Now, distillation apparatus scam hits agriculture department

  • Prabhjit Singh, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jan 12, 2016 22:28 IST
Dr HS Thind, former head, Department of Soil, PAU Ludhiana, inspecting the Distillation Unit in Ropar on Tuesday. (Gurminder Singh/HT Photo)

Even as the Punjab agriculture department has been tainted by the cotton pesticide scam, irregularities have surfaced in the purchase of water distillation apparatus installed in laboratories of the department in the 2014-15 financial year.

In all, 48 units of distillation apparatus were purchased at a total cost of Rs 74 lakh for installation in 23 labs across the state. Each lab needs an average of 2 litres of distilled water daily to test farm soil samples. The running cost of each distillation apparatus works out to be Rs 12,000 per year, whereas the distilled water required annually (600 litres) is available for Rs 6,000 in the open market.

One of the labs, located in Rupnagar, is getting a 40-litre can of distilled water free of cost every month from the nearby National Fertiliser Limited (NFL) plant, an agriculture officer deputed there said on the condition of anonymity.

Punjab additional chief secretary-cum financial commissioner, development, Suresh Kumar confirmed that he had assigned the probe into the matter to secretary, agriculture, KS Pannu.

“We are looking into the matter, let us see what comes out,” Kumar told Hindustan Times.

Pannu has already initiated the inquiry, which led to an inspection of the apparatus that was delivered at all 23 labs within three days in March-end last year, as part of the purchases made in 2014-15 from a single supplier, the HT investigation revealed.

On Tuesday, a one-member “inspection team” comprising Dr HS Thind, a retired scientist of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, inspected the apparatus installed at the Rupnagar lab.

The HT team found that the distillation apparatus could not distil 10 litres of water per hour as only one of its three key elements was functional.

When asked, staff members said the lab was not equipped with the three-phase power connection that was mandatory to run the apparatus. A closer look revealed that even the normal 240-volt electricity connection could not bear the load of the running apparatus that had to be switched off every 10 minutes.

Dr Thind remained tight-lipped about the probe, saying that this was “an internal and confidential matter of the department.”

The lab at Morinda did not even have a water connection, while the distillation apparatus was kept unused. Last week, a team that inspected the Morinda lab found that the staffers had bought a 30-ft pipe with their own money to draw water from a toilet tap. The sanitary ware of the lab was rusty and non-functional.

Industries dept under scanner

Surprisingly, the distillation apparatus was included in the rate contract list of glassware items such as burettes, beakers and slides by the industries department, the nodal wing for such purchases by all government departments.

Things went in favour of a single supplier of all glassware items and distillation apparatus to different departments as certain officials of the industries department introduced a clause — a mandatory “chemical composition” test report of the glassware to be supplied under the rate contract.

The lone supplier had then procured a “chemical composition” test report from a Panchkula-based laboratory. The same lab later denied any such test conducted by it.

Glassware scam: VB probe in limbo

HT had highlighted the glassware scam in July 2014, exposing the purchase of equipment such as capillary tubes, burettes and micro slides by the health department. The capillary tubes were then procured at a cost of Rs 23 lakh, with the listed rate being Rs 95 per piece against the earlier approved rate of 68 paise in the previous rate contract list of the industries department.

The inquiry was then assigned to special secretary, health, Vikas Garg, who said he had already submitted his probe report to principal secretary health Vini Mahajan. Action is still awaited.

The Punjab vigilance bureau (VB) had registered a complaint for a probe into the purchase of entire glassware on behalf of the industries department in August 2014. Till date, the only reply, dated December 31, 2015, that the complainant has got from the VB is that “a report in this regard is awaited from the industries department”. The VB had responded with the similar reply to the complainant in July 2015 also.

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