MumbaiIn a move aimed at protecting lakhs of farmers in Maharashtra who suffer losses when selling crops to traders or industrial units on account of faulty or rigged weighbridges, the state’s Legal Metrology Department (LMD) has issued a circular making it mandatory that new digital weighbridges be checked thoroughly and certified before they are put to use.The step comes in the wake of the petrol pump scam, which was busted in June, wherein hundreds of pumps were found dispensing less fuel than displayed on the machine through illegal installation of electronic chips. “Similar unfair practices by weighbridge operators cannot be ruled out,” said Amitabh Gupta, controller, LMD. At least 8,300 weighbridges are already in operation across the state, and thousands more are waiting for licence.The circular, issued on November 8, asks operators of digital weighbridges that have the capacity to weigh vehicles (or goods carriers) with cargo of five tonnes and more to submit a detailed form before the machine is calibrated. The operator has to make several declarations in the form, including the version of software used in the machine and whether there’s provision for auxiliary fitting or computer interface in the set-up. The circular will be applicable for all units that will be calibrated after November 15. “Vendors [of the software and other parts of the machine] will also have to make a declaration of accuracy,” Gupta said, adding that the particulars in the declarations will be scrutinised during the machine’s annual audit.Under the current practice, after a weighbridge is installed, its calibration is checked by using authorised weights. The operator is then issued a certificate after this verification process. Again, during the annual audit, the weights are used to check the machine’s calibration. “The old practice is similar to the audit process applied at petrol pumps earlier. But the petrol pump scam brought to notice the possibility of manipulation of the digital machine,” Gupta said. “Unless every component of digital weighbridges is thoroughly checked, it will be difficult to ascertain if it has been rigged.”For the 8,300 weighbridges already in operation, sources said the LMD would issue a circular next week to bring them under a similar declaration and audit regime. To begin with, weighbridges at the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) markets, sugarcane markets and cotton gins would be brought under the ambit of the circular. “These are the places where the bulk of farmers’ produce in the state is weighed and sold. It is extremely important to rule out manipulation of weighbridges as it has direct bearing on rural economy,” Gupta said.Many of these weighbridges have got licences decades ago, and the switch to digital systems has been made without any authority authenticating the components used in them. “Considering that every day thousands of trucks carrying farm products are weighed at these places, a few kilograms of manipulation in each truck would mean a colossal gain to the traders and middlemen, at the peril of the farmers,” Gupta said.