Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Gauhati High Court closes PIL raising implementing issues with the PMKSN scheme by centre

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The State Government of Assam has apprised the Gauhati High Court that steps have been taken in order to mitigate the risk involved in giving the benefits under  Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PMKSN) scheme to genuine and eligible farmers.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Rashmin Manharbhai Chhaya and Justice Soumitra Saikia closed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed raising a contention that the PMKSN’ Scheme, which is meant for the benefit of small and marginal land holder farmer families, has not been effectively implemented and poor genuine farmers who are the great resource of socio economic development of the country, have been deprived of their right to obtain financial assistance of PMKSN scheme launched by the Central Government in the year 2019. 

The petitioner has based the petition on the guidelines of the scheme and the information that was derived from the office of the District Agriculture Officers of Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Charaideo district through RTI applications and the letter dated 08.06.2020, addressed to the Secretary to the Government of Assam in Agriculture Department, Dispur. It is also contended by the petitioner that unqualified and ineligible farmers have received the benefit of the scheme.

On cognizance taken by the High  Court, respondents were directed to file an affidavit. The respondent No.1 (State Government of Assam) has filed affidavit dated 17.03.2021 and has mainly contended that an inquiry came to be conducted by high level officers in the district of Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Charaideo districts and actions are being taken by the Government. It is also contended by respondent No.1   that the guidelines issued by the Union of India for implementation of the scheme are directed to be adhered to. 

In response to the same, the petitioner filed an additional affidavit and alleged that 9,39,146 numbers of ineligible beneficiaries have been identified who have received the benefit of the scheme wrongly. It is also alleged by the petitioner that there is every possibility of unholy nexus of the government officers who are responsible for implementation of the scheme. The affidavit also gives the total number of such ineligible beneficiaries district-wise in all 33 districts of Assam. 

By an affidavit dated 31.01.2022, the respondent No.1 has contended before the High Court that the one-man high level enquiry committee, which was conducted by  Jishnu Baruah, IAS, the then Additional Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam, conducted enquiry and the enquiry report shows that about 11.72 lakhs ineligible beneficiaries received the benefit and about Rupees 1.5 crores approximately have already been recovered from such ineligible beneficiaries. It is also brought on record that 16 District Agriculture Officers and 98 Agricultural Development Officers have been subjected to departmental enquiry. It is also averred by the respondent No.1 that an FIR has been lodged by the District Agriculture Officer of Bongaigaon district and some persons have been arrested, who have been instrumental in fraudulently adding 734 numbers of persons on PMSK portal and, accordingly instructions have been issued to stop payment to such persons.

The respondent No.1 has filed an additional affidavit on 13.09.2022 reiterating the earlier stand and averred thus: 
 “3. That the deponent begs to place the upto date status on PM-KISHAN scheme as on 10.08.2022. The deponent states that as per Agriculture Census 2015-16, there are 27.42 lakh number of farmers in Assam and in the PMKishan portal there are 16.18 lakhs registered eligible farmers. At present, 100% re-verification process of the eligible farmers is going on and in the said re-verification process 99% of traceable beneficiaries is completed. 

Further, Aadhaar seeding has been done by the districts of the State for 13.81 lakh beneficiaries and Aadhaar authentication had been done by the PM- KISHAN portal for 9.52. lakh beneficiaries. Further, the following steps have been taken in order to mitigate the risk involved in giving the benefits under PM-KISHAN scheme to genuine and eligible farmers:

As per directives of Ministry of Agriculture & Family Welfare, Govt. of India following activities are underway in the State creating Mass Awareness   activities through Print & Digital Media and conducting Special Gram Sabha in each GP/VDC.

i) Aadhaar seeding, e-KYC verification and capturing Agricultural Land Holding details through API integration of already portal registered eligible beneficiaries. 
ii) Registration of left out bonafide farmer families is under process with Aadhaar and agricultural land holding details as mandatory attributes including other demographic and banking details. 
iii) Implementing Aadhaar Based Payment System from existing Account Based Payment System is being implemented mandatorily in the State for the beneficiaries of the PM-KISAN Scheme against lists opened for the release of installments w.e.f. 1 st August, 2022. All eligible farmers have been asked to link their Aadhaar numbers with Savings Bank accounts. The SLBC, Assam has also been asked to prioritize the activity. 

iv) KYC of untraceable beneficiaries called from Banks with intervention from SLBC, Assam. Upon receipt of KYC from Banks, physical verification will be undertaken and eligibility of such beneficiaries will be updated on portal as per Aadhaar and e-KYC verification. 

v) Decisions on the outcome of re-verification and new farmer registration for portal updation are taken with approval from District Level Coordination Committee headed by the Deputy Commissioner/ Principal Secretaries or its authorized representative in the Autonomous Council Districts which are conducted in regular intervals. 

vi) For release of payments to eligible beneficiaries are done by the State Nodal Officer, PM-KISAN, Assam on the basis of Payment Certificates signed by the Deputy Commissioner/Principal Secretaries or its authorized representative in the Autonomous Council Districts against each list of beneficiaries opened by the Govt. of India for release of entitled installment amount under the scheme. 

4. That, the deponent begs to state that with regard to the recovery from ineligible beneficiaries, an amount of Rs.1.50 Cr (approx.) recovered from ineligible beneficiaries. The deponent further states that recovery will be reinitiated after completion of ongoing 100% physical verification and e-KYC process.

5. That the deponent begs to state that in the meantime Agriculture Department has suspended 2(two) numbers of District Agriculture Officer, and further, two number of Data Entry operators has been dismissed from their services. In total, the department has initiated departmental proceedings against 99 nos of Agricultural Officers. Out of the aforesaid proceedings, enquiry against 77 numbers of officials has been conducted by State Enquiry Officers. Further, 7 numbers of officers has been called for Personal Hearing. 

6. That this affidavit is filed bonafide and for the ends of justice.”

Having heard the counsel appearing for the parties and considering the affidavits on record and, more particularly, the affidavit dated 13.09.2022, the Court noted  that ineligible persons have derived the benefit of the PMKSN scheme and actions have been taken against such persons. 
In light of the aforesaid, the Court deemed it fit  to issue the following directions: 
i) That the State Government shall take appropriate action against the erring officers and shall also take into consideration the one-man enquiry report. 
ii) The State Government shall strictly adhere to the guidelines for providing the benefit to appropriate beneficiaries. I
iii) The respondent authority shall implement the scheme in letter and spirit and in accordance with law. 
iv) The respondent authority shall adhere to the statements made in the affidavits, more particularly, the affidavit dated 13.09.2022.   

The Court found that the State Government is actively considering the lapse in implementation of the scheme as aforesaid and therefore, no further relief, as prayed for in the petition, deserves to be granted.   

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