Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday said the 70,000 odd beneficiaries removed from the ambit of social security were fraudulent cases who were drawing benefits at the cost of genuine ones. Singh further said the Rs 162.35 crore that he had ordered to be recovered from them will now go into raising the amount of financial assistance to the deserving beneficiaries.
In fact, his government had added six lakh genuine beneficiaries to the list since taking over the state's reins while weeding out the ineligible ones, who were fraudulently getting social security benefits under the patronage of the erstwhile SAD-BJP government, he said.
"These things happen when political parties become selfish and indulge in wrongful acts to promote their own interests," he alleged.
Only the undeserving people had been removed from the beneficiary list, he said, adding that the total number of beneficiaries had actually gone up from 19 lakh to 25 lakh in this three-year period.
Responding to a question from a Hoshiarpur resident during 'AskCaptain' Facebook Live edition, the chief minister said he was totally committed to transparency in selection of beneficiaries and his government would ensure that no eligible person is left out or deprived of his due share of social benefits.
A total of 70,137 fake social security beneficiaries have been weeded out after a thorough verification and re-verification exercise conducted by the Social Security and Women and Child Development department, said an official release.
Claiming that most of these ineligible beneficiaries were from the constituencies of the Badal clan, the chief minister later lashed out at the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders for allegedly "bribing" voters with bogus social security pension in the run-up to the 2017 assembly elections.
It was a different matter that these "shameless tactics" failed to serve them any purpose, he said, citing the Akalis' complete rout in the polls.
Due to a whopping Rs 162.35 crore losses incurred by the state exchequer as a result of the diversion of the social security benefits, including old age and widow pensions, to these fraudulent beneficiaries, genuine beneficiaries had been deprived of the higher benefits of various government schemes.
The notification to investigate and identify suspected pensioners was issued by the Social Security department in June 2017, on the directions of the chief minister, soon after the Congress government came to power in Punjab.
The exercise has revealed that 36,617 people had been taking old age pensions fraudulently despite not fulfilling the age criteria of 58 years for women and 65 for men, the release said.
Other categories of fake beneficiaries included widows, destitute women and the disabled, it added.
While Sangrur reported the maximum of 12,573 ineligible beneficiaries, deriving benefits worth Rs 26.63 crore, Bathinda -- the parliamentary constituency of Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal -- came a close second with 8,762 fake beneficiaries in Bathinda district and 6,663 in Mansa, causing exchequer losses of Rs 17 crore and Rs 18.87 crore, respectively.
In Muktsar, the Badal's so-called bastion, 7,441 ineligible beneficiaries were availing benefits to the extent of Rs 15.70 crore, the release said.
In Fazilka, which includes the Jalalabad assembly constituency of former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and Fazilka segment of the then social security minister Surjit Kumar Jyani, 2,452 ineligible beneficiaries were availing benefits to the extent of Rs 6.14 crore.
In Amritsar, the stronghold of the Majithia family, a total of 7,853 ineligible beneficiaries were found to be getting benefits to the tune of Rs 19.95 crore, it said.