By Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
New Delhi, Jan 17: In a special audit report submitted to the government and tabled in Parliament, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has exposed massive irregularities in the Prime Minister's Development Package (PMDP) fund during Mehbooba Mufti's government in Jammu and Kashmir. CAG has asked the Jammu and Government to recover the money worth crores of rupees which has been distributed among a number of the State's billionaires and big business houses not entitled to the relief announced for victims of the September-2014 flood.
CAG has passed serious strictures on Mehbooba-led PDP-BJP government for diverting the Central financial support to her State government's commitment not covered under PMDP. Mehbooba's government had announced the Interest Subvention Scheme (ISS) for relief to the small businesses having turnover of less than Rs 10 lakh in a financial year. CAG has called for recovery of all the benefits extended to ineligible persons in violation of guidelines of the scheme.
In partial response to the Omar Abdullah government's demand of Rs 44,000 crore for relief to the flood victims, the BJP government at the Centre had sanctioned Rs 800 crore in November 2015. It was for restoration of industrial and business enterprises affected by the floods of September 2014. Subsequently, ISS was sanctioned in April 2016 by the Government of India under the PMDP.
As per the scheme guidelines, interest subvention was to be restricted only to those units availing credit facility from the banks for business purposes which were affected by the floods of September 2014.
'A total of 50,081 small traders/business, having annual turnover up to Rs 10 lakh, identified by the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir on recommendations of the concerned Deputy Commissioners, were to be provided financial assistance to the extent of 50 percent of actual losses suffered by them. The Jammu and Kashmir Bank Limited (JKBL) was convener of JKSLBC (State Level Bankers Committee) while the scheme was implemented by the Principal Secretary Finance Department through JKSLBC, JKBL, the Chief Minister's Secretariat and the Deputy Commissioners of eight districts in the Kashmir division,' the CAG audit report has pointed out.
With reference to the Chief Minister's Business Interest Relief Scheme (CMBIRS), the CAG report says the J&K Government's Finance Department released Rs 200 crore, including Rs 180 crore of PMDP funds, to JKSLBC. Out of this, an amount of Rs 199.96 crore was remitted to 15 banks for the interest subvention. The major share of Rs 190.20 crore went to J&K Bank Ltd.
'An amount of Rs 180 crore received from the Government of India was paid to beneficiaries under CMBIRS which was a commitment of the J & K Government made during the budget session of 2018-19. The payment was not as per guidelines of the Interest Subvention Scheme of the PMDP. Further, out of Rs 190.20 crore to JKBL, Rs 41.32 crore were provided to only 19 borrowers,' the CAG observed. It pointed out that out of the 19 beneficiaries, as many as 10 borrowers, who were given Rs 21.02 crore, were not eligible as none of them was affected by the September-2014 flood.
Interestingly the accounts of these beneficiaries were restructured under a special rehabilitation package only after the street turbulence of the year 2016, created after the Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani's death in an encounter.
Joint Director (Resources), Finance Department, according to the CAG report, confirmed that sanction to the allocation was accorded in March 2018. It confirmed that funds released by the Government of India were diverted by the Government of J&K for its own commitment and not for payment under the interest subvention scheme.
According to the CAG report, a private trust operated by a former Congress leader's family received an amount of Rs 55 lakh even as no private trust was entitled to the relief under ISS. One particular businessman Baldev Singh Raina, dealing in automobile business and operating 5 companies, is shown to have received around Rs 13 crore on account of interest subvention without being eligible. A number of companies run by two leading business houses, related to each other, is shown to have taken Rs 12 crore without being eligible.
CAG has noticed that the accounts of nine borrowers, which were sub-standard even prior to the floods of September 2014, were subsequently included in the list of the 11,449 accounts prepared by JKBL. They were provided interest subvention of 50 percent of the interest charged during September 1, 2014 to December 31, 2015 amounting to Rs 16.49 lakh. Further interest subvention of Rs 36.62 lakh was also provided to the same ineligible borrowers.
'Thus, interest subvention to the extent of Rs 74.57 lakh was provided to 107 accounts of two Banks which were sub-standard prior to floods of September 2014 and were, therefore, ineligible as per the scheme guidelines,' CAG has pointed out.
JKBL has, however, stated that the interest subvention of Rs 20 lakh, released in favour of M/s Jhelum Roller Flour Mill, would be recovered and refunded to the Government through JKSLBC. The bank has, nevertheless maintained that eight other accounts were standard as on 31st August 2014 and thus eligible for rehabilitation under the scheme.
'Reply of the JKBL management is not acceptable as nine accounts which were sub-standard as on 30th June 2014 were irregularly included in the list of 11,449 restructured accounts by the JKBL and provided interest subvention,' the CAG report observed. It noted that the Finance Department in January 2018 released Rs 1.47 crore to the Tourism Department for waiver of loans in respect of 19 houseboat owners whose accounts had been previously restructured as 'one-time settlement' after running in default.
'The Director Tourism Kashmir in March 2018 disbursed Rs 1.47 crore to nine banks for settlement of these loans which were not eligible to be covered under the scheme,' the CAG report has observed. According to it, the beneficiary houseboat owners were not affected in the September-2014 flood and their waiver of loans was in violation of the scheme guidelines. The JD Finance has put much of the blame for Mehbooba's Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu.
Further, the JKBL disbursed an amount of Rs 26 crore as interest subvention among 36,891 artisan beneficiaries from July 2016 to February 2017 under PMDP for settlement of outstanding balance of interest on Artisan Credit Cards (ACC). It, however, stated that the ACC scheme existed prior to the announcement of the PMDP and was not eligible for assistance under the ISS. Moreover, specific linkage to losses occurred due to flood had not been done.
'The Joint Director Resources stated that a policy decision was taken in a meeting on July 2016 held under the chairmanship of the then Finance Minister (Haseeb Drabu) that Rs 26 crore outstanding on account of interest subvention be provided as one time relief to the artisan community as this class was badly affected by September 2014 floods. 'The reply confirmed the audit observation that funds released by the Government of India for the scheme were diverted towards commitment of the Government of J&K for payment of interest subsidy to artisans under the ACC scheme which was not admissible,' the CAG observed.
The Government of J&K also released funds to the tune of Rs 244.78 crore between July 2016 and June 2017 to JKSLBC for disbursement to the banks operating the Kissan Credit Card (KCC) scheme in J&K. Audit observed that sanction of funds by the then J&K Government was in violation of interest subvention scheme guidelines and resulted in diversion of funds worth Rs 244.10 crore as the scheme was not extendable to agricultural production loans.
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