Pesticide scam: 3 yrs on, challan against agriculture officials yet to be filed

It has been three years but the district police were yet to file chargesheet against three agriculture officials who were arrested with money allegedly extorted from pesticide dealers during their visit to check the quality of pesticides here in July 2016.
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Published on Dec 29, 2019 10:54 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | BySachin Kumar, Bathinda

It has been three years but the district police were yet to file chargesheet against three agriculture officials who were arrested with money allegedly extorted from pesticide dealers during their visit to check the quality of pesticides here in July 2016.

Agriculture joint director Sarabjit Singh Kandhari and agriculture development officers (ADO) Gurdyal Kumar and Vivek Shankar were arrested by the police on the night of July 21, 2016, from a hotel on Barnala by-pass here.

The three were on official visit to collect samples of pesticides from different godowns and shops of Bathinda to check the quality of the same. The quality inspection of pesticides holds importance in the backdrop of 2015 pesticide scam when a large scale cotton crop was damaged owing to whitefly pest attack due to alleged supply of spurious pesticides.

Officials suspended and reinstated

The three had allegedly demanded money from pesticide dealers threatening them not to clear their samples. On information, a team of Civil Lines police station had arrested three with a cash of 4.50 lakh allegedly extorted from dealers. A case under Section 384 (extortion) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and under Section 13 (2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 was registered against them. They were suspended from the service but were later reinstated.

Kandhari at present is serving as joint director (extension and training). Gurdyal is ADO Mohali while Vivek Shankar is also posted as ADO at headquarters of the department. Kandhari is to superannuate from service on December 31. Interestingly, he has also applied for extension in service post retirement, said sources.

‘Clearance for chargesheet awaited from home dept’

Station House Officer Civil Lines police station inspector Ravinder Kumar said that they had sought permission from the department of home to file chargesheet against three but it had raised some points and we have again sent the file seeking permission to file chargesheet against them. Bathinda senior superintendent of police (SSP) Nanak Singh couldn’t be contacted despite repeated attempts.

An agriculture department official on condition of anonymity said that three were reinstated due to pending inquiry but were not given any major assignment.

Secretary, department of agriculture, Kahan Singh Pannu said the department can dismiss three from service only if they were convicted by a court. “The three were suspended on the basis of a parallel department inquiry,” he said. He declined to comment on Kandhari having applied for extension in service.

Punjab agriculture minister’s resignation was sought

Earlier, claiming the three senior officials were part of the pesticide scam, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had demanded Punjab agriculture minister Tota Singh’s resignation.

In a joint statement, AAP spokesperson Sukhpal Singh Khaira, Kanwar Sandhu and Aman Arora had accused the state government of shielding the real culprits in the case. “This extortion was being done at the behest of agriculture minister Tota Singh and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal. The agriculture department’s senior officials were mere ‘conduits’ for collecting money for their political purpose,” Khaira had said.

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