Even as the Punjab government is grapplling with the alleged scam in purchase of pesticides used by Malwa farmers to curb the whitefly attack, the sale of “spurious” pesticides worth lakhs of rupees by the agriculture department to paddy growers has come to the fore in Phillaur region of Jalandhar district.
Farmers have been duped of lakhs of rupees by employees of the block agriculture office at Phillaur, who allegedly not only sold them pesticides that don’t figure on the list of the state agriculture department, but also sold them locally manufactured “spurious” chemicals instead of the asked pesticides.
An investigation done by HT revealed that the pesticide named cartrap hydrochloride, used by farmers to control stem borer, leaf folder and whorf maggot in rice crop, was sold to farmers under the direction of block agriculture officer (BAO) Ranjit Singh. However the record of a document obtained from Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, disclosed that this chemical was not recommended for paddy growers in Punjab.
But since farmers consider this pesticide suitable for their crop, the BAO in August sold some “spurious” chemical in the guise of cartrap hydrochloride to farmers at `60 per kg.
As per farmers, they required 7 kg of cartrap for one acre of crop and more than 400 farmers obtained this chemical at the mentioned rate.
However, as per the label on the packing of the pesticide, the product name is ‘Vikrant’, which is owned by a company, Apple Crop Sciences, whose address is 414, GIDC, Industrial Area, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
When HT contacted an official of Apple Crop Science, a person named Balbir Singh, who described himself as the management head of the company for Madhya Pradesh, said the company didn’t manufacture any product in the name of ‘Vikrant’. “We also don’t have any supply in Punjab,” he said.
Another chemical, ropiconazole, in the name of ‘Super Shine, was sold to farmers at `1020 for five litres. As per the agriculture officer, this product is also banned in Punjab.
Farmer brings case to limelight
The scam came to light in the first week of August when farmer Pritpal Singh from Palno village went to purchase the chemical on a call given by the block officer. While trying to use it in the crop, he doubted the quality of the pesticide.
When he called up at a landline number of the district agriculture office, Jalandhar, an agriculture officer told the farmer that these pesticides had not come in the government supply. Thereafter, the farmer involved local Bhartiya Kisan Union (Lakhowal) leaders and informed the director’s office at Chandigarh.
No stern action
On August 11, a team led by Balwinder Singh Sohal, joint director, agriculture, raided the office of the block officer, Phillaur. The preliminary report accessed by the joint director revealed that some “unethical” practices were going on in the office. Apart from the allegations of banned pesticides’ sale, a big stock of manganese, which was to be distributed to farmers in the previous wheat crop, was also found available in the godown of the office.
Despite the violations, the department only transferred the BAO to Jalandhar and Jalandhar chief agriculture officer Swatantar Kumar Aery to Chandigarh. Since Sohal was scheduled to retire on September 30, another joint director, SS Sandhu, has been assigned to carry on further inquiry.
When contacted Sandhu said the investigation in the case was on and he had called the aggrieved farmers for a hearing on October 5.
“We have found that a company from Ludhiana manufactures all such pesticides that carry fraud labels and in connivance with agriculture officials, sell it to farmers,” said BKU leader Amrik Singh.
Minister defends transfers
Agriculture minister Tota Singh, when contacted, said when the case came to his knowledge, he immediately transferred block agriculture officer Ranjit Singh and Jalandhar chief agriculture officer Swatantar Kumar Aery. “However, the district agriculture officer was found having no role in the sale of spurious pesticides. Ranjit tried to create political pressure on me through a dera of Doaba to stop his transfer, but I did not budge. I will ask the senior officials to speed up the probe,” said Tota Singh.