In a Punjab fighting to save its second cotton crop from whitefly, three agriculture department officers told to check the quality of pesticides were caught on Thursday night with “money extorted from dealers”.
Joint director Sarabjit Singh Kandhari and agriculture development officers (ADOs) Vivek Shankar (plant protection) and Gurdyal Kumar (cash crop) were arrested with Rs 4.5-lakh “extortion and graft money” from a hotel on the Barnala bypass here. Shankar is a PhD. They had arrived from the department’s headquarters in SAS Nagar for three days to inspect the dealers’ samples of pesticides, insecticides, and seeds.
Bathinda senior superintendent of police (SSP) Swapan Sharma said the officers had accepted bribe from six dealers (five in Bathinda and another in Faridkot). Joint director Kandhari was accused of corruption even in 2006 as chief agricultural officer in a district.
“To extort money, the officers would threaten to reject the samples; and collect bribe at two hotel rooms booked in the name of ‘Manoj Kumar’. We have seized the detail of the money received,” said the SSP. “The joint had asked for this tour and team. We’ll also question the dealers.”
Being on official visit, the officers were required to be in touch with the local office but they ignored the rule and hardly took a sample. No higher officer or politician seems to be involved at this stage to police. The officers have been charged under Sections 384 (punishment for extortion) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 13 (2) (criminal misconduct by a public servant) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Whitefly pest has returned to torment the cotton farmers of the border belt of Fazilka district. Last year, farmers had blamed spurious pesticides for crop failure. Almost two-third of cotton on 4 lakh hectares was wiped out. Last September, agriculture department director Mangal Singh Sandhu and three more people — Vijay Kumar, Shubham Goyal and Ankush — were arrested in this scam after spurious pesticide was seized from a store.
Vijay had accused Sandhu of taking Rs 8 lakh from him to allow him to sell spurious pesticides. Another case against Sandhu and relating to the purchase of Oberon pesticide was registered in SAS Nagar. The Bathinda police have filed a charge sheet against the other three accused but held back the challan against Sandhu. SSP Sharma said the permission had come only now.
Jakhar asks ministers to quit
Former state Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar asked agriculture minister Tota Singh to resign on moral grounds “for failing to check corruption in his department”. “He says he has no say in the department — more the reason for him to resign,” said Jakhar. Punjab Agricultural University vice-chancellor BS Dhillon says the agriculture department was yet to recover from the shock arrest of its director last year when three more officers have been arrested for taking bribe. “It is sad”.