TEN DAYS after Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly Paresh Dhanani alleged on the floor of the House on July 15 that ration distributed by government through the public distribution system (PDS) was being pilfered, Amreli district on Thursday arrested six fair price shop owners for allegedly rigging the PDS’ online infrastructure and pilfering PDS ration and other items worth around Rs 80 lakh.
Police and district officers of Amreli conducted joint raids on 16 fair price shops (FPS) in Amreli district early this week. After finding suspicious material such as laptops, pen drives, barcode scanners, fingerprint scanners and printers during the raids, Rajula mamlatdar NM Chauhan filed a complaint against eight FPS owners on Wednesday evening.
The complaint states that the accused pilfered 1.27 lakh kg of wheat, 61,139 kg of rice, 7,395 kg of sugar and 33,178 litres of kerosene. These commodities were valued at around Rs 80 lakh. The offence was committed in June, July and August last year and April, May and June this year.
Acting on the complaint, police arrested six of the accused. They have been identified as Ashok Vaghela, Dinesh Sheikh, Chirag Gorakhiya, Shailesh Sarvaiya, Nizar Chavda and Kamal Nakum, all residents of Amreli district. They have been booked under various sections of IPC for charting and forgery, under Aadhar Act, under the Information Technology Act and the Essential Commodities Act.
“The accused prima facie manipulated the online system of PDS,” Superintendent of Police of Amreli district, Nirlipt Rai, told The Indian Express. “They would generate reports of cent per cent distribution of ration and other commodities at their FPS (whereas they were pilfering stocks). The distribution was shown as 100% for both online system of distribution and offline system of distribution. We are investigating how they did this.” Police also raided a server room in a shop near an FPS on the yard of Rajula agricultural produce market committee and sent hard drives and other material seized from there for forensic examination. “Forensic examination will reveal if the accused were using this facility to rig the PDS system and if the server room was used for committing any other offence as well,” Rai said.
Amreli District Collector Ayush Oak said they conducted raids after noticing that some shops reported distributing 100 per cent of their quota of rice, wheat, sugar and kerosene. “Their reports of cent per cent distribution were too good to be true, and therefore we raided fair price shops in Dhari, Khambha, Rajula and Jafrabad talukas. We seized laptops, pen drives etc, which we suspect they used to rig the PDS system by showing on record that some people claimed ration offline though those people may not have, in fact, claimed it.” He said they suspect that pilfered ration was being black-marketed.
Amreli has 565 ration shops and four lakh ration card holders.