On Sunday, even as states scramble to identify and verify beneficiaries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, better known as PM-KISAN, from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh.

Acting finance minister Piyush Goyal had announced the launch of PM-KISAN in the 2019-’20 interim Budget on February 1. Under this scheme, households with agricultural landholdings of below two hectares or five acres will receive Rs 6,000 annually as direct benefit transfers from the Centre. The first round of payment of Rs 2,000, Goyal said, will be made before the 2018-’19 financial year ends, and will be accounted for in the revised budget estimates.

However, details of only 2.4 crore of an expected 10 crore beneficiaries were uploaded to the centre’s database as of February 21, according to a report in Business Standard. Most of these are from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, the report said.

The success of this scheme hinges on digitised land record databases which are linked to Aadhaar numbers so that beneficiaries can be first identified and later verified. Land records in India, however, are notoriously complicated, with each state having inherited different methods of recording ownership from before Independence.

The United Progressive Alliance government started a programme to digitise land records in 2008. This is still ongoing. Across India, 72.4% of all land records have been digitised. Only 5.6% of these have been linked to Aadhaar. The purification or ground verification of these databases is a process that can take years.

For now, the Centre has waived the requirement for Aadhaar for the PM-KISAN scheme until the next instalment in the coming financial year. It has also defined a long list of exclusions. Households in which a member has or had a government job, pensioners, income tax payers and private working professionals will be excluded from the scheme. However, these exclusions will only be self-certified, raising questions about how many will be excluded.

Meeting deadlines

In Uttar Pradesh, where the scheme will be inaugurated, 92.57% of land records have been computerised, but only 1% have been linked with Aadhaar. State revenue officials have been working overtime on the scheme since its announcement, said the pradhan of a village in the state’s Kaushambi district. Districts have been conducting contests for the best-performing tehsils to encourage the scheme.

“Everyone from the district magistrate to the lekhpals are engaged only in this scheme to complete uploading the names,” the sarpanch, who asked not to be identified, said. While land records have been digitised, they have not been verified, she added. This means that if a husband and wife are working on the same land, it is possible that they could both get the benefit in the first instalment.

Meanwhile, given the scale of work, lekhpals – the clerks who typically are responsible for maintaining land records of around 10 to 15 villages – have outsourced the work of uploading applications to local people who in turn charge applicants for the work, she said.

Uttar Pradesh’s agriculture secretary Soraj Singh did not respond to multiple calls or messages for comment.

Existing databases

Telangana’s experience might be representative of the level of scrutiny other states will ideally have to bring to the scheme. The state already has a database of farmers with their bank records thanks to its Rythu Bandhu scheme, which provides Rs 9,500 per annum to all agricultural landholders, with no exclusions. The state will take a few days over the deadline to finish uploading the list of beneficiaries to the Centre’s website.

“We have a database of around 50 lakh farmers who are beneficiaries of the Rythu Bandhu scheme,” said C Partha Sarathi, Agriculture Production Commissioner of Telangana. “We expect around half of these will be eligible for the PM-KISAN scheme.”

The state is applying a series of filters to fulfil the exclusion criteria of the Centre’s scheme. The first set of filters was with ration cards as PM-KISAN applies to households, not to individuals. They next deleted those with landholdings above five acres, then government employees and pensioners. The last step will be to check their database with the income tax department to exclude any tax payers. The common data field in all these databases is Aadhaar numbers.

“We are confident that we have already culled out 99% of the exclusions and have begun uploading data of 17.4 lakh beneficiaries already,” Partha Sarathi added. “We should be able to complete this within the next five days.”

Odisha had also already begun to implement direct benefit transfer schemes before the Budget announcement. Its KALIA scheme, short for the Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation, provides assistance to four categories of beneficiaries: small and marginal farmers, landless agriculture workers, sharecroppers and vulnerable agricultural households. The first payments under this scheme were sent out on January 26 and the second in the middle of February.

“The exclusions in the first set of beneficiaries KALIA are very similar to that of PM-KISAN,” said Sourav Garg, secretary of agriculture in the state. “We engaged thousands of staff for two months to verify this database, which is how we identified 32.2 lakh people. We will upload this database for PM-KISAN.”

No relaxations

At least some of the delays have occurred because states were unable to immediately decide which department or ministry would be best suited to prepare for the scheme. In Chhattisgarh, for instance, the nodal department of the scheme was shifted from agriculture to land records under the revenue department, said an official with the agriculture department who asked not to be identified.

“We started the process late because we couldn’t decide on a nodal office,” the official said. “As land was a major category for exclusion, the department of land records will have to be the main coordinator.”

The official said that the state would be able to upload details of only around 20% of the beneficiaries by February 24 and would upload the rest in the week after that.

The Centre has turned down requests from states for extension in time or relaxation of norms for the first tranche of the scheme.

Days after Assam launched its Mukhya Mantri Krishi Sa-Sajauli Yojana in February, a scheme which gives small and marginal farmers a one-time direct benefit transfer of Rs 5,000 to purchase farm tools, the principal secretary of agriculture of Assam wrote to the Centre. Under the state scheme, the extent of land holdings is self-certified, unlike the Centre’s scheme which asks for all beneficiaries’ applications to be verified on the field. The state asked that those selected for its scheme be included as beneficiaries for the central one, failing which it was unlikely to be able to upload beneficiary details by the deadline of February 20.

The Centre, however, rejected this request, saying that there was “no question of exemption at our level from any process of verification to be undertaken by the State authorities.”

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