Leader of Opposition and senior Congress leader Sunil Jakhar tells Assistant Editor Man Aman Singh Chhina that the Punjab government cannot get away by taking action against the agriculture director alone.
As the principal opposition party, is the Congress satisfied with the government’s actions in the pesticide scam?
The immediate action taken is all fine but everybody responsible should face the law. The government cannot wash its hands off by saying that there were procedural lapses and that the sanction from competent authority was not taken for the purchase of pesticides. A statement was made by this very director that the chief minister and agriculture minister were very much in the loop. The cash-strapped state government does not have money to pay pensions, post-matric scholarships to SC students but Rs 30 crore was drawn from the treasury through signatures of a person who was entitled to draw only Rs 10 lakh. This could not have happened without the connivance and approval of the highest in the government. Since the lengthening dark shadows of the scam have reached and knocked the doors of the chief minister, it would be prudent on part of the CMO to find out who authorised the withdrawal of Rs 33 crore from the treasury.
Who all do you blame for the situation?
The Punjab government is not a private run chit fund company where someone could draw such a huge amount at the drop of a hat. If the Chief Minister’s Office claims it had no information, if the agriculture minister still claims no knowledge, this not only shows the administrative collapse of the system but it also directly holds the chief secretary and agriculture secretary responsible.
Were you not satisfied with the response given by the CM in the assembly?
The CM avoided answering all the questions raised by me. Merely singing paeans to the farming sector will not serve the purpose. Two to three lakh farmers are affected. The government cannot run away without answering. My charges were of higher rate of purchase and tender process not being followed and this has been vindicated in the inquiry. Why were the pesticides not tested in laboratories of the Punjab government? Before the people of Punjab are left to draw their conclusions, the CMO should clarify the matter.
Are you implying that there is more to it than what has come out in the scam?
The very appointment of this person as director, agriculture, has been controversial. The talk in Malwa region is that the poll in-charge of certain influential senior Akali leader was instrumental in getting him appointed even when he was already implicated in a Rs 40 crore seed scam. There is definitely more to it than what has been revealed. If there was no sanction for the funds then some heads of higher ups will have to roll. What is the good governance that is being touted by the SAD-BJP government if so much money can be withdrawn without the knowledge of senior ministers? It is a total collapse of system and decisions are being taken on the whims and fancies of Jathedars-people who are either in power themselves or those sitting on fringes and managing constituencies.
What about compensation awarded to the farmers?
There is a lot to be said on the way in which the compensation is being distributed. In Lambi constituency of the CM, farmers with even half an acre of ruined crop have got compensation. This has to be done on universal basis for 12 lakh acres which suffered crop loss. The farmer cannot be left to the mercy of Patwaris who seek their pound of flesh. In fact, not only the farmer has suffered but those who performed manual labour to pick the crop have also suffered loss. The cotton ginning industry has suffered because this is a seasonal business for them as this is the only cash crop in this area. Out of 300 odd factories which were in this area now only 110 remain and they too are on verge of closure. The compensation announced is not enough and does not even meet the pocket cost of farmers who have invested Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000.
How does Congress intend to take this issue forward?
We are standing by the farmers and labourers as well as the ginning industry. The deputy CM is busy preparing for Invest Punjab summit. Let us assume that Sukhbir Badal is a very wise businessman. But the given kind of funds he has splurged on these investment meets and foreign trips, he should explain how much industry has left the state and how much has come in. He may also like to worry about the condition of the ginning industry rather than chasing around illusionary investment which would never fructify.