The Scammed Gas that Failed to Light Up Poor Homes in Kashmir

 

RTI helps complainant to get the matter investigated at highest level 

Raj Bhavan has finally taken cognizance of irregularities in PM’s Ujjwala Yojna in J&K particularly in district Budgam. The Lt Governor’s Secretariat recently directed the Commissioner Secretary to Govt Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs (FCS & CA) to probe the matter and submit the report within 3 days.

For more than a year, several complaints had been pouring in from different areas of J&K particularly in the upper reaches of Budgam district where people were looted by LPG companies. People had to pay money for Ujjwala LPG cylinders and stoves which otherwise were to be given free of cost.

Taking cognizance of a complaint filed by an RTI activist Mushtaq Ahmad Lone, a resident of Batwodder-Surasyar Chadoora in district Budgam, the LG’s Secretariat directed the Commissioner Secretary FCS & CA to get the matter enquired thoroughly. He has also been asked to submit the report to LG's Secretariat by March 3rd 2022 .

Earlier, LG Manoj Sinha in his monthly radio programme - Awam ki Awaz - had spoken about the PM’s Ujjwala Yojna on Nov 21st 2021.

Mushtaq had brought the matter into the notice of LG Sinha by writing to him a detailed letter. LG highlighted this issue in his radio broadcast and assured Mushtaq a probe into the issue.

After a month, when Mushtaq didn’t hear anything from Raj Bhavan, he filed an application under Right to Information Act (RTI) in LG’s Secretariat to know about the status of his complaint which was discussed by Lt Governor during his Awam ki Awaz programme .

Background

The scam surfaced when the Indian Oil Corporation was found maintaining silence over alleged irregularities in the implementation of the Prime Minister’s Ujjwala Gas Yojana scheme despite directions from the administration.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration on November 11, 2021 issued orders to the corporation to furnish a reply to the LG’s Grievance Cell regarding a complaint on alleged scam in disbursing benefits of the scheme.

In the order, a copy of which lies with Kashmir Observer, the administration has ordered the IOC’s state level coordinator to furnish a reply “at the earliest” as the “subject of the grievance entirely pertains to you [State level coordinator]”. But despite the administration’s order, the corporation sat over the issue.

Notably, the central scheme is an initiative to provide free gas connections to one crore poor families across India.

But many Ujjwala beneficiaries who had not physically received any connection were surprised with credit entries in their names. Similar reports then emerged from other areas as well as from public representatives that many of their SECC Ujjwala beneficiaries may be receiving LPG subsidy in their accounts but had not received any free connection, including cylinders and stoves.

The order also comes two months after Kashmir Observer highlighted the issue in its weekly Inkishaf program “Is Ujjwala Yojana a Scam?”, highlighting the public’s complaints of corruption and denial of free cooking gas.

On November 22, 2021, the Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs in Budgam had issued an order and constituted a team of four members and demanded that the team submit a “factual report” to the department in seven days.

The department had constituted a four-member team – including TSO Beerwah and Chrar Shareef, ASK and concerned sarpanch – to look into the complaints by conducting door to door surveys at village Googi Pathri Wangwas.

National Scam

But the scam, as it turned out, has its roots in other parts of the country as well.

In September 2018, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) alleged that the Ujjwala Yojana has failed in its objective and is a total failure in Odisha.

The party alleged that the BJP is first distributing gas connections free to attract people and later asking them to refill it at market rates and the subsidy amount is also not credited to their bank accounts on time. LPG cylinder price hike, lack of banking facilities and internet connectivity in some areas are major reasons that have led to the failure of the scheme.

Similarly, on February 28, 2019, several men had reached Sunderpahari village in Jharkhand stating that they were from the government and had come to provide free gas connection under the Ujjwala Yojana. As the word got around in the village, at least 70% of the women came to enroll.

They were informed that they would have to sign on a form, and they would require their Aadhaar card, bank passbook and a passport-sized photo as proof. After, the women had filled the forms, they were asked to authenticate their biometric details on a PoS machine. Almost all the women had these documents as Jharkhand had made it mandatory for the poor to take Aadhaar cards and link it with their bank accounts if they had to get their wages and ration. The women were informed that they would get their connections in a few days

However, when these women went to the bank to withdraw money to pay the school fees for their children, they found out all their money was withdrawn, and their accounts had no balance.

Later, in August 2019, another scam in the scheme surfaced in Balampur district of Uttar Pradesh when at least 6,000 gas cylinders were recovered from a rural LPG agency from a village located on the border near Nepal. These cylinders were kept hidden in bushes, godowns and other places.

The incident came into light when some locals informed the district administration about a huge number of gas cylinders lying around. These cylinders were to be distributed among Tharu tribal women.

The gas agency, Bhargav Indian Rural Distributor, Pachpedwa was immediately sealed.

The agency got the connection forms filled by villagers, but instead of supplying the cylinder, cook-top and regulator, it dumped everything and started blackmarketing them.

An amount of Rs 500-Rs 1500 was also taken from those who filled the form.

Administration formed a team of six members and started an investigation in the matter and found the agency had 9,000 Ujjwala connections and 691 normal connections.

Lately, the food, civil supplies and consumer affairs department launched a probe into an alleged fraud in Ujjwala Yojana reported with around 100 families of Indore.

Acting on a complaint, the officials recorded statements of some of the victims living in Ambikapuri, Laxmipuri and Depalpur area of Indore, in which, they claimed to have given documents including Aadhaar card, ration card and Rs 1,000 to one Kanakmal Jain to provide them gas connection and cylinder under PMUA scheme.

After waiting for around two years, most of the applicants came to know about releasing gas connection by their name after they received SMS for cylinder refill.

Apart from Jain, the investigating officials are approaching an Alirajpur situated LPG agency to record their statements in the case. The officials have also sought customers’ records from the gas agency to crosscheck names, which are stated to be allegedly duped in the complaint.

“We have launched a probe into a complaint of alleged fraud in PMUY scheme. The report is awaited” Indore food controller Meena Malakar said, adding that based on the findings, further course of actions will be decided.

Information Sought 

On December 21, 2021, Mushtaq Ahmad Lone filed an application under RTI Act seeking details of action taken by LG’s office on his complaint. The RTI application reads as: During Awam ki Awaz programme dated Nov 21st Hon’ble LG Shri Manoj Sinha spoke about PM Ujjwala Yojna. I had sent a complaint to him on the issue as there is a lot of misappropriation of funds and corruption. I would like to seek following information in this regard:

  1. Has your office made any formal communication with LPG companies or Govt on the issue of PM’s Ujjwala Yojna which is marred by large scale corruption in J&K especially District Budgam?
  2. Kindly provide a copy of the letter that has gone from Raj Bhavan to concerned officers for investigating the issue.
  3. Has any response been received by Raj Bhavan in this case ? Please provide the certified copies of the letters received in this regard
  4. Has Raj Bhavan directed Govt or Deputy Commissioners to upload a list of PM’s Ujjwala beneficiaries on the official websites ?

Special Secretary intervenes 

When Mushtaq didn’t receive any information within stipulated time from the Public Information Officer Pankaj Bagotra (Additional  Secretary ), he filed first appeal before Mr Pankaj Kumar Sharma, Special Secretary who is the designated First Appellate Authority (FAA) .

The FAA called Mushtaq for an online hearing through Zoom on February 25th 2022. The PIO was also present during the hearing.

Before the appeal hearing, the Special Secretary ensured Mushtaq was given a better audience. The Raj Bhavan officials called him several times a few days before hearing  to make sure he had better internet connectivity.

The FAA (Special Secretary) told Mushtaq during the hearing that he would write a letter to the General Administration Department (GAD) and Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department. The officer finally made a fresh communication with Food Department and asked the Commissioner Secretary on behalf of Lt Governor to probe into the issue. A report was sought within 3 days only.

No Probe Initiated 

There are several videos on social media which prove that indigent people in J&K have been looted, especially in Budgam district. Local news channels have exposed it as well. Newspapers have been writing about it but the government is least bothered to even investigate this matter. The matter had to be taken up at the highest level (Raj Bhavan). This author has been uploading all the videos and newspaper articles about the Ujjwala scam on social media. The Deputy Commissioner of Budgam is aware of all this as his official Twitter handle was tagged this reporter several times about this. However, he has not even asked an SHO of the area to file an FIR on the issue.

Conclusion

When Mushtaq and his colleagues went to several villages to see whether beneficiaries have received the subsidized gas or not, they were told that people had to pay money Rs 2000 to 4000 for it. But after filing complaints at various forums, Mushtaq was assured of action but till date not even an FIR has been filed against the culprits who took money from poor people for Ujjwala LPG gas which is to be given free of cost to BPL families.

Now as the matter has been taken up by Raj Bhavan directly with administrative department of Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs department, many hope that culprits will be brought to justice soon.


  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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