Loot of CM's relief fund more rampant than thought. Vigilance calls for twice-yearly audits

Representational image
Representational image.

Operation CMDRF, which had on February 22 exposed a shocking nexus of revenue officials, government doctors and private agents, has unearthed far more instances of loot from the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund.

Finding that corruption has become rampant, Vigilance director Manoj Abraham has mooted a special audit every six months and also the deployment of a special team in all collectorates to vet the authenticity of the applications received for CMDRF assistance.

The latest instances of fraud came to light when the Vigilance and Anti Corruption Bureau (VACB), astonished by the scale of corruption in Collectorates, extended its flash checks to taluk and village level revenue offices on February 23 and 24.

Like in Collectorates, it was found that a welfare mechanism that could be easily accessed by the public, was almost fully taken over by unscrupulous agents, who struck corrupt deals with officers in charge.

Omnipresent agent
In Thiruvananthapuram, for instance, the VACB sleuths discovered that a native of Karode Village in the district had secured financial help from the CMDRF for 20 persons in Neyyattinkara taluk.

One of the beneficiaries secured assistance for a serious heart ailment though he had undergone only a one-day appendicitis procedure. The same agent managed to get a 'client' of his with a liver complaint more money by faking records to show that he had a serious heart condition.

A raid conducted at Varkala Taluk Office revealed that six applications for assistance under the CMDRF were submitted with the phone number of a single person, the local CMDRF agent.

A Manorama cartoon on the CMDRF loot.

Namesake beneficiaries
In certain cases even beneficiaries were not aware that revenue officials and agents had pilfered money in their names.

The VACB, for instance, came across revenue records showing that a West Kallara native in Kollam district was sanctioned Rs 4 lakh for 76 per cent damage to his house during a major natural disaster.

When the VACB contacted this person, he said he had not submitted such an application nor had revenue officials come to his house for inspection. He said he was not even aware that such a huge sum had come to his account.

Incomplete applications
It was also found that in many cases in Kollam district, funds were sanctioned on the basis of applications that did not have even the mandatory documents like the copies of Aadhar and ration cards. It was also found that money was disbursed for more serious ailments than what was shown in the applications.

In such cases, a VACB source said, the agent will pocket the additional amount and also the usual 20-25 per cent commission. Most applications routed through agents will have only the agent's number and not that of the beneficiary's.

This way, the agent will be alerted, in the form of a bank SMS, the moment the money is transferred to the bank account of the beneficiary.

Manoj Abraham IPS, director, VA&CB.

Family doctors
Government doctors play a crucial role in sustaining this CMDRF fraud.

For instance, a check of 18 applications in Karunagappally taluk revealed that in 13 cases the medical certificate was furnished by one government pulmonologist. Of this, six were given to one family and two to another family so that multiple members from a could secure money from the CMDRF.

Like in Karunagappally, four members of a family received CMDRF assistance in Kozhencherry.

When 14 CMDRF applications were checked in Alappuzha district, it was revealed that one doctor had furnished medical certificates in 10 cases. In fact, nine of them were given on a single day, June 30, 2022. Meaning, these certificates were issued without conducting any tests, as if they were like any over the counter product up for sale.

The initial raids conducted on February 22 had also found a doctor granting medical certificates to all the four members of a family, not once but twice.

Traditional tricksters
Further, the VACB also found that it was usual for non-specialists to grant medical certificates. Of the 78 applications received at Palakkad's Alathur Village 54 had medical certificates issued by a single ayurveda doctor, 13 by another and the remaining 12 by yet another ayurveda doctor.

Interestingly, a closer probe revealed that these three ayurveda doctors worked in the same private ayurveda hospital. It was found that money was disbursed against 10 of these 78 applications. Nonetheless, 14 among the lot were rejected.

Single helpline
The existence of agents/middlemen are mostly indicated by the same handwriting in a collection of applications from persons living in areas far removed from each other.

The same contact number in application forms is another indication of agent-propelled pilferage. The agent's number is almost like the only helpline for families seeking help in a taluk or panchayat.

For instance, 268 applications that came before the Koodal Village Office in Pathanamthitta had the same contact number. In Enadimangalam Village, Adoor, 61 applications had the same contact number. The 70-odd applications received in Idukki's Thodupuzha taluk in over a decade not only had the same contact number but were prepared in the same Akshaya Centre.

Vigilance and Anti Corruption Bureau raid. Photo: Manorama

Babu's ploy
In many of these cases, money was sanctioned even if, as the VACB found out, there were no adequate medical records. A clear hint of bureaucratic connivance.

Many such instances of officer involvement were unearthed. A Malappuram native who possessed 1.2 acres of land was issued an income certificate that said his annual income was a paltry Rs 60,000. On the basis of this, the man secured a medical assistance of Rs 25,000 from the CMDRF.

What's more, it was also found that some beneficiaries were provided help a second time flouting the requirement that a second assistance could be granted only two years after the first was received.

Eye-opener raids
Such large scale embezzlement has taken place even though the CMDRF is fully web managed and has supposedly become extremely transparent. Transfers to the end beneficiary is done through the Direct Bank Transfer system.

The raids were initiated following a tip off received by the VACB about the massive corruption in the disbursal of CMDRF funds. As it stands, the CMDRF has collected Rs 5744.51 crore; Rs 832.06 crore as COVID-19 donations and Rs 4912.45 crore as flood relief.

The raids ordered by Vigilance director Manoj Abraham were conducted under the supervision of Vigilance IG Harshitha Attalluri and was led by Police Superintendent Intelligence) E S Bijumon.

The Vigilance Director in a statement said that the public can pass on corruption-related information to the Vigilance toll free number 1064 or 8592900900 or in the Whatsapp number 9447789100.

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