After repeatedly denying the probability of a scam in one of the most popular schemes under the Social Welfare Department, the BJP government in Karnataka has now ordered an inquiry into it.
The government, led by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, ordered on Friday, 23 December, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to initiate a probe into a suspected multi-crore scam.
Under the scanner is the government’s own arm — the Dr B.R. Ambedkar Development Corporation — which comes under the Social Welfare Department and Backward Classes Welfare Department.
The Social Welfare Department (SWD) is meant for schemes for the upliftment of Scheduled Castes in the state.
Karnataka Congress leaders have raised questions on why only one corporation under the SWD was in the docks while all eight others were involved in the suspected ₹441-crore scam.
In an official communication to the Additional Secretary Home Department, the secretary to Government, Social Welfare Department, P Manivannan stated that Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai had directed the initiation of a CID probe into the irregularities of officials from the Dr BR Ambedkar Development Corporation who had flouted rules by accepting forged and illegal documentation for granting tenders in the Ganga Kalyana Yojane during the years 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Manivannan added that the CID should investigate all the tenders that were executed along with the participants, and stringent action would be initiated against the offenders, including officials from the department.
The Congress’ allegations
On Friday, Congress leader and former social welfare minister Priyank Kharge tweeted that the government that was in denial for so long about the multi-crore scam had now ordered a CID probe.
He added that minister Kota Shrinivas Poojary should not shield his predecessors and officials responsible for the scam.
The Govt which was in denial for so long about the multi crore Ganga Kalyan Scam has now ordered a CID probe. Sri @KotasBJP should not shield his predecessors & officials responsible for this.#40PercentSarkara is an anti SC/ST regime. pic.twitter.com/IIzWAZS3FK
— Priyank Kharge / ಪ್ರಿಯಾಂಕ್ ಖರ್ಗೆ (@PriyankKharge) December 23, 2022
Kharge told South First: “It has been more than a year since we started telling the government that there was a massive ₹441-crore scam in the Ganga Kalyana Yojane across all corporations, where people forged documents and work orders and got contracts.”
He added: “When we brought this to the state government’s notice, the minister kept denying it. The Congress stands vindicated here.”
He went on to ask: “Why is only the Dr Ambedkar Development Corporation being probed when all the corporations are involved in the scam? The BJP government is looting the money meant for SCs and STs.”
Kharge, in May this year, alleged that some contractors furnished forged documents pertaining to income tax and works executed in sinking 14,500 borewells worth ₹441 crore in the SWD.
He demanded at that time that a sitting high court judge should investigate the matter, claiming that a fair investigation could not be expected from the state government.
The former minister also alleged that the irregularities took place in connivance with the tender scrutiny committee as well in consultation with the minister.
According to the scheme for the backward classes, the cost of sinking a borewell is ₹84,000, but the government was billed ₹1.93 lakh per borewell, Kharge pointed out.
The CID officials are yet to register a case and summon officials from the Dr BR Ambedkar Corporation who served during the years 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Additional Director General of Police (CID) Sharath Chandra said: “We are yet to receive a communication from the Home Department.”
What is the scheme?
The Ganga Kalyana Yojana is a Karnataka government scheme wherein the development corporations identify the beneficiaries, sink borewells, and register the applications with relevant documents to BESCOM subdivisions for energisation.
BESCOM creates the necessary infrastructure and arranges for power supply to the borewells, which can be utilised for pumping water to crops, which in turn benefits farmers belonging to various communities.
Under this scheme, irrigation facilities are provided to agricultural lands held by the small and marginal ST farmers by sinking borewell, followed by installation of pump sets and accessories with due energisation.
The unit cost is fixed at ₹4.5 lakh in the Bengaluru Urban, Bengaluru Rural, Ramanagara, Kolar, Chikkaballapur, and Tumakuru districts, where the groundwater table is depleted. In other districts, the unit cost is ₹3.5 lakh.
The unit cost comprises of energisation cost of ₹50,000, a loan of ₹50,000, and the remaining amount is a subsidy.
Where borewell-drilling is difficult, open wells are dug, followed by the installation of mono-block pump sets and accessories with due energisation, and the unit cost is fixed at ₹1.5 lakh.
Further on, irrigation facilities are provided to the lands held by small and marginal ST farmers from a nearby river or canal by drawing a pipeline from the water source and installing a pump motor and accessories with due energisation.
Here, the unit cost is fixed at ₹4 lakh for the units consisting of up to 8 acres of land and at ₹6 lakh for units up to 15 acres of land. The entire cost under the scheme is treated as a subsidy under the Ganga Kalyan Yojane.
The scheme was started in 1983 with the government ruling that it was the social responsibility of it and BESCOM to energise the backward farmers’ pump sets.