By Venkatesh Nayak*
On 25th December, 2020, a third of the global population celebrated Christmas despite the restrictions imposed on their movement and assembly in order to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile the Hon. Prime Minister of India spoke on the occasion of the birthday of the Late Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee informing people that the Central Government had deposited INR 18,000 crores (USD 2.45 Billion) in the bank accounts of more than 9 crore (90 million) farmer households under the PM-KISAN Samman Nidhi Yojana (PM-KISAN Yojana). He also recalled one of Vajpayeeji’s speeches in which he had ridiculed the poor performance of previous Governments in delivering developmental funds earmarked for the marginalised and disadvantaged segments of society. Contrasting such past performance with changes brought about by the NDA Government through the adoption of digital mode of direct funds transfer to the bank accounts of beneficiaries, Hon. PM asserted that money did not go into the wrong hands anymore.
However, data obtained under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) indicates, since the commencement of PM-KISAN Yojana in 2019, INR 1,364.13 crores (USD 186.59 million) has been paid to ineligible persons and income tax payee farmers. Government’s own data indicates money went into the wrong hands. According to recent media reports, proceedings have been initiated to recover these funds transferred to undeserving persons.
Readers may recall my previous despatch from November 2020 about the social background of beneficiaries of the PMKISAN Yojana. Gender and caste-related data about PM-KISAN beneficiaries was obtained from the Union Ministry of Agriculture through the RTI Act and disseminated widely, thanks to media reports of this intervention.
In the same RTI intervention, data about payouts made to undeserving beneficiaries was also sought. Click here to read the details of this RTI intervention.
In October, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare supplied a substantial response and information in relation to the following RTI queries, but only after the First Appellate Authority (FAA) directed the disclosure of this information:
RTI Query #I(i): The total amount of funds that were deposited in the bank accounts of non-beneficiaries in every State and UT since the inception of PM-KISAN, and
RTI Query #I(j): The total amount of funds that have been reversed from the bank accounts of non-beneficiaries in every State and UT since the inception of PM-KISAN…”
Click on these hyperlinks to read the RTI application, the first appeal filed due to lack of a response from the CPIO, the FAA’s order and the CPIO’s subsequent reply supplying information and copies of official correspondence with the State Government of West Bengal whose farmers remain to be included in the PM-KISAN Yojana.
PM-KISAN Yojana’s exclusion criteria
When launched in 2019, the PM-KISAN Yojana was to cover only small and marginal farmers owning less than 2 hectares of land. Later, the scheme was expanded to include all farmers irrespective of the size of their landholdings. However according to the revised operational guidelines of the Yojana, the following categories of farmers are to be excluded from receiving payouts:
1) institutional landholders;
2) farmer families in which one or more members belong to the following categories:
a) former and present holders of constitutional posts;
b) former and present ministers at the Central and State level, former and present Members of Parliament, Members of Legislative Assemblies and Legislative Councils, former and present Mayors of Municipal Corporations and former and present Chairpersons of District Panchayats;
c) all serving and retired officers and employees of Central and State Governments, Central and State public sector enterprises and autonomous institutions under Government as well as regular employees of Local Bodies except multi-tasking staff, Class IV and Group D employees;
d) all pensioners receiving monthly pension of INR 10,000 or more, excluding multi-tasking staff, Class IV and Group D employees;
e) all persons who paid income tax in the last assessment year; and
f) professionals such as doctors, engineers, chartered accountants and architects registered with professional bodies and carrying out profession by undertaking practices.
Nature of information supplied by the CPIO
The CPIO of the Dept. of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers’ Welfare, supplied information about two categories of undeserving persons who received PM-KISAN payouts since the inception of the Yojana. According to this data, this Department has identified two sets of undeserving recipients, namely “ineligible farmers” and “income tax payee farmers.” The CPIO furnished datasheets containing State and Union Territory-wise information about payouts to undeserving persons in both categories.
The main findings from a preliminary analysis of these datasets are given below.
Number of recipients: overall trends
- A total of 20,48,634 (2.04 million) undeserving persons across the country had received PM-KISAN payouts until 31st July, 2020;
- More than half (55.58%) of these undeserving persons belong to the “income tax payee category.” The remaining 44.41% belong to the “ineligible farmers category. Although the datasets do not mention how many of them are covered under which exclusion criteria listed above, it is clear that IT payee farmers are being treated as a separate category. So it must be presumed that the remaining recipients belong to one or more categories mentioned in the exclusion criteria mentioned above;
Analysis of numbers (both categories included)
- Punjab tops the list accounting for 23.16% (4.74 lakhs) of the total number of undeserving persons across the country who received payouts followed by Assam with 16.87% (3.45 lakhs) and Maharashtra with 13.99% (2.86 lakhs) in 2nd and 3rd places, respectively. These three States account for more than half (54.03%) of the number of undeserving persons who received payouts;
- Gujarat takes the 4th position with 8.05% (1.649 lakhs) followed by Uttar Pradesh at 5th position with 8.01% (1.642 lakhs);
- In all other States the number of undeserving recipients (both categories included) is less than 1 lakh;
- With only one undeserving recipient, Sikkim reports the lowest figure. Meghalaya (21), Arunachal Pradesh (70) and Nagaland (89) reported the lowest number of undeserving recipients (in the reverse order). Comparatively, Mizoram (379) and Tripura (612) reported much higher figures;
- Region-wise, Northern India (States of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand) topped the list accounting for more than a third (33.56%) of the undeserving persons who received payouts followed by Western India (States of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa and Maharashtra) accounting for more than a quarter of the total (25.60%). Because of the large numbers reported from Assam, the Northeastern region takes 3rd position with 17.10% of the undeserving payouts. Southern India (States of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu) is at 4th place accounting for 15.74% of the undeserving payouts. The two States of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh in Central India account for 4.50% of the total undeserving payouts- higher than the 2.88% accounted from Eastern India (States of Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha).
Analysis of numbers (segregated categories)
- Punjab and Assam topped the list of States where the “ineligible farmers” outnumbered the “IT payee farmers” category of undeserved participants by a very wide margin. In Punjab more than 93% (4.42 lakhs) belonged to the “ineligible farmers” category while this proportion was 99.99% in Assam (3.45 lakhs);
- Manipur (83.79%) and Mizoram (99.2%) also follow a similar trend where “ineligible farmers” outnumber the “IT payee farmers” among the undeserving recipients. Only 3 recipients in Mizoram are IT payee farmers whereas 575 recipients in Manipur belong to this category;
- Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is the only UT which follows a similar trend. About 69.82% of the recipients are “ineligible farmers” whereas more than 3,300 belong to the “IT payee farmer” category;
- In all other States and UTs, “IT payee farmers” outnumbered the “ineligible farmers” as recipients of PM-KISAN payouts.
Analysis of numbers (ineligible farmers category)
- As noted above already, Punjab and Assam have the highest number of “ineligible farmer” recipients accounting for more than 90% each of the total in this category. In Maharashtra 23.78% of the undeserving recipients (68,244) belong to this category;
- Madhya Pradesh with 17,302 recipients comes a distant 4th in this category followed by Rajasthan with 7,604 recipients taking 5th position. Recipients from these top-5 States account for 96.84% of the undeserving persons belonging to this category;
- Odisha, Goa and Sikkim are the only States which do not have a single recipient in the “ineligible farmers” category;
- Meghalaya (16) reported the lowest figure in this category. Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh (27 each), Nagaland (37), Tripura (38) and Arunachal Pradesh (52) figure at the bottom of the pile in this category;
- Among the UTs, J&K accounted for the highest number (7,830) of recipients in the “ineligible farmers” followed by Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu with 83 recipients in this category. Chandigarh and Lakshadweep do not have any recipient in this category.
- Region-wise, Northern India accounted for 49.89% of recipients in “ineligible farmers” category followed by Northeastern India accounting for 38.86% of the total. While Western India accounts for 8.55%, the two States of Chhattisgarh and MP in Central India account for 2.19%. Southern India accounts for less than 1% in this category while the UTs account for 0.87%. Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha in Eastern India account for the lowest proportion of recipients (0.15%) in this category.
Analysis of numbers (IT payee farmers category)
- As noted above, more than half (55.58%) of the undeserving recipients of PM-KISAN payouts belong to the “IT payee farmers” category. (If nothing else, this data should at least put paid to the controversy that has erupted again in the wake of the ongoing protests against the three new farm laws, that farmers do not pay income tax. Yes, the Constitution does not empower the Central Government to make laws to tax income from agriculture. Income from agriculture is therefore exempt from the purview of the Income Tax Act, 1961– a law enacted by Parliament. But that does not mean farmers do not pay tax on income derived from other activities or sources. This is perhaps the reason why PM-KISAN Yojana is designed to exclude IT payees who are also farming land holders);
- Maharashtra tops the list of States in terms of the number of “IT payee farmers” who received PM-KISAN payouts. The figure is 2.18 lakhs- way ahead of the 1.63 lakh IT payee farmers in Uttar Pradesh who received similar payouts. In comparison, only 791 farmers belonging to the “ineligible” category received PM-KISAN payouts in UP;
- Gujarat takes 3rd position with 1.62 lakh “IT payee farmers” receiving payouts. Karnataka with more than 86,000 recipients in this category stands a distant fourth in the list and Telangana standing at 5th place with more than 74,000 undeserving recipients belonging to this category. These five States account for almost 62% of the undeserving persons in this category who received payouts;
- Only 19 recipients belong to the “IT payee farmers” category in Assam which takes 2nd place among States where persons belonging to the “ineligible farmers” category received these payouts. In Punjab which topped the list of States in the “ineligible farmers” category a little more than 32,000 “IT payee farmers” received PM-KISAN payouts;
- In every State, some “IT payee farmer” or the other received PM-KISAN payouts, without exception. Sikkim reports only 1 recipient in this category while there are 3 in Mizoram and 5 in Meghalaya. Arunachal Pradesh accounts for 18 and Assam- 19 “IT payee farmers” who received PM-KISAN payouts placing them at the bottom of the pile;
- Among the UTs, J&K reported the highest number (3,384) of recipients in this category followed by Delhi with 667 and Dadra & Nagarhaveli and Daman & Diu reporting 477 “IT payee farmers” who received PM-KISAN payouts. Ladakh reported the lowest figure of 4 recipients and Lakshadweep 5 recipients in this category;”
- Region-wise, Western India accounts for the largest segment, i.e, more than a third (39.22%) of recipients in the “IT payee farmers” category, followed by Southern India with 27.54% and Northern India with 21.30%. The two States of Chhattisgarh and MP in Central India come a distant 4th accounting for 6.35% followed by Eastern India with 5.06% of the recipients in this category. The Northeastern States (0.11%) and the UTs (0.43%) account for less than 1% each in this category.
Amount of payouts: overall trends
- The datasets supplied by the CPIO indicates, a whopping INR 1,364.13 crores (USD 186.59 million) was paid out to undeserving recipients belonging to these two categories;
- At INR 985.09 crores (USD 134.72 million) these payouts to “IT payee farmers” constituted 72.28% of the total even though this category includes only 55.58% of the total number of recipients, as shown above. Payouts to “ineligible farmers” at INR 379.03 crores (USD 51.84 million) amounted to 27.78% of the total.
Analysis of payouts (both categories included)
- With INR 323.85 crores, Punjab topped the list of States and UTs where undeserving persons (both categories of farmers) received the largest amount of payouts (23.74% of the total). Maharashtra with INR 216.90 crores takes 2nd position (15.90%), followed by Gujarat in 3rd place with INR 162.34 crores (11.90%), UP occupying 4th position with INR 146.01 cores (10.70%) and Karnataka taking 5th place with INR 77.44 crores (5.67%). Together, these five States account for more than 2/3rds of the total payouts (INR 926.54 crores) made to “ineligible” and IT payee farmers”;
- Among States, Sikkim received the smallest amount of payouts at INR 10,000 (paid to only one “IT payee farmer”). Meghalaya (INR 92,000), Arunachal Pradesh (INR 5,40,000), Nagaland (INR 6,34,000), Mizoram (INR 11,16,000) and Goa (INR 50,46,000) figure at the bottom of the pile of States which received the smallest amount of payouts;
- Among UTs, J&K received the highest amount of payouts at INR 8.51 crores followed by Delhi receiving INR 55.80 lakhs. Interestingly undeserving farmers in Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu received INR 42.68 lakhs which was more than the combined total of payouts received by the bottom four States mentioned above. Among the UTs undeserving farmers in Lakshadweep received the smallest amount of payouts (INR 14,000);
- While the States together received 99.28% (INR 1354.27 crores) of the total payouts, the combined total of the UTs is 0.72% (INR 9.83 crores);
- Region-wise, Northern India accounts for the largest volume of payouts to undeserving recipients at 37.98% (INR 518.16 crores) followed by Western India at 31.77% (INR 433.38 crores) and Southern India at 18.32% (INR 249.91 crores). The two States of Chhattisgarh and MP in Central India account for 4.72% (INR 64.40 crores) of the payouts- more than the States in Eastern India which account for only 3.34% (INR 45.62 crores) of the total volume of payouts. The Northeastern States account for 3.14% of the total payouts (INR 42.79 crores).
Analysis of payouts (segregated categories)
- While Punjab received the biggest chunk of payouts made to “ineligible farmers,” at INR 291.35 crores (29.58%), Maharashtra cornered more than half of the payouts made to “IT payee farmers” at INR 194.18 crores (51.23%) among all States and UTs;
- While Meghalaya received the smallest amount of payout to “ineligible farmers” (INR 68,000), Sikkim received the smallest amount of payout to IT payee farmers (INR 10,000).
Analysis of payouts (ineligible farmers)
- As noted above already, Punjab received the biggest amount of payouts among all States and UTs in the category of “ineligible farmers”. Assam takes 2nd place with INR 41.34 crore payouts followed by Maharashtra with INR 22.72 crores in the 3rd place. Madhya Pradesh comes a distant fourth with only INR 8.02 crores paid to this category of farmers and Tamil Nadu takes 5th place with INR 2.83 crores. Together these States account for 96.63% of payouts made to “ineligible farmers”;
- Rajasthan (INR 1.48 crores) Gujarat and Chhattisgarh (INR 1.02 crores each) are the only States where more than INR 1 crore was paid to “ineligible farmers.” In all other States and UTs the payouts to recipients in this category ranges from a few thousands to INR 90 lakhs plus (as is the case with MP);
- J&K is the only UT which received a huge chunk of the payout (INR 5.52 crores) in the “ineligible farmers” category:
- Region-wise, States in Northern India cornered more than 3/4ths of the payouts (77.28%) in the “ineligible farmers category. Eastern India received 11.02% in this category followed by Western India with 6.66%. The two States of Chhattisgarh and MP in Central India received 2.38% of the total payouts in this category followed by Northeastern India with 0.94%. States in Southern India received less than 1% of the payouts (0.94%) in this category.
Analysis of payouts (IT payee farmers)
- With INR 194.18 crores Maharashtra tops the list of States and UTs where “IT payee farmers” received PM-KISAN payouts. Gujarat takes 2nd place with payouts of INR 161.32 crores in this category followed by Uttar Pradesh in 3rd position with INR 145.44 crores. Karnataka is in 4th place with INR 77.33 crore payouts to “IT payee farmers” and Tamil Nadu in 5th position with INR 69.99 crores. Together these five States account for almost 2/3rds (65.81%) of the total payouts to “IT payee farmers”;
- Sikkim (INR 10,000), Mizoram (INR 18,000), Meghalaya (INR 24,000), Assam (INR 1,04,000), and Arunachal Pradesh (INR 1,66,000) figure at the bottom of the pile in this category;
- J&K takes the top position among the UTs with INR 2.99 crores payout to “IT payee “farmers followed by Delhi with INR 55.7 lakhs paid to recipients in this category. Recipients in this category in Lakshadweep received INR 14,000- the lowest among UTs;
- Region-wise, Western India accounts for the largest chunk (41.43%) of payouts to “IT payee farmers” category followed by Southern India with 25.01% and Northern India with 22.86%. The two States of Chhattisgarh and MP in Central India account for 5.62% of the payouts in this category followed by Eastern India with 4.54% and Northeastern India with 0.10%.
Analysis of installment-wise payouts
The CPIO also supplied the number of installments paid to undeserving recipients in both categories. The findings from the preliminary data analysis are given below:
- The total amount of INR 1,364.13 crores was paid out to recipients across the States in 68.20 lakh installments (where each installment of INR 2,000 paid out per recipient is counted separately). Out of this 49.25 lakh installments were paid out to “IT payee farmers” while 18.95 lakh installments were paid out to “ineligible farmers” across the country;
- The most number of installments were paid to in the “ineligible farmers” category in Punjab (14.56 lakhs) followed by Assam with 2.06 lakh installments. Maharashtra received 1.13 lakh installments and MP- 40,100 installments in this category. Less than 15,000 installments were paid out in other States. Among the UTs , J&K received more than 27,000 installments in this category;
- In the “IT payee farmers” category, Maharashtra received the largest number of installments at 9.70 lakhs followed by Gujarat with 8.06 lakh installments. UP with 7.27 lakh installments takes 3rd position while Karnataka with 3.86 lakh installments comes a distant fourth followed by Tamil Nadu with 3.49 lakh installments occupying the 5th position. Among the UTs, J&K received almost 15,000 installments in this category;
- In terms of averages, recipients in the “ineligible farmers” category in the State of Telangana received more than 4 installments each. The States of Karnataka, UP, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Nagaland, Punjab, Hayrana, Andhra Pradesh, Tripura, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand clocked 3 or more installments in this category;
- J&K also clocked more than 3 installments in the “ineligible farmers” category. In all other States and UTs where payouts clocked between 1 and less than 3 installments;
- On an average undeserving recipients in the “IT payee farmer” category in the States of Tripura, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Sikkim received 5 or more installments of payouts. In the States of Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, Karnataka, UP, Maharashtra, Bihar and Rajasthan, recipients in this category received between 4 or more installments in this category.
- Similarly, in the UTs, Chandigarh and Puducherry clocked more than 5 installments while Andaman and Nicobar Islands, J&K, Delhi and Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu clocked more than 4 installments in the “IT payee farmers” category. In all other States and UTs, the payouts ranged between 1 and less than 4 installments.
“Note: 1 crore = 10 million; 10 lakh = 1 million; 1 lakh= 100,000”.
In the final analysis, despite the employment of digital infrastructure to register and make payments to farmers, more than 20 lakh persons undeserving persons are known to be included in the PM-KISAN Yojana as of end-July 2020. In some instances all five installments seem to have been paid out before it was discovered that many of the recipients were undeserving as per the exclusion criteria of the scheme. In other cases the discovery seems to have been made soon after 1-2 installments were paid out.
According to media reports, proceedings have already been launched in some districts of Maharashtra to recover payments made to undeserving recipients. Recovering more than INR 1,300 crores from the ineligible and IT payee farmers will be a herculean task given their geographical spread. The financial adversity suffered by members of the farming community due to the nation-wide lockdown in 2020 makes this task even more daunting. Interestingly, the officials monitoring the implementation of the PM-KISAN Yojana have unequivocally stated in their internal correspondence emailed to the author that they have not yet begun maintaining a database of recoveries made from undeserving recipients (see attached pdf file of the email exchange). So no information was made available against query # I(j) mentioned in the RTI application.
The operational guidelines of the PM-KISAN Yojana require the proactive disclosure of the list of beneficiaries in every gram panchayat. Names and gender identity of beneficiaries are already available on the website dedicated to PM-KISAN Yojana. Civil society and community based organisations have their task cut out to use this ever-expanding database to verify whether or not the listed recipients are deserving of the payouts or not.
Meanwhile, to make a clean breast of it, this author also happens to be a joint owner of some agricultural land and qualifies to be categorised as a marginal landholder. However he has never applied for PM-KISAN benefits because he is covered by the exclusion criteria of the scheme.
Programme Head, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi