When the wheat-procurement season is on, the gunny bags supplied for packaging the grains are short in both quantity and quality.
Punjab state civil supplies corporation (Punsup), a major wheat-procurement agency, allegedly has been defrauding arhityas (commission agents). Rules require it to supply standard-size bags to the agents to pack wheat in; but across grain markets in Patiala, 50 to 70 bags are missing from each bundle of 500.
Ultimately, the packaged wheat is delivered to the Food Corporation of India (FCI) for the national pool. In Patiala alone, almost each of the 139 bundles of gunny bags that Punsup has delivered, so far, is short of multiple sacks. In the big grain markets of Nabha, Rajpura, and Samana as well, the story is the same. "In Nabha," said arhitya association president Ishe Singh Mann, "more than 30 bags are missing from each bundle."
Even the quality of the bags coming in from Punsup is inferior. "First, the Punsup officials denied playing a trick on us but when we counted the bundles before them, they had no answer," said Harjit Singh Sheru, president of the arhitya association of new grain market in Patiala.
Every gunny bag is worth Rs 30 and if 50 are missing from each bundle, it means a fraud of Rs 1,500 for every bundle. In Patiala last year, Punsup procured wheat in more than 35.64 lakh bags (7,129 bundles). By that old yardstick, the current scam would be worth more than Rs 1.06 crore in Patiala alone by the end of this season. This time, because of the bumper crop, the volume of procurement is likely to increase.
Punsup buys the bags from private manufactures through tenders called via Punjab grains procurement corporation Limited (Pungrain). Punsup district manager Gaurav Ahluwalia accepted having received the complaints about missing bags. "It's only from a single slot delivered by the agency," he said. "I have ordered field inspectors to conduct a survey. Only after that, we'll know which manufactures are the culprits."
The role of the Punsup officials who passed the consignment for purchase from private makers has come under the scanner. "It's a big scam," said a commission agent, "and only the central bureau of investigation (CBI) can uncover the truth because we suspect the state government officials to be involved in this fraud."