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Irrigation scheme unravels in Jharkhand: A robust verification process — just on paper

ON PAPER, a four-step verification process to ensure that the Centre’s micro irrigation scheme for farmers is implemented on the ground in Jharkhand is robust. But in practice, the process has fallen flat under the watch of the state agriculture department which is now waking up to how the process has been rigged by middlemen, who, acting on behalf of companies, enrolled farmers as beneficiaries.

Take, for instance, the case of 70-year-old Lalji Thakur from Hazaribagh’s Lasodh village (Churchu block) and 65-year-old Arjun Singh from Ingunia village (Chouparan block). Both men are supposed beneficiaries of the scheme as per the records of the state agriculture department, with their Aadhaar details recorded in the system and third-party verification by Nabcons, a Nabard subsidiary, complete.

Express Investigation | Irrigation scheme unravels in Jharkhand: Aadhaar misused, funds claimed, farmers clueless

Except, neither has a clue what the scheme is.

According to Nabcons, Thakur has 4.34 acres in Lasodh village – far more than the one acre he told The Indian Express that he actually owns. An Aadhaar card is part of the verification records, but the photo isn’t his.

In Singh’s case, there are similar discrepancies.

The Indian Express sent both the Aadhaar cards from Nabcons records to the state Aadhaar office. An official who did not wish to be identified said they appear to have been photoshopped.

So how did this happen?

Thakur told The Indian Express that a few men, who claimed to be representing a company, paid him a visit and took his Aadhaar card, promising benefits under some government schemes. He says he never filled out the form for the micro-irrigation scheme.

A key part of the verification process – attestation by the mukhiya or a panchayat member – has also not happened. Sahdev Kisku, husband of mukhiya Punam Besra in Thakur’s village, said: “Just one or two persons do drip farming in my panchayat, that too on lease. I don’t remember signing any attestation document for Lalji Thakur. Also, he does not have that much land.”

Typically, one of the 23 private companies empanelled by Jharkhand first reaches out to the farmers asking them to opt for the micro-irrigation scheme. If the farmer agrees, he needs to fill out a form with his details, including an “affidavit” which also has details of the land in his possession as well as his family tree (vanshavali). This is then attested by the mukhiya of the panchayat. Next, an elected panchayat member or a government employee must provide a “recommendation letter” verifying the details to be true.

Post-installation, the farmer has to submit a “satisfaction letter” declaring the private company has installed the system properly. A third-party verification is then undertaken by Nabcons, which geotags (marks the latitude and longitude coordinates) of the land along with equipment. Nabcons also collects a video statement of the beneficiary along with Aadhaar details. Irrespective of the third-party verification, the agriculture department is required to independently verify 50 per cent of the beneficiaries.

Like Thakur, Singh’s case is testimony to how this seemingly watertight system has loopholes. In Singh’s supposed video verification available with Nabcons, a person in his 20s can be seen holding up an Aadhaar card, details of which are not visible. “I don’t know who this person is. I have never seen him in my locality,” Singh said.

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When contacted, Nabcons Jharkhand Vice-President Suman Sahoo told The Indian Express: “This is a very serious matter and if there have been any loopholes in the verification process, we will have to re-strategise our verification process.”

Sahoo said there were 15 verification agents or field monitors in the state to check if the drip or sprinkler irrigation equipment had been installed properly. Spelling out the challenges, he said, “Estimated area entered in the application details differs from the actual area in the field… (Company) agents show the same plot to different field monitors (verification agents) as different farmers’ fields. Farmer selection (by the private firms) is not done properly either, as some of the farmers don’t seem interested in using the micro irrigation system.”

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The state Agriculture Department said they pay Nabcons to verify beneficiary details. When contacted, Chandan Kumar, Director of the Department of Agriculture, said: “Since I took charge early this year, we have done a lot to make the process transparent. For the first time, we sent all beneficiary details to individual districts to make them public, and in April, we ordered all companies to give training to farmers on drip and sprinkler systems. We will take the strictest possible action against officials if we find any case of wrongdoing.”

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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