Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Saturday said the 70000 odd beneficiaries removed from the ambit of social security were fraudulent cases, who were drawing benefits at the cost of genuine ones, and the Rs. 162.35 crore that he had ordered to be recovered from them will now go into raising the amount of financial assistance to the deserving beneficiaries.
In fact, his government had added 6 lakh genuine beneficiaries to the list since taking over the state’s reins while weeding out the ineligible ones, who were fraudulently getting social security benefits under the patronage of the erstwhile SAD-BJP government, said Captain Amarinder. These things happen when political parties become selfish and indulge in wrongful acts to promote their own interests, he added.
Only the undeserving people had been removed from the beneficiary list, he said, adding that the total number of beneficiaries had actually gone up from 19 lakh to 25 lakhs in this 3-year period.
Responding to a question from a Hoshiarpur resident during today’s Facebook Live edition of #AskCaptain, the Chief Minister said he was totally committed to transparency in selection of beneficiaries and his government would ensure that no eligible person is left out or deprived of his due share of social benefits.
An official spokesperson pointed out that as many as 70137 fake social security beneficiaries have been weeded out after a thorough verification and re-verification exercise conducted by the Social Security and Women & Child Development Department on the directives of the Chief Minister, who is committed to the fulfilment of the Congress poll promise of increasing the benefits given to the genuine beneficiaries.
Pointing out that most of these ineligible beneficiaries were from the constituencies of the Badal clan, the Chief Minister later lashed out at the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders for `bribing’ voters with bogus social security pension/financial assistance in the run-up to the 2017 Assembly elections. It was a different matter that these shameless tactics failed to serve them any purpose, he said, citing the Akalis’ complete rout in the polls.
Due to whopping Rs 162.35 crore losses incurred by the state exchequer as a result of the diversion of the social security benefits, including old age and widow pensions, to these fraudulent beneficiaries, genuine beneficiaries had been deprived of the higher benefits of various government schemes, as promised by the Captain Amarinder government ahead of the 2017 polls.
The notification to investigate and identify suspect pensioners was issued by the Social Security department in June 2017, on the directions of the Chief Minister, soon after the Congress government came to power in Punjab.
The exercise has revealed that as many as 36617 persons had been taking old age pensions fraudulently despite not fulfilling the age criteria of 58 years for women and 65 for men. Other categories of fake beneficiaries included widows, destitute women and the disabled.
While Sangrur reported the maximum of 12,573 ineligible beneficiaries, deriving benefits worth Rs. 26.63 crores, Bathinda – the parliamentary constituency of Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal – came a close 2nd with 8762 fake beneficiaries in Bathinda District and 6663 in Mansa District, causing exchequer losses of Rs. 17 crores and Rs. 18.87 crores respectively. In Mukhtsar district, the Badal’s so-called bastion, 7441 ineligible beneficiaries were availing benefits to the extent of Rs. 15.70 crores.
In Fazilka District, which includes Jalalabad assembly constituency of former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and Fazilka segment of the then Social Security Minister Surjit Kumar Jyani, 2452 ineligible beneficiaries were availing benefits to the extent of Rs. 6.14 crores. In Amritsar District, the stronghold of the Majithia family, a total of 7853 ineligible beneficiaries were found to be getting benefits to the tune of Rs. 19.95 crores.
It may be recalled that the Punjab Cabinet led by Captain Amarinder Singh, in its maiden meeting held on March 18, 2017, had decided on thorough re-verification of the beneficiaries of atta-dal scheme and old age pension/financial assistance under various social security schemes. The verification exercised was completed by DCs in November 2017, and re-verification was conducted on regular basis thereafter to weed out the bogus beneficiaries.
To conduct this gigantic task of re-verification, a comprehensive proforma was devised to check the eligibility of the genuine beneficiaries in respect of old age scheme/financial assistance under various social security schemes.
The Annual income limit was fixed at Rs. 60,000 for availing financial assistance under all the aforesaid schemes. For the proof of age, any document amongst Aadhar Card, Voter Card, Voter List, Matriculation Certificate and Birth Certificate issued by the Registrar (Births and Deaths) was made applicable.
Notably, the old age pension was enhanced from Rs. 500 to Rs. 750 per month w.e.f. July 1, 2017 in line with the poll promise made by the Congress Party ahead of the 2017 elections.
Under the old age pension scheme, the department has fixed norms of 65 and 58 years of age in case of men and women respectively. The land holding ceiling is fixed at maximum 2.5 and 5 acres in case of Chaie (Irrigated) and Bruni land respectively for entitlement of pension for elderly. For availing financial assistance for widows/destitute women, the age limit is less than 58 years and above 30 years for unmarried women.
For the beneficiaries under financial assistance for the dependent children scheme, only children under 21 years of age who are deprived of assistance/care from their parents owing to the latter being physically/mentally disabled can avail benefit of social security. Disabled persons having 50 percent or more disability and could not earn their livelihood are eligible for financial assistance under this category.
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