On hindsight, the Union government might have been naïve in believing that the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, launched in December 2018, to provide Rs 6,000 per year to a farmer in three instalments of Rs 2,000 each, for farm inputs to ensure crop health, would reach the beneficiary through self-registration ~ and without any intermediary ~ simply by uploading Aadhaar and bank details.

Sadly, the Prime Minister who launched this scheme with much fanfare did not know the extent of corruption a state like Tamil Nadu was steeped in. The scheme was abruptly stopped in the State after a scam of at least Rs 110 crore was detected.

About five lakh people who have nothing to do with farming or own any farm land managed to get themselves enrolled under the PM Kisan Scheme and have drawn Rs 110 crore while many genuine farmers are struggling to get themselves enrolled.

Among those drawing kisan doles are government employees who do not own even a square foot of land. Tamil Nadu BJP president L Murugan said the Centre wanted to simplify the registration procedure for the benefit of lakhs of poor famers, but proper implementation of the scheme is the responsibility of the State government.

Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami, however, squarely blamed the Centre’s revised guidelines on beneficiary registration released last year for giving room for such irregularities. The beneficiary registration rose from 41 lakh to 46 lakh in just four months.

The PM Kisan Scheme is an all-India one and the scam is unique to Tamil Nadu, according to officials in the Union agriculture ministry. There were anomalies in a few other States like Assam and West Bengal. There was zero disbursement in West Bengal because of non-cooperation by the State government.

In Tamil Nadu, the ruling AIADMK is a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. State officials validating ineligible beneficiaries are mostly responsible for the scam. The self-registration plan has built-in safeguards.

But in a State steeped in corruption, breaching those safeguards is no problem. Officials in the agriculture department were given targets to enrol beneficiaries which enabled them to throw caution to the winds. An unholy alliance was formed between internet centre owners who had Aadhaar details of people and corrupt officials to make easy money.

Hundreds of non-farmers were registered as beneficiaries using stolen passwords. The government has raided the internet centres and arrested more than 20 people. About 5.5 lakh ineligible people registered as beneficiaries have been identified and their bank accounts frozen.

There are also allegations of corruption involving crores of rupees in the construction of toilets under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.

Corruption cannot be eradicated by distributing cash doles. Besides, it lowers the dignity of farmers by making them look like beggars. A better way would be to increase the procurement price of agricultural produce to improve their living standards and impart dignity to their calling.