Maharashtra government may rope in police agencies to probe tur scam
MUMBAI CITY NEWS: The state is mulling involving agencies like the Economic Offences Wing or even the Crime Investigation Department as complaints increase on tur scam.mumbai Updated: May 24, 2017 01:16 IST
The state government is likely to rope in police agencies to probe the alleged irregularities in the procurement of tur (pigeon pea), especially after the names of political leaders and government officials came up in connection with the scam.
The state is mulling involving agencies like the Economic Offences Wing or even the Crime Investigation Department (CID).
The government believes that political leaders may be involved with the traders, if the financial irregularities amount to hundreds of crores in selling tur at a much higher price, after buying it from the farmers at lower rates. The government is also worried about tie-ups between officials from the marketing department and that of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees, which play a key role in the procurement. Despite the state’s instructions on action against traders who sold tur at the procurement centres run by NAFED, the marketing department has not been able to crack the whip on culprits.
“We have asked the marketing department to obtain all the details to verify if the tur at procurement centres were sold by farmers and if the money has been credited to them. We will also check if any trader sold tur at higher rates by using a farmer’s name. Action will be taken against such culprits,” an official from the marketing department said.
Officials from the marketing department have said that even they have doubts over the figures of production. “Office bearers of APMCs, controlled by the Congress and NCP, have been involved in such malpractices for years. We want to expose them,” the officer said.
The state government has said that it has procured more than 60 lakh quintal tur after the central government allowed it to procure 1 lakh tonne tur in third phase under price support scheme. The total production of the tur, this season has been reported to be 20.35 lakh tonnes.
Last month, when authorities discovered 990 unclaimed bags of tur worth Rs50 lakh in Jalna, an industrial town in Marathwada, the government hinted that it may belong to traders. This was also the first indication of a larger scam involving government officials.
A month later, around 75 complaints were reported on traders purchasing tur from farmers at cheaper rates and selling it at the National Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED) at higher rates. The Minimum Support Price (MSP) set for tur this year by NAFED was Rs5,050 a quintal, while traders bought the pulses from farmers at much cheaper rates — between Rs 3,500-3,700 per quintal.
After authorities confiscated the abandoned bags in Jalna, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said a probe would be conducted. However the investigation has still not begun even as activists allege malpractices in tur procurement.
“Traders and government officials have been misusing the system for their benefit. Farmers are suffering,” said Rajan Kshirsagar, an activist from Parbhani. Kshirsagar alleged that the tur confiscated in Jalna belonged to a trader, who purchased it from farmers at cheaper rates. When authorities got a whiff of it, he abandoned the crop.
Tur producing farmers in Maharashtra have been facing a crisis in the state after the record production. According to officials, around 50 lakh tonnes tur has been procured so far while the actual production this year has been five times more that of the previous year. Even as the government increased procurement centers, the stock was lying without purchase. This prompted the government to extend the deadline for procurement of tur for the third time in May, after farmers complained that their produce was yet to be purchased.
The latest deadline that the government has set for itself is May 31, although doubts prevail over if all farmers will be able to sell their crops.
Among those complaints include one against Shiv Sena leader and Minister for State for Dairy Development Arjun Khotkar, who is accused of selling 377 quintals of tur at NAFED center in Jalna. Khotkar sold 187 quintal of tur on February 14 while additional 190 quintal of tur on the name of his brother and sister-in-law was sold on February 18 at the same center.
Another complaint being probed by government is from Shegaon in Buldhana, where two directors of NAFED sold 250 quintals and 424 quintals, although they had 10 acres of land each on their family’s name. The two directors, Shreedhar Patil and Nalesh Rathi, are now under the scanner. According to agriculture experts, around five to six quintals of tur can be produced on one acre of land. “It’s almost impossible to produce 250 quintals of produce on 10 acres,” said an official from the district administration.
Sniff of a scam?
Jalna police have registered a case for the unclaimed stock of tur and alleged irregularities in the sale of tur owned by persons other than farmers. Minister of state for dairy development and Shiv Sena leader from Jalna, Arjun Khotkar, has allegedly sold tur disproportionate to the production in his farms. He reportedly sold 377 quintals of it at a price much higher than the market rate. “I own 400 acres of farm land and produced 122 quintal tur, which was sold to the government. The reports are baseless,” Khotkar told HT.
Former minister and NCP leader Rajesh Tope too has allegedly sold tur to procurement centres at a quantity disproportionate to the production at his farms. He too has rubbished the reports. “I own 200 acres of agricultural land and farmed tur on a part of it. We had officially sold 60 quintals of tur. There is nothing wrong in it,” he said.