The ghost of a rice scam in the state governments ambitious Sujalam Sufalam Yojana in Panchmahals seems to be haunting the top district officials. They are now trying to recover a huge sum of money from Fair Price Shop owners who had distributed rice instead of wheat under the scheme. Rice was supplied despite a direction from the Department of Rural Development Agency (DRDA) to distribute wheat.
Panchmahals District Collector Milind Torawane said,We have recovered Rs 3.5 lakh from the nine shop owners and Rs 9 lakh from 12 others in Kalol. Further,we have served notices to them. If they fail to respond to that,we would attach their movable and immovable properties as per the rule.
It was in 2004-05 when the Food Corporation of Indias local officials had learnt about the irregularities and informed the DRDA officials,who,in turn,initiated an inquiry into the matter. While legal action was taken against some government officials and Fair Price Shop owners,the investigators have still not been able to recover the money,which was used to purchase rice instead of wheat.
DRDA officials had identified the beneficiaries to develop khet talavdi (a small pond) in their respective farms. And,as compensation,they were given coupons to collect wheat from the Fair Price Shop in their villages. Interestingly,the District Supply Office of the Panchmahals Collectorate distributed rice,which,according to DRDA officials,was done without their consultation.
As per the information furnished by the DRDA,in 10 talukas of Panchmahals,a total of 6,721 khet talavdis were dug up by the beneficiaries and 4,188.978 metric tonnes of grains worth Rs 2.41 crore were distributed among them. While 1,520.596 tonnes of rice were distributed at the rate of Rs 7 per kg,some 2,668. 383 metric tonnes of wheat were distributed at the rate of Rs 5.05 for every kg.
According to former zilla panchayat member Rupchand Sevkani,the distribution was done only on paper. About 800 khet talavdis were made only on paper. This has been put on record by the investigating officer from the Local Crime Branch,K B Khant,as the villagers admitted that the talavdis were never dug up and the question of benefits in terms of grains does not arise, Sevkani said,adding,The stock of 1,500-odd tonnes of rice was apparently sold in the Maharashtra markets.
Admitting to discrepancies in the supply,Panchmahals District Supply Officer B N Ghantiya said an inquiry is going on in this connection. We had served notices to several Fair Price Shop owners,but did not receive convincing reply.
The investigation procedure was slowed down due to elections,but now we will take action against those involved in the scam, Ghantiya added. There has been a delay in the investigation even as DRDA officials sent several reminders to the District Supply Office in the last one year. A copy of one of the reminders addressed to Taluka Development Officer (TDO) V B Patel,which is available with The Indian Express,states that the officer had failed to explain anything about the irregularity.
The letter addressed to District Supply Officer from P A Shah,the then director of the DRDA in April 2008,said,As part of the Sujalam Sufalam Yojana under the Khet Talavdi scheme,it was mentioned categorically to distribute wheat through a coupon system. Barring Shehra,Lunawada,Khanpur and Ghoghamba talukas,rice has been distributed in all other talukas.
It added: Whether the rice was sold at the rate of wheat and who is responsible for this goof up has not been explained by the TDO despite frequent reminders. It was made clear that even as wheat was available for distribution,but due to lack of clarification from your side,rice was distributed in Kalol taluka.