The corpse of Indian farmer Bengali Singh burned to ash atop a blazing funeral pyre on the banks of the river Ganges in 2006.
Five years later, the dead man was recorded as being paid by India’s $33 billion rural jobs program to dig an irrigation canal in Jharkhand state. Officials in his village and the surrounding region used at least 500 identities, including those of Singh, a disabled child of eight and a blind 94-year-old man, to fake work logs and steal wages, according to police reports.
“It’s an insult to a man who lived a life of dignity,” Rajendar Singh said, sitting next to the parched canal his father supposedly excavated in their village, Bishanpur, about six hours’ drive northwest of Kolkata. “He’s been wronged.”
District administrators and village heads have used tactics such as ghost workers, fake projects and over-billing to embezzle about $10 billion from the world’s largest workfare initiative, an investigation by Bloomberg News shows. The fraud in the seven-year-old program underscores the challenge of reducing poverty in India as graft permeates everything from food aid for children to the distribution of public grain stockpiles and debt relief for struggling farmers.