Under pressure from the Opposition over allegations of large-scale malpractices in groundnut procurement in the state, the Gujarat government Saturday announced the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry to probe repeated incidents of fire in godowns that have gutted over 80,000 quintals of groundnut valued at over Rs 45 crore.
The move comes weeks after Vaghji Boda, chairman of the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED), claimed that the BJP government in Gujarat had indulged in corruption during groundnut procurement last year. Boda, a member of the Congress, resigned from the party a day after he made the allegations at a party event in the state.
On Saturday, after Chief Minister announced that the Commission of Inquiry would be headed by retired Justice H K Rathod, Home Minister Pradeepsinh Jadeja said that the investigation would “bring out the truth”. The minister said 30 people had been arrested in the case so far.
Since January this year, 80,295 quintals of groundnuts valued at Rs 45.61 crore have been gutted in four different incidents of fire in Hapa, Shapar, Gondal and Gandhidham.
The Congress alleged malpractices in procurement and claimed that groundnut godowns were set on fire intentionally to destroy evidence of adulteration.
Beginning May, traders too refused to pick up groundnut stock during auctions. One such stock lying in the godown of Jayshree International, a private firm in Rajkot, was auctioned in mid-July. But the traders refused to take delivery of the oilseed on July 31, alleging that the sample stock they were shown during auction and the one they were offered delivery of were different. Following a police complaint, 29 arrests were made, including of cooperative officials and local BJP office-bearers. Police say they are investigating if the adulteration case could be related to fire incidents in godowns.
Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani had claimed that good-quality groundnut procured from farmers were diverted to oil mills, while poor-quality oilseed was packed in bags and stored in godowns.
Among the first fires was on January 2, when a godown hired by the Gujarat State Warehousing Corporation in Mithi Rohar area of Gandhidham in Kutch caught fire. The fire raged for three days, damaging 22,560 quintals of nuts worth Rs 12.65 crore.
In his report to the collector, the Anjar sub-divisional magistrate cited a forensic investigation report to state that the cause of the fire was “heating caused due to moisture and pressure” and ruled out any “conspiracy”.
In a second incident on January 30, a godown owned by Shree Ramrajya Cotex Private Ltd, a private cotton ginning factory near Gondal town in Rajkot district, caught fire. The fire raged for more than a month, destroying 47,587 quintals of groundnut-in-shell worth Rs 28 crore. The CID (Crime), which probed the Gondal fire, concluded that welding sparks from a gate being repaired had led to the fire. The CID arrested six people, including the godown owner and the welders.
This was followed by a fire at a warehouse in Hapa, Jamnagar district. According to officials, the fire gutted 350 quintals of groundnut worth Rs 15.75 lakh.
On May 6, the fourth fire broke out at a godown belonging to National Cotton Industries, a private cotton ginning factory where 14,700 quintals of NAFED groundnut was stored. The fire went on for almost a month, damaging 9,800 quintal of oilseed worth Rs 4.41 crore.