Taking serious note of a Hindustan Times expose of a pesticide scam in the Phillaur area of Jalandhar district, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Thursday ordered a time-bound inquiry to get to the bottom of the case.
Stating this in Jalandhar, a spokesperson of the chief minister’s office (CMO) said that Badal had asked the director general of police (DGP), Vigilance, to inquire into the matter and submit his findings along with the action taken report within a month.
Badal said the state government would put up with zero tolerance in such cases and the guilty would be given exemplary punishment.
‘PHILLAUR BLOCK AGRI OFFICE DUPED FARMERS’
On Thursday, Hindustan Times reported how farmers have been allegedly duped of lakhs of rupees by employees of the block agriculture office at Phillaur. The employees not only sold the farmers pesticides that don’t fall in the list of the state agriculture department to be sold at subsidised rates, but also allegedly sold locally manufactured spurious chemicals in the name of pesticides.
Investigations by HT revealed that a pesticide, Cartrap Hydrochloride, used by farmers to control stem borer, leaf folder and whorf maggot in paddy crop, was sold to farmers under the direction of block agriculture officer (BAO) Ranjit Singh. However, a document obtained from Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, said that this chemical was not recommended for paddy growers in Punjab.
Since farmers consider this pesticide suitable for their crop, the BAO sold a spurious chemical in the guise of Cartrap Hydrochloride to farmers at Rs 60 per kg in August. Farmers claimed they need 7 kg of Cartrap for one acre of crop. More than 400 farmers obtained this chemical at the mentioned rate.
The pesticide bears the product name of ‘Vikrant’, which is owned by Apple Crop Sciences, a company based at 414, GIDC, Industrial Area, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
When contacted, an official of Apple Crop Sciences, Balbir Singh, said that the company did not manufacture any product in the name of ‘Vikrant’. “We don’t have any supply in Punjab,” he said.
Similarly, another chemical, Propiconazole, was being sold to farmers in the name of ‘Super Shine’ at the rate of Rs 1,020 for five litres.
The agriculture officer said this product was also banned in Punjab. However, it was bought by a few farmers.
FARMER REPORTS MATTER
The scam came to light in the first week of August when a farmer, Pritpal Singh of Palno village, bought the chemical on the advice of the block agriculture officer. While spraying the chemical, he realised it was of substandard quality.
He called up the district agriculture office in Jalandhar and was told by the agriculture officer there that the pesticide was not being supplied. Thereafter, the farmer informed Bharti Kisan Union (Lakhowal) leaders, who raised the matter with the state agriculture director in Chandigarh.
NO STERN ACTION
On August 11, a team led by Balwinder Singh Sohal, the joint director, agriculture, raided the office of the block agriculture officer in Phillaur. The preliminary report accessed by the joint director revealed “some unethical practices” in the office. Apart from allegations of the sale of banned pesticides, a big stock of manganese that was to be distributed to farmers in the previous wheat crop season was found at the office godown.
Despite violations, the agriculture department transferred the block agriculture officer to Jalandhar. The Jalandhar chief agriculture officer Swatantar Kumar Aery was posted to Chandigarh. Since Sohal was scheduled to retire on September 30, another joint director, SS Sandhu, was assigned to further probe the case.
HEARING ON OCT 5
When contacted, Sohal said the investigation in the case was on and he had called the aggrieved farmers for hearing on October 5.
“The departmental action is a joke. For a scam worth lakhs of rupees, the transfer of officials from one place to another is like insulting the farmers. We have found that a company in Ludhiana manufactures such pesticides and pastes fake labels in connivance with agriculture officials before selling it to farmers,” said BKU leader Amrik Singh.