Large-scale fraud and irregularities have been found in Madhya Pradesh’s government-run nutrition programme for girls and women, NDTV reported on Sunday, citing a report by state’s accountant general.

The findings of the 36-page audit report, accessed by NDTV, was based on the examination of about 24%, or nearly 12 lakh, beneficiaries of the Take Home Ration, a programme under which 49.58 lakh children and women are registered.

The report alleged that the fraud was committed by exaggerating the number of beneficiaries and flagged irregularities in production, distribution and quality control of the scheme.

Fake trucks and over-the-capacity production

The findings claimed that while it was reported that trucks were used in six manufacturing plants for transporting 1,125.64 metric tons of rations costing Rs 6.94 crore, it was found that the vehicles were registered as motorcycles, cars, auto rickshaws and tankers upon verification of the transport department records, according to NDTV.

The audit also found that Rs 141 crore was paid in advance to the Madhya Pradesh State Rural Livelihood Mission for establishing seven plants, but it was not allegedly recovered, reported the Hindustan Times.

The plants also allegedly manufactured rations beyond their capacity and the report found massive difference between production and consumption of electricity during preparation of the food. The difference stood at Rs 58 crore, according to NDTV.

Six plants in the areas of Sagar, Badi, Mandla, Dhar, Rewa and Shivpuri said they supplied 821 metric tons of rations that cost Rs 4.95 crore but did not have the capacity to produce at such a large scale, the report claimed.

In addition, the report found that child development project officers in eight districts allegedly received over 97,000 metric tons of rations from these plants but only about 86,000 metric tons were actually sent, according to NDTV.

This suggests that over 10,000 metric tons of rations, costing Rs 62.72 crores, were allegedly pilfered.

Fidgety beneficiary numbers

The total number of out-of-school girls eligible for rations between 2018 and 2021 was estimated 9,000 by the School Education Department. However, the Women and Child Development put the numbers at 36.08 lakh, without reportedly conducting a survey, the news channel reported.

The audit found that only three out-of-school girls were registered for the programme in 49 district Anganwadi centres. However, the Women and Child Development listed 63,748 girls in these 49 centres and claimed they provided the scheme to 29,104 between 2018 and 2021.

The alleged data manipulation would have led to the falsified distribution of rations worth Rs 110.83 crore, according to NDTV.

No quality checks

The report also found that ration samples were not sent for quality checks outside the state as mandated by the scheme, suggesting that the children and women might have received poor quality rations, according to NDTV.

The authorities also did not inspect Aanganwadi centres during 2018-’21, the report claimed, indicating that there was poor safety control.

Just clerical errors: Official

Women and Child Development Department’s Additional Chief Secretary Ashok Shah claimed the irregularities in distribution were clerical errors.

“The transport of THR [Take Home Ration] is mentioned by motorcycle, car, auto and tanker instead of trucks,” Shah told the Hindustan Times. “In this regard, it was found in MP Agro’s investigation that the above errors have been made in clerical form.”

He added that the audit report is an interim one and has highlighted things that were clerical errors.

Clear indication of fraud, says report

But the report said that the findings clearly show that large-scale fraud was committed “in the identification of beneficiaries, production, transportation, distribution, and quality control of THR”.

“Audit, therefore, recommends GoMP [government of Madhya Pradesh] to investigate these issues through an independent agency and fix the responsibility of officials at all levels – CDPOs, DPOs, plant officials, and officials who arranged for transportation, etc., and all other officials who were directly or indirectly involved in these frauds or facilitated the frauds due to their negligence at all levels,” it added.

‘Why not CBI for this?’ asks Opposition

Meanwhile, Opposition leaders have demanded an inquiry by a central agency into the alleged scam.

“Why not CBI for this?” asked Trinamool Congress leader Babul Supriyo, who was earlier with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said the effect of the “double-engine” BJP government was clear and asked if central agencies would take any action.

Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra said that the “BJP [was] doing what it does best”.

The Congress tweeted that the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led government had earlier conspired to “ruin the future of youth” by committing the Vyapam scam and was now “killing the rights of poor children and pregnant women” through the latest alleged corruption scandal.

The Vyapam scam pertains to alleged irregularities in various entrance and recruitment exams conducted by the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board, also known as the Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal, or Vyapam, that came to light in 2011.

In its chargesheet, the Central Bureau of Investigation had accused 30 persons of offences under sections related to conspiracy, forgery and tampering with electronic and other documentary evidence. In 2019, they were sentenced to seven years of imprisonment, and the alleged main conspirator of the scam, 29-year-old Pradeep Tyagi, was sentenced to 10 years in jail.