Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal has acted decisively in setting a timeline of a month to probe a potential fraud in the PM-Kisan scheme in his state. The Union agriculture ministry had alerted the state about irregularities in the cash transfer programme for farmers, according to a report in this newspaper. It appears, prima facie, that ineligible people signed up for the scheme, which provides ~6,000 a year to farmers with valid documentation. With the coronavirus disease pushing more people into poverty and affecting the earning capacity of millions, it is vital that welfare schemes reach the targeted beneficiary in the shortest possible time. For many, these schemes are their only source of income now.
A major issue with India’s welfare architecture has traditionally been targeting. For schemes which are not universal, reaching the intended beneficiary is a challenge. While direct benefits transfer and the Jan Dhan accounts-Aadhaar-mobile phone (JAM) trinity have helped in reducing leakages and eliminating intermediaries, the pandemic will pose new challenges in identifying beneficiaries. Many have moved from urban settings to rural areas. As people travel across states due to job losses, the states have to coordinate much more effectively using their own databases and inputs from the Centre. The Assam case (Aadhaar wasn’t mandated for welfare schemes in the North-east) has shown that part of the problem is the delay in updating records, which should happen before schemes are implemented. All of this increases the possibility of fraud.As the reliance of citizens on welfare increases, it is incumbent on governments to plug the loopholes in welfare delivery.