Malkiat Kaur, sarpanch of Bir Sikhawala village in Faridkot district, was found guilty of appropriating the old-age pension of two villagers for three months after their death in October 2008.
The case came to light in reply to an application filed under the Right To Information (RTI) Act in December 2010.
Though the money has been recovered, the district administration has not yet registered any case against the sarpanch. This is not an isolated case. Sarpanches have been pocketing the pension of hundreds of dead elders across the state.
In Moga district, there are about 800 cases in which the beneficiaries are dead, ineligible or non-existent, sources said.
Last year, a survey conducted by the state government had found that at least 5% of the pension beneficiaries under the old age, widow, handicap and destitute children categories, either did not exist or were dead. More than 6,500 beneficiaries were found dead and over 33,000 ineligible in the state, the survey had revealed.
Despite these revelations, no drive has been initiated to book the culprits, mainly sarpanches and councillors, who 'confirm' the existence of beneficiaries. “The nodal persons (sarpanches and councillors) enjoy political patronage. That's why they go scot-free even after the detection of fraud,” an official in the social welfare department said.
In the recent Vidhan Sabha session, the state government had acknowledged in a written reply that only five sarpanches had so far been booked under Sections 419 and 420 of the IPC for the malpractice.
In a glaring case, the sarpanch of the chief minister's own village, Badal, in Muktsar district, appropriated the pension of 21 dead beneficiaries for a few months.
Though Rs 31,850 was recovered, the case against the sarpanch is pending with the Muktsar deputy commissioner. In another case, Rs 90,300 was recovered from the sarpanch of Subhana village in Jalandhar district, but he was not penalised for grabbing the pension of 12 dead beneficiaries.
Punjab chief secretary SC Aggarwal has issued instructions to deputy commissioners to review all such cases by May 20, 2011, after the Punjab and Haryana high court recently sought a detailed record from the state government after hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in this regard.
The PIL had challenged the state cabinet decision of September 7, 2010, in which the department of social welfare was asked to re-investigate detected cases of fake pensions, instead of cancelling disbursement.
The task of disbursing old age/widow/destitute children pensions of Rs 250 per month was transferred from banks to panchayats in July 2008. Since then, beneficiaries do not have any record available with them, in contrast to the mandatory passbooks issued by banks.