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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Farm loan waiver row: Maharashtra govt probes if there was deliberate ploy to derail scheme

Earlier on January 18, an sms with a web link, meant to share details regarding the loan waiver scheme, was shared with the farmers through the Agriculture department’s ‘KISSAN’ portal. However, the URL link shared with the sms for scheme details was found to redirect users to the Candy Crush site.

Written by Sandeep Ashar | Mumbai | Published: January 24, 2020 3:39:18 am
maharashtra, drought, drought in maharashtra, maharashtra govt, devendra fadnavis, pradhan mantri fasal bima yojana, maharashtra drought, crops, crop insurance, rabi crops, farmers, aurangabad, indian express news In its written reply, the government said the scheme is made compulsory for farmers who have availed loans and remains voluntary for those who have not availed loans. (File)

The Uddhav Thackeray government is probing whether there was a deliberate attempt to derail the state’s new farm loan waiver scheme. On January 21, Thackeray had ordered the immediate suspension of the then acting Cooperatives Commissioner Satish Soni after an inquiry held him responsible for an embarrassing slip-up with regards to the implementation of the scheme.

Earlier on January 18, an sms with a web link, meant to share details regarding the loan waiver scheme, was shared with the farmers through the Agriculture department’s ‘KISSAN’ portal. However, the URL link shared with the sms for scheme details was found to redirect users to the Candy Crush site.

Soni was suspended after the state’s Cooperatives department found that the link was “tampered with.” It found that it was Soni’s office, which had shared the link details with the Agriculture Commissionerate via email communication on January 7, was later shared with the farmers through the portal.

While the suspended bureaucrat is believed to have argued that an incorrect link was shared owing to an “innocent” typing mistake by his staff, sources confirmed that neither Thackeray’s office nor the Chief Secretary’s office are satisfied with his defence.

Raising a needle of suspicion against Soni is the finding of the inquiry that his office had issued a separate communication in this regard on the same day with the correct link address, which wasn’t shared with the Commissioner’s office. On condition of anonymity, a senior state official said, “All of us make mistakes. But why would two separate letters (regarding the same matter) be issued on the same day. Why wasn’t the second communication, the one with the correct weblink, shared with the Agriculture Commissioner’s office?”

Balasaheb Patil, Cooperatives Minister, when contacted, said, “All of this is now a matter of investigation. A detailed inquiry is being conducted. He (Soni) will be heard during the inquiry.” Soni did not respond to inquiries by The Indian Express for his response despite repeated attempts.

The government has also ordered a departmental inquiry against Soni. The investigation will also look into whether this was a “deliberate ploy to defame the government’s image.” Soni, a class-I officer, who had been serving as the Cooperatives Commissioner for over a year, has been ordered not to leave Mumbai without government’s permission, pending further inquiry. Thackeray, on January 21, also ousted him from the post, appointed 2003-batch IAS officer, Anil Kawade, in his place.

Soni’s suspension order, issued by the Cooperatives department, states, “The (farm loan waiver) scheme is an important project of the government. Due to the action of Satish Soni, hurdles have been placed in its implementation. Considering the importance and the seriousness of the project, he ought to have taken utmost care to ensure that the incorrect link was not provided.” Dr Sudin Gaikwad, a deputy secretary with the Cooperatives department, who has now also been positioned in the CMO, has signed Soni’s suspension order.

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