During the last fourteen years, large numbers of fake pensioners have been found in different states. These individuals are not eligible to receive old-age pensions but used counterfeit documents, and managed to get their names added in the list allegedly with support from influential people.
Even men and women in the age group 30-40 have been receiving pension amounts. In contrast, the regulations clearly say that only women above 58 years of age and men above 60- 65 are eligible for the pension. Surprisingly, in some cases, the pension sum is being disbursed on the names of people who are dead or do not exist. Most of the details provided, such as the name, address, etc. are found to be fake ones.
The latest case highlighting such pension scam was uncovered in Punjab and raises many questions yet again. As per the report published by The Tribune, the Department of Social Security and Development of Women and Children identified 70,137 fake pensioners illegally withdrawing Rs 162.25 crore in almost 20 districts in Punjab. It has revealed that the people who were not eligible for a pension have been included in the beneficiaries list. The allowance is being disbursed even in the name of deceased persons.
The scam has been traced down to influential people and politicians who allegedly worked in close collaboration with the revenue officials to make fraudulent income certificates. These people have been reportedly using pension schemes to reward the people working for them. The highest number (12,573) of these fake beneficiaries happens to be from Sangrur district, where Rs 26.63 crore has been disbursed over eight years (2009-2017) and the lowest numbers of cases are found in Pathankot (116).
The Indian Express reported that the statewide drive of weeding out ineligible old age pensioners and recovering the amount disbursed is being carried out. According to authorities, guilty officials who added the names of these people in the list will be held accountable, and evidence will be submitted to the high court. The initial list of such officials also consists of several Sarpanchs. They were sole in charge of disbursing pensions in the early days and have included many false names in the beneficiary list. It has been reported that Sarpanchs are not working alone; some local leaders have been found responsible too. The department is also carrying out a verification drive for the names in the widow pension and disabled category beneficiaries list. The department has decided to use a bank transfer payment method for old-age pension disbursals.
Over the past few years, similar pension scams have been reported in different states, including Haryana, Tamil Nadu, and Rajasthan.
In 2011, News18’s report highlighted 13.65 lakh ineligible or non-existent people listed as old-age pension beneficiaries in Tamil Nadu. This information was put on record in front of the state assembly by the State Revenue Minister, P Thangamani. The inquiry is still in progress to track down the defaulters.
In 2015, the Economic Times reported that 1.75 lakh fake pension accounts were recognized by the Haryana Government while implementing the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) scheme for social security pension. A senior official of the Haryana Social Justice and Empowerment Department said that almost Rs 288 Crore is distributed among these 1.75 lakh fake accounts every year. There are 23.26 lakh beneficiaries of the social security pension scheme in the state with an allocation of Rs 3400 crore per annum. The government shifted to digital payment for such benefits, put simply, the funds are directly credited into the beneficiary’s bank account. In spite of that, there were some cases in which the recipients were collecting a double pension from the state government and the EPFO.
Yet, again in 2020, The pioneer reported that 1696 beneficiaries were caught withdrawing pensions based on wrong or fake documents over the last two years in Haryana. The Haryana Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Om Prakash Yadav said that the state government is not releasing pensions for beneficiaries who have provided wrong or fake documents. The minister said that the concerned officials had been directed to ensure that phony recipients should not get any funds based on the wrong documents. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar further said that the amount withdrawn by the beneficiaries with false papers would be recovered by deducting 50 percent amount from their monthly pension.
In 2019, it was reported by the Patrika that, in Rajasthan, the social security pension meant for the needy was being disbursed to ineligible people on purpose. It is said that the Sarpanch and Village Development Officers were working hand-in-glove with the Panchayat Samiti to run this scam. A recent audit revealed that this fraud had burnt a big financial hole in the state government’s pocket.
Overall, it won’t be wrong to suggest that ineligible individuals are still receiving pension funds due to fake documentation.
Several reports point out that recovery procedures in such cases involve recovering funds from beneficiaries. But, officials who issued the pension based on wrong or fake documents in the first place are not being held accountable and are facing no charges. This dual nature of various state governments is raising some serious questions.