Lack of verified data resulting in “ineligible beneficiaries being benefitted”; “ineffective” monitoring, social audit and on-ground checks; funds for creating awareness “diverted to other schemes”; idling of funds; delay in submission of proposals for funds by states; and most states not maintaining ‘BPL lists’—are among the major lapses flagged by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in its performance audit report on the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) being implemented under the union ministry of rural development (MoRD) that was presented in the Parliament on Tuesday. The report, interestingly, points out that in 26 states and union territories, payment of pension of Rs 2 crore was made for 2,103 NSAP beneficiaries even after their death.
The audit report covers the implementation of the programme during the period ranging from 2017-18 to 2020-21. The central expenditure for NSAP was Rs 34,432 crore during 2017-21 whereas total expenditure by states on the centrally-sponsored scheme was Rs 1,09,573 crore in the same period, the report stated.
Lack of verified data blamed
The CAG report highlights that due to the non-verification of existing beneficiaries as well as due to lack of data cleaning, verification, and authentication, cases of ineligible beneficiaries drawing benefits were noticed in many states.
“Further, in many states pension was not being paid on monthly basis. The Scheme is not fully direct benefit transfer (DBT) compliant as pension is being paid in cash in some states. There were cases of over-payment, short-payment and multiple pension payments noticed in many states and union territories,” it said.
The Centre allocates NSAP funds as per the cap fixed by the ministry of rural development (MoRD), asking states to cover additional beneficiaries from their own resources. The scheme aims for universal coverage through proactive identification. However, it is being implemented in a demand-driven mode, as the benefits were provided to only those beneficiaries who applied for it.
The audit also found that the monitoring, social audit, and grievance redressal mechanisms were not effective in terms of “deficiencies being noticed during the implementation of the scheme”.
“NSAP was either not fully implemented or being partially implemented in some of the states/UTs. In particular, National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS) was not being implemented in many states. NSAP was to be implemented in all urban and rural areas throughout the country, but it was either not being implemented or partially implemented by some of the states, leading to deprival its benefits to the eligible beneficiaries in those areas,” the report stated.
In the case of NFBS, only eight states were able to achieve the cap fixed by MoRD while 20 states/UTs could not cover beneficiaries as per the cap fixed, as per CAG.
It also noted that “non-constitution” of special verification teams and “non-conduct” of annual verification indicated “ineffective checks” at the ground level for weeding out ineligible beneficiaries.
Lack of financial monitoring
The audit findings highlight that funds meant for creating awareness and dissemination of information about the scheme were “diverted” to other programmes. “Funds of Rs 2.83 crore earmarked for IEC activities under NSAP were diverted for campaigning of other schemes. Further, total funds of Rs 57.45 crore were diverted in six states/UTs for other schemes/purposes,” CAG said.
Besides, funds amounting to Rs 18.78 crore were lying “idle” for a period ranging from one to five years in eight states. “Idling of funds at state/district level shows lack of financial monitoring on part of the states, which manifested in irregular payment of pension to the beneficiaries,” the audit data showed.
Further, the report said that funds amounting to Rs 5.98 crore were incurred on inadmissible items in 10 states, which indicated “lack of financial discipline” and violation of NSAP guidelines.
The audit also found “delays” in submission of proposals by states for second instalment impacted the release of funds by the ministry, which in turn affected the frequency of distribution of pension. “There were delays in release of funds by states to implementing departments even though the funds were to be released to implementing departments within three days,” it said.
Poor programme implementation
The report highlights “delays in identification of potential beneficiaries” under the scheme and sanction of pension to eligible beneficiaries.
“Non-disbursement of pension from pension effective date resulted in short payment of Rs 61.71 crore to 92,602 beneficiaries in 11 states. Only 11 states disbursed monthly pensions as per guidelines. Four states were making quarterly pension payment whereas two states were making annual pension payment. 17 states/UTs did not ensure periodic pension payment and paid pension on ad-hoc basis,” it said.
As per the audit findings, in 14 states, the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS) pension of Rs 30.47 crore was paid to 57,394 ineligible persons who were less than 60 years of age.
In 12 states, the Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS) pension of Rs 4.36 crore was paid to 5,380 ineligible persons who were less than 18 years of age. In 16 States/UTs, IGNDPS pension of Rs 15.11 crore was paid to 21,322 persons whose disability was either below 80% or could not be ascertained.
“In 26 States/UTs, payment of pension of Rs 2 crore was made in cases of 2,103 beneficiaries even after the death of said NSAP beneficiaries,” the report stated.
Loopholes in monitoring and evaluation
The audit found that the National Social Assistance Advisory Committee (NSAAC), which assists the ministry in monitoring and evaluation of the scheme, “held only three meetings during 2017-21.”
“Due to non-existence of state level committee in 30 states, the monitoring and evaluation was not done as envisaged at state level. Further, no periodic review of implementation of NSAP was conducted by state nodal departments in 18 states. Social audit was not conducted in 25 states, no remedial action was taken on findings of social audit where it was conducted,” the report said.
According to the report, NSAP reached out to 2.83 crore beneficiaries annually, on average, during 2017-21. In addition, 1.82 crore beneficiaries were covered by states on average, during this period.
While the scheme aims to reach out to the most vulnerable sections to provide the most basic need of livelihood, the ministry releases funds sub-scheme-wise to all states/UTs based on annual allocations. The eligible beneficiaries were to be covered from the available below-poverty line (BPL) list.
However, the audit found that implementing departments in 24 states/UTs “did not maintain even the BPL lists”, which was a necessary condition for determining the eligibility of a beneficiary under the scheme.
The CAG in the report has recommended specific measures for weeding out ineligible beneficiaries, stopping of pension after the death of beneficiaries and authentication of beneficiary data may be instituted. System-based checks may be brought out to avoid delays in payment of pensions and robust social audit and grievance redressal mechanisms may be established for ensuring transparency and accountability, it suggested.