Discrepancies in the details of the COVID-19 relief package in the women beneficiaries
Readers will recall the 26th March, 2020 announcement of the Union Finance Ministry, providing details of the COVID-19 relief package- Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY). PMGKY contained several measures aimed at mitigating the impact of the first nation-wide lockdown on vulnerable and disadvantaged segments of society. Perhaps the single largest component of PMGKY was the direct payout of INR 500 (i.e., US$ 20 where every US$ 1 = INR 74.69 as on 26th March, 2020) for the next three months to 20 crore (200 million) women. Each beneficiary would receive a total of INR 1,500 (US$ 60 approx.) under this Scheme.
This ex gratia payment was to be deposited in the women beneficiaries' Jan Dhan Yojana accounts opened by the NDA Government as part of its financial inclusion programme launched in 2014. The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana is aimed at providing savings bank and related services like easy credit, remittance, insurance and RuPay cards to citizens belonging to weaker sections and low income groups of society. Despite the June 2020 press release issued by the Ministry containing macro-level data about the progress made with regard to the first two installments paid under this PMGKY cash transfer scheme covering 20 crore women beneficiaries, very little was known about its implementation at the ground level, in particular the names and numbers of the 20 crore women beneficiaries who were targeted. My initial RTI interventions to get implementation data failed to yield concrete results last year. Please click here to read the story of how government departments played soccer with my RTI applications. However, a couple of weeks ago, the Union Ministry of Rural Development furnished district-level implementation statistics against a fresh RTI application filed last month.
The macro-level data publicly disclosed by the Finance Ministry in 2020 and more recently in 2021 was analysed and compared with district-level data obtained from the Union Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) through an RTI intervention. The major findings are summarised below:
1) There are significantly large discrepancies in the implementation figures proactively announced by the Finance Ministry in 2020 and later in 2021. The discrepancies get worse when the data supplied by MoRD under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) is factored in;
2) A large number of districts (137) that existed at the time of the launch of the ex gratia payment scheme do not find mention in MoRD's list (only 588 out of 721 districts are mentioned); and
3) MoRD does not seem to know the districts of residence of a significant number of women beneficiaries (12.5% of the total figure) who received the ex gratia payments.
Please continue to read for the detailed preliminary analysis.
Discrepancy in the implementation data disclosed voluntarily
According to the scheme of ex gratia payment announced by the Union Finance Ministry on 26th March, 2021, about 20 crore (200 Million) women were to receive INR 500 per month for the next three calendar months in their PMJDY bank accounts. According to the progress update released by the Finance Ministry in June, 2020, an amount of INR 10,029 crores (or INR 100.29 Billion = US$ 1.34 Billion) was credited in the PMJDY bank accounts of 20.05 crore (200.5 million) women, as the first installment under the scheme (in April, 2020). The Ministry claimed that this amounted to 98.33 % coverage of the intended beneficiaries. The same press note stated that an amount of INR 10,315 crores (or INR 103.15 Billion = US$ 1.38 Billion) was credited in the PMJDY bank accounts of 20.63 crore (206.3 million) women as the second instalment under the scheme (in May 2020) amounting to 100% coverage of the intended beneficiaries. Thereafter no information was placed in the public domain about the payment of the third instalment under this Scheme, to the best of my knowledge.
On 28th August, 2021, while commemorating the success-filled completion of seven years of the PMJDY financial inclusion scheme, the Union Finance Ministry claimed that a sum of INR 30,945 crores (or INR 309.45 Billion = US$ 4.143 Billion) had been distributed under the PMGKY scheme to women PMJDY bank account holders (at the rate of INR 500 per month for three months). The press note was strangely silent on the actual number of women beneficiaries who received all three instalments.
So if the June 2020 press note containing the progress update of the ex gratia payment scheme targeting women PMJDY bank account holders is taken into consideration (as it contained both payment and beneficiary-related macro-level data), a sum of INR 10,601 crores (INR 106.01 Billion = US$ 1.41 Billion) would have been paid as the third instalment to the women beneficiaries (i.e, INR 10,029 crores as the 1st instalment + INR 10,315 crores as the 2nd instalment minus INR 30,945 crores which is the final figure covering all three installments as announced in August 2021). This calculation leads to the following possible conclusions- only one of which can be true:
a) If the coverage at the time of payment of the 2nd instalment was 100% at INR 10,315 crores, the same amount ought to have been credited in the beneficiaries' bank accounts as the 3rd instalment; or
b) If INR 10,601 crores was the actual payment made as the 3rd instalment (assuming that the payment figures for the first two instalments were accurate), the coverage cannot be more than 20.62 crore women (i.e, those who received all 3 instalments).
This is a discrepancy of at least INR 286 crores (INR 2.86 billion). Until the Union Finance Ministry clarifies which of the above figures are accurate, the discrepancy in the data it has disclosed proactively, will remain.
However, implementation figures obtained under the RTI Act indicate, there were at least 2.26 lakh more women beneficiaries than what the Ministry announced in June 2020 as 100% coverage. So, even at the time of paying the 2nd instalment, coverage under this ex gratia scheme was not 100% as claimed by the Ministry.
The RTI Intervention
Even though multiple RTI interventions made in 2020 failed to elicit implementation data, another attempt was made after Hon. Prime Minister announced the success of the women-oriented ex gratia payment scheme during his interaction with the larger group of PMGKY beneficiaries, in Madhya Pradesh, last month (August 2021). Please click here for the video recording of the speech and click here for the translation of the speech in English.
"I. Apropos the figures cited by Hon. Prime Minister regarding the beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) and Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Rozgar Yojana (PMGKRY), in his address at the interaction with beneficiaries of PMGKAY in Madhya Pradesh, on 07 August, 2021 (as per the video recording uploaded on the website of your public authority), I would like to obtain access to the following information in the form specified at paragraph no. (II) below, under the RTI Act, 2005:
a) The district-wise number of women beneficiaries into whose Jan Dhan Yojana bank accounts the ex gratia payment of Rs. 500 per month was successfully deposited in every State and Union Territory (UT), as part of the COVID-19 relief package in the year 2020,
b) The district-wise number of workers in every State and UT into whose bank accounts funds were deposited successfully, as on date, as part of the COVID-19 relief package, and
c) The district-wise number of beneficiaries in every State and UT who have been provided free ration under PMGKAY as part of the COVID-19 relief package, as on date.
II. Form of access sought: Kindly upload all the information described above on an official website and inform me of the respective URLs via email.
III. Kindly note, all information described above is in the nature of information that ought to have been disclosed suo motu by your public authority under various clauses of Section 4(1), read with Section 4(2), of the RTI Act. As I have not been able to find such information on your official website, I am constrained to make this formal request for information."
PMO promptly transferred the RTI application to multiple ministries which were involved in implementing different segments of the 2020 PMGKY scheme. Within three weeks of the RTI application being filed, the CPIO of the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) supplied free of charge (by post and electronically), State and UT-wise implementation data of women beneficiaries who had received INR 500 per month in April, May and June, 2020 in their PMJDY bank accounts. While replies from the other implementing agencies are awaited, the MoRD dataset was analysed.
Detailed findings from the preliminary data analysis
According to MoRD, the ex gratia payment scheme under PMGKY is also treated as part of the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM). A total of 20,64,26,947 (i.e., 20.64 crores or 206.42 million) women are said to have received cash transfers of INR 500 per month during the months of April, May, and June 2020.
Discrepancy in the data
- A simple calculation shows that ensuring complete payment of INR 1,500 per beneficiary would require a total payout of INR 30,964 crores (i.e., INR 309.64 Billion = US$ 4.145 Billion) to cover 20.64 crore women. However, according to the Union Finance Ministry's 28th August, 2021 Press release a sum of only INR 30,945 crores (or INR 309.45 Billion = US$ 4.143 Billion) had been distributed under this scheme. So there is a discrepancy of INR 19 crores (INR190 million = US$ 2.54 Million). This calculation leads to the following possible conclusions- only one of which can be true:
a) either, the final figure of INR 30,945 is not correct; or
b) some of the 20.64 crore women did not receive all three installments. INR 30,945 would have fully covered only 20.63 crore beneficiaries.
The June 2020 progress update issued by the Union Finance Ministry also pegged 20.63 crore women beneficiaries at 100% coverage. So here too, the figures disclosed by the Finance Ministry proactively and the data supplied by MoRD under the RTI Act, do not tally with each other.
States and UTs- overall trends
- 28 States accounted for 98.32% (20.29 crores or 202.9 million) of the total number of women beneficiaries;
- Uttar Pradesh (UP) tops the list with more than 3.2 crore (32 million) beneficiaries followed by Bihar at a distant 2nd with 2.43 crores (24.3 million) and West Bengal (WB) taking 3rd place with 1.96 crore (19.6 million) beneficiaries. Madhya Pradesh (MP) takes 4th place with 1.67 crore (16.7 million) beneficiaries and Rajasthan is at 5th position with 1.48 crore (14.8 million) beneficiaries. Together, these 5 States account for more than half the number of women beneficiaries, i.e., 52.20% of the total figure (all States and UTs included);
- Maharashtra is at 6th position with 1.41 crore (14.1 million) beneficiaries. All other States and UTs have less than 1 crore beneficiaries each. Assam is at 7th place with 96.91 lakh (9.69 million) beneficiaries, followed by Andhra Pradesh at 8th position with 92.21 lakh (9. 22 The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923), and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act. The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923), and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act. million) beneficiaries followed by Odisha at 9th place with 85.21 lakh (8.52 million) beneficiaries and Karnataka taking 10th place with 80.64 lakh (8.64 million) beneficiaries. Together the top 10 States account for more than 3/4ths i.e., 76.27% of the total figure (29 States and 8 UTs included);
- The remaining 18 States and 8 UTs account for less than a quarter i.e., 23.73% of the total figure of women beneficiaries.
- Among the States, Sikkim accounts for the smallest number of women beneficiaries at 43,915. Goa with 70,398 beneficiaries, Mizoram with 1,53,790 beneficiaries, Nagaland with 1,77,746 beneficiaries and Arunachal Pradesh with 1,87,853 beneficiaries figure at the bottom of the pile;
- The eight UTs (Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli are now combined into one UT) account for only 1.68% (34.66 lakhs or 3.46 million) of the total figure. Delhi accounts for the most number of beneficiaries at 20,63,036 followed by Jammu and Kashmir with 10,84,965 beneficiaries. Lakshadweep has the smallest number of beneficiaries at 2,889, preceded by Ladakh with 9,377 beneficiaries;
- Eastern India (States of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha) accounts for more than a quarter of the beneficiaries i.e., 28.92% followed by Northern India (States of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand) accounting for more than a fifth of the beneficiaries i.e., 20.07%. Western India (States of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa) accounts for 14.15% of the beneficiaries and Central India (States of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) accounts for 12.01% of the beneficiaries. The seven States in the Northeastern part of India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura) and Sikkim account for 5.59% of the beneficiaries;
- Even though UP tops the list of States and UTs with the highest number of women beneficiaries who received ex gratia payments under this Scheme, none of its districts figure in either the top-5 or top-10 list. Instead, West Bengal's Murshidabad (17,10,775), South 24 Parganas (16,56,903) and North 24 Parganas (14,04,391) figure in the top-3 list in that order. Maharashtra's Greater Bombay (12,77,997) and Rajasthan's Jaipur (11,97,327) take the 4th and 5th place respectively. Three more districts of West Bengal, namely, Maldah (11,67,297), Medinipur (11,53,364), and Nadia (11,49,317) figure in the top-10 list. Bihar which accounted for the second highest number of beneficiaries has only two districts (Samastipur and Gaya) appearing in the top-10 list and none in the top-5 list;
- 15 of Bihar's districts, 13 of West Bengal's and 12 of UP's figure in the top-50 list. Rajasthan has 4 districts and Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have two districts each figuring in the top-50 list. Even though MP is at 4th place in the overall ranking of States, none of its districts figure in the top-50 list;
- Delhi with its 20.63 lakh beneficiaries appears to top the district-wise ranking list but the entire UT is treated as one district by MoRD for the purpose of data entry. So Delhi is not included in the toppers list that I have drawn up;
- Lawngthai district of Mizoram has the smallest number of beneficiaries (484) among all districts. Serchhip of Mizoram (564), North Sikkim (1,386), Diu (1,561) and Kolasib in Mizoram (2,543) figure at the bottom of the pile in that order;
- 24 districts have less than 10,000 beneficiaries each. Four districts each in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland also have less than 10,000 beneficiaries. Three districts in Sikkim and two each in Meghalaya and Himachal Pradesh also have less than 10,000 beneficiaries each. One district each in Daman and Diu, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Lakshadweep and Pondicherry also figure in this list.
According to the dataset supplied by MoRD's CPIO, the 20.64 crore women beneficiaries of the ex gratia Scheme are mostly residents of 584 districts across the country i.e., 557 in the States and 27 in the UTs. However, we know from other sources, at the time of the launch of this cash transfer scheme, in April 2020, there were 721 districts across the country.
Readers may recall, another component of the PMGKY COVID-19 relief package announced by the Union Finance Ministry on 26th March, 2020 which focused on the supply of free gas cylinders to 8 crore families for the same period of three months i.e., April, May and June, 2020. This was facilitated under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY). PMUY beneficiary datasets supplied to me last year under the RTI Act by the Oil Marketing Companies: IOCL, BPCL and HPCL which implemented this scheme at the field level, mention all 721 districts State and UT-wise (copy of compiled spreadsheet attached). However, names of 137 districts found in the PMUY beneficiary list for the same period are not traceable in MoRD's beneficiary list related to the ex gratia cash transfer scheme covering the 20 crore+ women.
The number of districts which are missing in some of the States and UTs is listed below. While some districts like those of Manipur were carved out of existing ones only in 2016 when the PMJDY scheme had already come into existence, several others existed much before the NDA-II regime assumed power. A sample of such districts along with the date of their formation is also given below:
- Only 13 out of 18 districts in Arunachal Pradesh are mentioned. Anjaw which was formed in 2004 and Longding which was formed in 2012 are some of the districts missing from MoRD's list;
- Only 23 out of 33 districts in Assam are mentioned. Dima Hasao a predominantly tribal district which existed as far back as in 1970 (then known as North Cachar), and Chirang which was formed in 2004 are some of the districts missing from MoRD's list;
- Only 16 of the 27 districts in Chhattisgarh are mentioned. Bijapur existed as a district in 2007 while Balod and Bemetara were created in 2012- none of them find mention in MoRD's list;
- Only 25 out of 33 districts in Gujarat are mentioned. Chhota Udepur and Devbhumi Dwarka which came into existence in 2013 are not found in MoRD's list;
- Only 19 of the 22 The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923), and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act. The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923), and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act. districts in Haryana are mentioned. Mewat came into existence in 2005 and Palwal in 2008. Both are not mentioned in MoRD's list. (Incidentally, the district administration's website says that Mahatma Gandhi was arrested for the first time on Indian soil at the Palwal Railway Station during the struggle for independence).
- Only 14 out of the 20 districts in Jammu and Kashmir are mentioned. Bandipora, Ganderbal, Shopian and Kulgam in Kashmir Division were formed in 2007. Samba in Jammu Division was formed in 2006. None of these are mentioned in MoRD's list;
- Only 18 of the 24 districts of Jharkhand are mentioned. While Latehar and Jamtara districts came into existence in 2001, Khunti was formed in 2007. None of these names are traceable in MoRD's list;
- Only 27 out 30 districts in Karnataka are mentioned. While Chikkaballapur and Ramanagara (made famous as the dreaded dacoit Gabbar Singh's hideout in the Bollywood movie Sholay) came into existence in 2007, Yadgir was formed in 2009. None of these are mentioned in MoRD's list;
- Only 45 of the 52 districts in MP are mentioned. While Khargone was formed in 1998, Ashok Nagar, Anuppur and Burhanpur were formed in 2003. None of these names are traceable in MoRD's list;
- Only 7 out of 10 districts in Meghalaya are mentioned. East Jaintia Hills and North Garo Hills districts have been in existence since 2012. Neither of these are found on MoRD's list;
- Only 8 of the 11 districts in Nagaland are mentioned. Both Longleng and Peren districts have been in existence since 2004. Neither are traceable in MoRD's list;
- Only 17 of Punjab's 22 The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923), and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act. The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923), and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act. districts are mentioned. While Barnala was formed in 2006, Fazilka and Pathankot have been in existence since 2011. None of these names are found in MoRD's list;
- Only 30 out of 37 districts in Tamil Nadu are mentioned. While Krishnagiri district was formed in 2004, Tiruppur came into existence in 2009. Neither district is named in MoRD's list;
- Only 4 of the 8 districts in Tripura are mentioned. While Sepahijala came into existence in 2011, Khowai was formed in 2012. Neither name is traceable in MoRD's list;
- Only 70 of UP's 76 districts are mentioned. While Amethi was formed in 2010, the districts of Hapur and Sambhal came into existence in 2011. None of them are mentioned in MoRD's list;
- Only 18 out of 23 districts in West Bengal are mentioned. Alipurduar which was formed in June 2014 is missing from MoRD's list;
- Only 10 of Telangana's 33 districts are mentioned on MoRD's List.
Beneficiaries in unspecified districts
That is not all, according to MoRD's dataset, the districts of residence of more than 2.58 crore women beneficiaries of the ex gratia Scheme is not available. The proportion of beneficiaries (2,58,04,510) whose State/UT of residence is known but the district is unspecified is 12.5% of the total figure of 20.64 crores.
- UP tops the list of beneficiaries whose district of residence is not known to MoRD. These 51.14 lakh women account for almost a fifth (19.94%) of the 2.58 crore beneficiaries belonging to this category across the country. This category amounts to 15.86% of the total number of beneficiaries in UP;
- West Bengal takes second place with 15.16% beneficiaries (out of 2.58 crore total in this category) whose district of residence is not known. This category is more than a fifth (20.20%) of the total number of beneficiaries in that State;
- Even though Andhra Pradesh accounts for only 11.50% of the total of 2.58 crore beneficiaries in the "unspecified districts" category this figure is almost a third (32.18%) of the total number of beneficiaries in that State;
- Similarly, Chhattisgarh accounts for less than a tenth (9.43%) of the total of 2.58 crore beneficiaries in the "unspecified districts" category. However this category accounts for 30.21% of the total number of beneficiaries in that State;
- Jharkhand accounts for 7.89% of the total of 2.58 crore beneficiaries in the "unspecified districts" category. But this figure accounts for more than a quarter (27.34%) of the total number of beneficiaries in that State;
- MP accounts for 12.79% of the total of 2.58 crore beneficiaries in the "unspecified districts" category. But this category constitutes almost a fifth (19.71%) of the total number of beneficiaries in that State;
- Assam accounts for 5.32% of the total of 2.58 crore beneficiaries in the "unspecified districts" category. However this category constitutes 14.17% of the total number of beneficiaries in that State;
- Karnataka accounts for 4.85% of the total of 2.58 crore beneficiaries in the "unspecified districts" category. But this category constitutes 15.53% of the total number of beneficiaries in that State; and
- Meghalaya accounts for only 0.20% of the total of 2.58 crore beneficiaries in the "unspecified districts" category. But this category constitutes 16.55% of the total number of beneficiaries in that State.
Do the beneficiaries belonging to "unspecified" category reside in districts whose names are not mentioned in MoRD's list? This might not be the explanation for every such case because:
- All districts of Andhra Pradesh are covered in MoRD's list. Yet they have 29.67 lakh beneficiaries in the "unspecified" category. Similarly, all districts in Kerala are covered in this list but there are 2,13,426 beneficiaries in the "unspecified" category. All districts in Rajasthan are also covered in MoRD's list. But there are 1,98,962 beneficiaries in the "unspecified" category. Same is the case with Goa with all districts covered by 3,767 beneficiaries in the "unspecified" category.
- Conversely, the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura do not have any beneficiaries in the "unspecified" category at all, but all districts in these States are not mentioned on MoRD's list.
There is a lot that both MoRD and the Finance Ministry have to account for publicly regarding the manner of spending INR 30,000 crores+ (or US$ 4 Billion+) on the PMKGY ex gratia payment Scheme for women PMJDY account holders. This is not an ordinary sum. In addition to domestic budgetary support, a significant proportion of the expenditure has been incurred by way of low interest loans secured from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. So the taxpayer is not only footing the bill during the pandemic but will continue to do so until the loans are repaid. The Central Government must not only clarify the correct picture vis-a-vis the cash transfers made under this Scheme but also explain the criteria adopted for selecting:
a) the districts named in MoRD's list and
b) 20 crore+ women beneficiaries while leaving out others.
I hope readers will ask these questions in their own States, UTs, districts, towns and villages by filing RTIs or through their elected representatives in Parliament and the State Legislatures.
All facts are either in the public domain or have been placed in the public domain through this email alert. Views expressed above are personal.