When Krishna Kathayat of Darna came to district headquarters in Achham in July to collect his disability pension, Chief District Officer Ram Kurumbang and officials at the Local Peace Committee did not know what to make of Kathayat. The Ministry of Peace had put him under the '100 per cent' disabled category and his papers said he was immobile with a missing arm and ear. But Kurumbang saw nothing unusual except a slightly crooked arm with a small lump at the elbow. No one could question Kathayat because he had all the necessary documents. So he collected his four months worth of pension amounting to Rs 24,800 and walked back home.
Similarly, Arjun Prasad Poudel of Bhorle in Rasuwa district went to the headquarters to claim his pension. He told the officials that he had become blind after the army beat him during the war. When the officials asked him to remove his glasses, they found out he was lying. Poudel then claimed he couldn't hear. His name is now being removed from the list of the conflict-hit.
Seven months after the government started the lifelong pension scheme for war victims and ex-combatants, the full extent of corruption and deceit is finally emerging as more and more scam cases are revealed. From medical reports to victims' stories to the disability criteria used by the state, everything is forged.
"People paralysed before the war and even those who fell from trees have papers to prove they are war victims. When they present these 'authentic' documents, we have no other option than to provide the pension," admits Jora Singh Bista, secretary of Achham's Local Peace Committee.
In November 2011, the Maoist-led cabinet formed a committee headed by Krishna Regmi to collect data about ex-combatants wounded during the war, and help with the rehabilitation process. Three months later, the cabinet announced a rehabilitation and support manual without waiting for the committee's recommendations. Maoist fighters, war victims, and families, as well as those injured during the 2006 Jana Andolan and the Madhes Uprising,who are deemed to be '51 per cent or more' disabled, became eligible for the lifelong pension and health care services.
The manual also divided the disabled into two categories: special and first. People with 76 to 100 per cent disability, who cannot walk without support fall under the 'special' category and receive Rs 6,200 as monthly stipend, and their caretakers also get the same amount. Those with 51 to 75 per cent disability who cannot earn a living are in the 'primary' category get Rs 6,200 every month. Out of the 736 beneficiaries, 446 are Maoist cadres while others are mostly Maoist supporters or family members.
An incriminating report by the Relief and Rehabilitation Department of the Ministry of Peace reveals that 319 out of 446 former fighters have disabilities lower than 50 per cent and are ineligible to receive pension. In fact, even people with 20 to 25 per cent disability have been found to possess fake papers that describe them as 100 per cent disabled. Ministry officials estimate that almost 60 per cent of those currently receiving pensions have fabricated their documents in one way or another.
"We thought the pension was for people on wheelchairs or those who cannot function without caretakers. But the ones who come to collect money are actually quite healthy, some are even strong enough to beat us," explains Kailash Kumar Bajimaya, Chief District Officer of Kailali. After Bajimaya told six frauds about the legal consequences they could face, all of them begged to be 'demoted' to the lower category.
The government has spent more than Rs 22 million till date and will have to dole out Rs 74 million every year for the pensions. This figure is likely to rise to Rs 67 billion if life-expectancy rates are included in calculations.
The cadres who were not lucky enough to make it to the list expressed their dissatisfaction during the party's seventh plenum in July. Krishna Regmi admitted to making mistakes and suggested that new beneficiaries should be added to the list. Instead of removing fake pensioners, the Minister for Peace and Reconstruction, Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, is now planning to expand the list.
However, former minister Rakam Chemjong is highly skeptical of the process and says, "We had already finished collecting the data two years ago and now there are more people claiming to be conflict victims. This program is quickly turning into a 'cadre-conservation' scheme."
The ministry has recommended 418 people to be added to the list, but the actual number is higher. According to latest figures, 17,831 people have died, 79,603 displaced, 16,227 lost their property, 8,151 are disabled, 1,735 injured, 505 have been orphaned, 1,505 are missing, 1,831 are in prison, and 3,167 were kidnapped. All of them could pressurise the government to provide compensation. The ministry has already received 10,000 applications, and thousands of files at district headquarters across the country remain to be investigated.
Rather than providing much needed financial relief to the victims of war, the Maoists seem to be using the lifelong pension scheme to run the state exchequer dry.
Read the original article in Nepali