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‘Shagun’ or ‘Ashirwad’, it’s a scandal by any name
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 12
The ‘shagun’ scheme, started by the Badal government in 1997 to help the poor girls at the time of their marriage and later renamed ‘Ashirwad’ scheme by the Amarinder government in 2004, is plagued with scandals.

After coming to power this year the SAD-BJP it has been again renamed ‘Shagun’ scheme.

When the scheme was launched in 1997, Rs 5,100 was given as ‘shagun’ to every poor girl at the time of her marriage. Later the amount was increased to Rs 6,100 and it was renamed ‘Ashirawad’ scheme in April 2004. A year before the completion of its term in April 2006, the Amarinder government raised the amount to Rs 15,000 and also waived the condition of income certificate from the designated authority.

Sources said following preliminary inquiries by officers of the Directorate of Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes Welfare Department, various scandals had surfaced in the implementation of the scheme. In many cases the payment had been made to so-called beneficiaries without verifying genuineness.

During checking, a large number of cheques for Amritsar, Ferozepur, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and certain other places were found, which had not been distributed. Although, as per instructions, the cheques were supposed to be given to the parents of the girl concerned at the time of her marriage or a few days before the marriage to enable the family concerned to meet financial requirements.

At certain other places, cheques were retained by the office concerned for such a long period that the cheques had to be revalidated. During the regime of the SAD-BJP government in 1997-02, 1,87,677 beneficiaries were given Rs 95.71 crore.

During the tenure of the Amarinder government, Rs 80 crore were given to about 64,000 beneficiaries. About 35,000 applications at the time of Amarinder’s time were pending for disposal.

After March, Rs 9.79 crore has been distributed and Rs 19.34 crore more demanded for distribution.

Obviously, the way scheme is being implemented; it is proving a drain on state treasury with little benefit to targeted beneficiaries.

Certain officials posted in the field were asked to certify that they had distributed the money among genuine beneficiaries but they have refused to do so. Sources said at Ludhiana, during checking it had come to light a few persons took away a large of number of cheques. But the list of names of these so-called beneficiaries was not available.

In Ludhiana, 146 persons, who were said to be beneficiaries, did not receive any financial help whereas three beneficiaries were found to be ineligible. In Ferozepure, only one person received 20 to 25 cheques whereas each cheque is supposed to be given to beneficiary’s family only. Several ineligible persons were given money under the scheme there.

Another scandal that has come to light is a large increase in the number of applications following the condition of the income certificate from the designated authority was waived and instead self-certification regarding income was introduced. In April 2004, those having income less than Rs 16,000 per annum were eligible under the scheme.

However, later the income in case of urban areas it was raised to Rs 27,500 and in rural areas to Rs 20,000, which is also norm for families below poverty line scheme. However, income certificate has to be taken either from the SDM, naib tehsildar or other designated officers.

However, before the Assembly elections in January this year, the previous Congress government waived the condition of income certificate from the SDM etc and issued instructions an affidavit regarding income by the beneficiary family would be enough.

Immediately after the introduction of this measure, the average number of applications to seek money under the scheme shot up from 1,000 to 5,000 per month. However, when the SAD-BJP government came to power, it reintroduced the income certificate from the SDM and other designated officers. And it brought down the number of beneficiaries to 1,000 per month.

Following preliminary checking, a recommendation was made a through checking should be made and lists of all beneficiaries, since the implementation of the scheme in 1997, should be sought from all district offices. However, permission for such a checking is being awaited, it is learnt.

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