank account linked with Aadhaar and a phone number.
Once approved by the official Public Financial Management System (PFMS), the accounts are then eligible to receive Direct Benefit Transfers of Rs 2,000 per instalment.
And guess what – they all got approved by the system!
While the account under the name and Aadhaar of Riteish Deshmukh received one instalment of Rs 2,000, the account seeded with Hanuman’s account received Rs 6,000 and Mehboob got Rs 4,000.
Systemic Vulnerabilities in Aadhaar-Based Cash Transfers
Think about that for a moment. The Hanuman and Mehboob Rajput Aadhaar numbers had been known to be fake for years, and should have been deactivated.
The Riteish Deshmukh account was set up somewhere in Gujarat, and he clarified to The Quint that neither is that account his, nor has he at any point applied for the PM KISAN scheme. He is a public figure, and still something like this could happen.
What allows this modus operandi to thrive? At fault are systemic vulnerabilities that have crept in at various parts of the loan dispersal mechanism.
Dr Subhashis Banerjee, professor of computer science at IIT-Delhi who has also worked on offline Aadhaar verification says that the issue reveals “a failure at the level of the bank, PM-KISAN, the PFMS software as well as UIDAI for failing to communicate its offline use properly to banks.”
Dr Banerjee explains that this is an intrinsic flaw in a system where both the payment system and the procedure to set up the bank account to receive the payment rely on just one form of verification, in this case Aadhaar.
Shockingly, a proper audit of this process is only done in 5 percent of the cases on a year-on-year basis, according to a reply from the Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar.
Put together, these loopholes caused systemic vulnerabilities that are exploitable at scale and indicate that the promise of the Direct Benefit Transfer, that it would only help genuine farmers and not scamsters, is now on a shaky ground.