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Audit unearths
October, 23rd 2009

The Kolkata Municipal Corporation's internal audit department has unearthed a scam over old-age pension meant for BPL families in the city. The audit has revealed multiple anomalies: for example, money given out in the name of dead recipients and people making it to recipient list though they fall outside the age bracket. Over the past financial year, nearly Rs 13 crore has been disbursed as pension, a substantial portion going to hundreds of shady recipients.

Take the example of Johara Khatoon, a resident of Gas Street near Rajabazar, who died five years ago. The monthly pension of Rs 400 has been disbursed in her name for the past three years something her son Liyaquat Ali, a hawker, had no clue about. "Can I be entitled to the money?" he asked, though he falls outside the age bracket of 65 and above.

Another anomalous case is that of Canal West Road resident Amina Khatoon, who died in 2006. KMC did not bother to register Amina's 80-year-old husband Nir Mohammad as a legitimate recipient of old age pension. But the money has been given out just the same no one knows to whom. Salma Khatoon, Amina's daughter-in-law, is blaming the KMC for not registering her ailing father-in-law. "We live from hand to mouth. We badly need the money to take care of him," she said.

Hundreds of similar cases have been detected and could place the civic top brass in a soup. The audit has revealed that money is being disbursed in the name of at least 40 dead people in areas like Sealdah, Rajabazar, Gas Street and Canal West Road under ward 36 by KMC's social sector department. Local CPI councillor Mousumi Ghosh merely said she would look into the matter. "I will take it up with KMC authorities," she said.

Under the National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS), the Centre pays Rs 400 a month to senior citizens below the poverty line (BPL), who have been registered as beneficiaries under the scheme.

To be eligible for registration, a person aged 65 and above must obtain a certificate from the local councillor. Once enrolled as a beneficiary with KMC's social sector department, the pension will be disbursed to the person through a post office or a nationalised bank. The money can also be paid to him through a KMC counter opened specifically for this purpose.

However, a report submitted to KMC's chief municipal auditor says the list of NOAPS recipients prepared on the basis of certificates issued by councillors is erroneous and controversial. First, the civic body blindly relied on councillors and did not bother to cross-check if those issued certificates actually existed. Secondly, the responsibility of disbursement was passed on to the councillors who rarely submit utilization certificates to KMC.

A report by KMC internal auditors states that names of thousands registered as NOAPS recipients would never have made it to the list had the rules for eligibility under the scheme been enforced strictly. For instance, Suren Sarkar Road resident Shibani Bera has been an old-age pension recipient for years though she is only 38 years old. CPM councillor Rajib Biswas, who certified her as eligible, could not recall her name. Biswas, however, admitted there were anomalies in NOAPS.

The audit report pointed out that at least 15 people in their mid-50s, residing in areas like Beliaghata, Kankurgachi, Samsul Huda road and Tollygunge are listed as recipients.

Another anomaly detected is of at least 20 instances of recipients drawing old age pension on the basis of their left thumb impression though they had signed the application for inclusion under the scheme.

Joint municipal commissioner Sahidul Islam, who oversees implementation of the scheme, conceded that anomalies exist in NOAPS but assured that these would be addressed. "We rectify disputes in the scheme from time to time," Islam said.

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