BHUBANESWAR: Three months after the General Elections, the Odisha Government has admitted that a whopping 2.66 lakh beneficiaries of KALIA, its flagship income augmentation scheme for farmers, are ineligible.
Minister for Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment Arun Kumar Sahu on Thursday acknowledged that out of around 36.88 lakh KALIA beneficiaries verified so far, 2.66 lakh were found not to be bonafide.
Though the Minister did not spell it out, it is believed that all the 2.66 lakh have been paid the first instalment of assistance under the scheme amounting to `5,000 which means a massive `133 crore was remitted to the accounts of people who were simply not eligible for it.
When other states were either rolling out or toying with the idea of crop loan waiver before the 2019 polls, the BJD-led Government had rolled out KALIA to woo its farming community which appeared an unhappy lot.
KALIA, or Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation was billed as the game-changer for the ruling party in 2019 elections which it won by a historic landslide margin.
The number of ineligible beneficiaries, meanwhile, is likely to increase further as the eligibility of another 14.12 lakh beneficiaries is yet to be verified. The window for verification of beneficiaries has been extended up to August 27 in panchayat level, August 29 in block level and August 31 in district level.
The State Government has provided assistance to over 51 lakh, including 37 lakh small and marginal farmers and 14 lakh landless farmers and farmworkers.
Though Minister Sahu did not divulge the amount of money distributed to ineligible farmers, it is alleged that some beneficiaries have also received the second instalment of `5,000. That could take the sum going into the accounts of ineligible beneficiaries a tad higher.
“We decided to exclude ineligible beneficiaries following allegations that those who are not supposed to avail the benefit of the scheme have received the assistance. We have adopted three-stage verification process and it has been made robust to ensure that not a single ineligible beneficiary is included and eligible one is excluded,” he said.
The Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment Department has engaged nodal officers at gram panchayat level for scrutinising and they have been warned of stringent action if they leave any ineligible beneficiary in the list displayed at their respective Panchayat offices.
While the rising number of ineligible beneficiaries has become a headache for the Government, it is still trying to wrap its head around a solution - how to get the refund.
Meanwhile, the Opposition has slammed the BJD for diverting taxpayers’ money to woo voters before elections. OPCC president Niranjan Patnaik said the ruling party has cheated people for political gains. “It is clearly evident that the money was distributed for elections. The beneficiaries are no more required since the polls are over,” he said.
The Minister, however, said ineligible farmers have been issued an appeal to refund the assistance and some have paid it back. Further course of action will be decided after completion of the verification process, Sahu added.