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A Tribune Exclusive
Shagun Scheme fraught with frauds
Married women, issueless get money in Faridkot!
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

- Charat Singh received money thrice under the scheme even though it could only be given twice. All his three daughters had been married years earlier.

- Behattar Singh got two cheques but has only one daughter.

- Sukhdev Singh, who does not have a daughter, got Rs 15,000 by giving the name of another girl.

- Giddar Singh got three cheques on the name of his one daughter.

Chandigarh, January 14
The delivery mechanism of Punjabís flagship Shagun Scheme ó it provides Rs 15,000 to eligible Scheduled Caste girls upon marriage ó has come under question with the state government today ordering verification of bonafides of beneficiaries in all districts after a large scale fraud was detected in Faridkot district.

Also, the government has suspended Faridkot District Welfare Officer Ravinderpaul Singh after an inquiry revealed that the state exchequer had been defrauded of Rs 6 crore with money being handed out to ineligible persons under the scheme. The Faridkot SSP has been asked to register a case against the District Welfare Officer, against whom departmental action, too, has been initiated.

The government has also appointed five inquiry officers who have been entrusted to look into irregularities in the distribution of money under the scheme in all districts in the state. Sources disclosed that allegations of widespread irregularities have also been received from Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Amritsar and Tarn Taran districts.

Distribution of money under the scheme, which has been a favourite of the SAD-led government, has also been stopped. As much as Rs 42 crore had already been distributed this year under the scheme, which had received the lionís share of the Rs 70 crore allocated to the department.

According to the documents perused by TNS, the scam in Faridkot district came to light following complaint by a cycle mechanic, Mangal Ram, in Kotkapura. Mangal complained that when he went to the office of the Faridkot Welfare Officer for the grant, he was asked to contact one Chhinda. He claimed that when he contacted Chhinda, he was promised quick grant with the help of false documents. He claimed he also learnt that the Welfare Officer was in league with touts like Chhinda who worked in tandem.

Following this, Mangal Ram sought information under the RTI Act about record of grants given under the Shagun Scheme. Mangal learnt that 2,000 cases had been approved by the office for grant of Rs 15,000 each to beneficiaries under the shagun scheme. A random check conducted by Mangal revealed that as many as 50 beneficiaries had got money by submitting false papers.

Secretary, Welfare of SC/BCs, TR Sarangal deputed department Director Indu Misra to conduct an inquiry into the complaint, which corroborated Mangalís charges. It also found that duplicate receipts were made by tampering with the receipt register and names of genuine beneficiaries were deleted and replaced by false ones and that many files of genuine beneficiaries were missing. The inquiry also revealed that many beneficiaries, who had taken money to marry off their girls, had in fact conducted the marriages 10 to 15 years ago. One Rama Devi, who had received Rs 30,000 for the marriage of two girls, has even returned the amount. Other cases include that of Natho Devi, who received Rs 15,000 but does not have a daughter.

The inquiry also revealed that many of the beneficiaries existed only on paper. The inquiry officer noted that the Welfare Officer had apparently leaked information about the visit of the inquiry team and that touts tried to cover up the violations by urging people not to cooperate with the team. The inquiry said in Mehsana village as many as 80 per cent of the 63 cases cleared for receipt of money under the shagun scheme were not eligible for the same.

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