September 26, 2020

Housing scheme funds cattle shopping

PATNA: Ever heard of cows and buffaloes being bought with money from housing funds? If that was not bewildering enough, welcome to Bihar’s Patna district where more than 10,000 pucca houses meant for the poor exist on paper only. Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), the Centre’s flagship social welfare programme, is now under a scanner in the state made infamous by the fodder scam. Worse, the revelations in Patna district could be the tip of an iceberg. Similar irregularities in IAY implementation happened in other districts, said sources in the rural development department.

While a total of 61,312 houses were planned for the district in this period, the IAY beneficiaries constructed 45,778 houses and the remaining 15,534 were incomplete. A probe found no trace of 10,640 houses for which IAY beneficiaries had received funds! It also found as many as 4,894 houses were without roofs and, instead, asbestos sheets used to ‘complete’ them on records.The defaulting beneficiaries spent the housing money on making a livelihood instead of constructing houses, said sources in the probe team. Most of the erring beneficiaries were found to have bought cows and buffaloes with the money for selling milk from the cattle.

Belchhi block tops the list with 1,390 defaulting beneficiaries, followed by Paliganj (1,332), Bakhtiyarpur (1,182) and Dulhinbazar (1,076). A senior official pegged the figure of the scam at more than Rs 5 crore.

In 2012-13, IAY beneficiaries got Rs 45,000 each. Between 2013 and 2016, each of them was provided Rs 70,000 as per the revised rate. “The beneficiaries duly withdrew the amounts sanctioned to them, but never built any house,” an official said. Several BDOs are now a suspect for either turning a blind eye to these anomalies or for having a hand in the irregularities. Similarly, rural housing assistants, housing supervisors and engineers are also being probed, sources said.

The housing funds are paid in two installments. As per the rules, the second installment is paid only after the beneficiaries complete construction up to the plinth level and satisfy the block-level officials with photographic evidence. Such rules indicate the involvement of officials in the scam. “The fact that 10,640 non-existing houses were shown in official records as built and completed hints at a systematic effort by the officials to perpetrate a scam,” a senior official said.The Deputy Development Commissioner has now asked the BDOs to send recovery notices to the defaulting beneficiaries. “The misuse of housing funds by more than 10,000 beneficiaries and the role of officials are under a probe. Notices are being sent to the defaulting beneficiaries to recover the sum paid to them. Action will be taken against erring officials,” he said.

How the roof blew off the scam
The scam unfolded after Deputy Development Commissioner Aditya Prakash sought status reports on the progress of construction works from 23 block development officers. Prakash had got a whiff of large-scale irregularities in the implementation of the scheme between 2012 and 2016.

Courtesy: The New Indian Express

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