(The Quint undertook an investigation to report how publicly available Aadhaar numbers were used to sign up for the centre’s PM KISAN scheme and get money meant for India’s most marginal farmers. This is Part-III of the investigation. You can read Part-I of the investigation here and Part-II, which explains the modus operandi, here.)
Former chief telecom regulator Ram Sewak Sharma, who has also served as Director-General of UIDAI, found three cash instalments from the PM KISAN scheme deposited between March and August 2020 into an SBI account operated by him.
Sharma confirmed to The Quint in an email that “it is a fact” that he had received three instalments of Rs 2,000 each. He said he had not registered for the Centre’s flagship PM-KISAN scheme and was “surprised” to find the money deposited into his account.
“Yes, it is a fact that I have received three instalments of Rs. 2,000 relating to the PM-KISAN scheme in my account,” Sharma said.
According to official PM KISAN records accessed by The Quint, the account created under Sharma’s name was created on 8 January 2020 and was active for over nine months till at least 24 September before it was deactivated.
The development raises questions about the verification process by which non-applicants and ineligible persons are being approved for a scheme and even being sent money meant to provide social security to some of the most marginal farmers in the country.
The Quint, in an exclusive report on Thursday, 10 December, showed how bank accounts created with publicly available Aadhaar cards belonging to actor Riteish Deshmukh, Lord Hanuman and ISI spy Mehboob Akhtar were used to sign up for the PM KISAN scheme and even received cash meant for small and marginal farmers.
However, unlike the other cases where new bank accounts were created with Aadhaar numbers to transfer the money to scamsters, the bank account linked with the PM KISAN account in Sharma’s case is his own SBI bank account – which was signed up for the scheme without his knowledge.
According to Sharma, his registration in the scheme is due to an error by the state government, which is responsible for identifying and adding beneficiaries.
Money Transferred to RS Sharma’s Hindu Undivided Family Account
Sharma clarified to The Quint that the SBI branch account into which the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) payment from the scheme happened is a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) account created in August 2019.
The former regulator further informed that he is registered as a farmer in the Firozabad district of Uttar Pradesh and has farm land, which grows and sells organic produce.
“I am registered as a farmer in Firozabad district of UP, since long back, where I have my village and ancestral agricultural land. I have continued to do farming and we (me and my younger brother) have an Amla and Kinnoo orchard in our ancestral land. We grow organic fruits.”
“The said SBI-HUF account is normally used to receive the sale proceeds of our agricultural produce and expenditure thereon,” Sharma told The Quint.
It is this HUF account, used for expenditure and income related to Sharma’s farmland, which has received the DBT payments. As per the scheme’s rules, Sharma is ineligible to become a beneficiary since he is a tax-paying individual – despite which the authorities responsible for the scheme enrolled him.
The former UIDAI DG said he had immediately reached out to the SBI branch seeking an explanation as to how money came into his account from a central government scheme that he had not signed up for.
Sharma shared a copy of the letter, dated 24 September, where he wrote to the Chief Manager of the SBI branch in Noida saying, “I am not aware as to whether we have made any application whatsoever to become the beneficiaries of PM KISAN.”
The letter says “all details such as source and basis on which the money has been transferred may also kindly be indicated.”
He said he is yet to receive a response from the bank.
As per the official payment records on the PM Kisan website, the Public Finance Management System or the PFMS software accepted the registration of the account under Sharma’s name on 14 January, six days after it was registered on 8 January.
The farmer’s name in the records shows “Ram sewak Sharma” as beneficiary with land in Hamirpura village in the Firozabad district of Uttar Pradesh.
The bank account ending in “7539” as well as the Aadhaar number and land record details are consistent with Sharma’s records.
Following the acceptance, Sharma’s HUF-SBI account received three equal instalments of Rs 2,000 on 7 March, 14 April, and 8 August.
Systemic Vulnerabilities Denying Farmers Their Cash
The PM KISAN account created under Sharma’s name and details, however, has been made inactive. As per the official records accessed by The Quint, the reason stated reads: “Beneficiary is inactive due to income tax payee.”
The incident, however, raises two important concerns. One, an amount of Rs 6,000 annually meant for “small and marginal farmer families” went to a clearly ineligible person and not to a genuine beneficiary – and that too without any application made by him.
Tamil Nadu agriculture secretary Gagandeep Singh Bedi had announced in September 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, following a probe in Assam ordered by the Union Agriculture Ministry and 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.
Two, systemic vulnerabilities that have crept in at various parts of the loan dispersal mechanism. How was an account registered with Sharma’s name, bank account number, Aadhaar number, and land record details? Further, the farmer records of Sharma were “accepted” by the State’s DBT software and the payments were approved.
In a separate incident, Sharma had tweeted his 12-digit Aadhaar number on 28 July 2018 as a “challenge” asking people to “Show me one concrete example where you can do any harm to me!” A Twitter user had deposited Re 1 into his Bank of India account linked using his Aadhaar the same day via UPI.
Error is That of the State Govt: Sharma
As per Sharma’s assessment of how he was registered and sent money, it was caused by an error by the state government and that “it is the duty of the entity delivering the subsidy to check the eligibility.”
“The error in such cases is that of the concerned department of the Government who did not check the eligibility and decided to transfer the PM-KISAN amount just because I am registered as a farmer without checking my eligibility,” he said.
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had stated in a reply in Lok Sabha on 20 September, “The responsibility of identification of the beneficiaries lies entirely with the States/UT Governments, as per the provision of the Scheme.”
Tomar further added that the data of beneficiaries so uploaded by them “undergoes a multi-level verification and validation by various concerned agencies, including the banks, and only then the amount is released into the bank accounts of the beneficiaries.”
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.