An enormous scam is coming to light in the State Agriculture department. Funds to the tune of Rs 3,000 crore have allegedly been siphoned off under various Central schemes by a corrupt section of Agriculture officials and contractors. Serious questions are being raised about the role played by former Agriculture minister Nilomoni Sen Deka. A shocking picture of loot is emerging in which seeds, fertilisers, lime, farming implements, power tillers and other agricultural inputs were procured at highly inflated prices. Armed with fraudulent bills, favoured contractors drew out funds and paid back their ‘masters’. Some close relatives of the Agriculture minister are alleged to have landed lucrative contracts. Lists of thousands of fictitious beneficiaries were drawn up. A full-fledged commission raj thrived on sundry Central schemes like Rashtriya Krishi Vikash Yoja (RKVY) and Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India (BGREI). Soon organisations like Assam Public Works (APW) and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti got wind of the loot and began protesting, which fell on deaf ears. Filly the Assam Public Works lodged two cases with the CID in September last year. The CID seized some incrimiting documents from the Agriculture department, but then the probe got bogged down allegedly at the behest of the powers-be in Dispur. The CID has not yet filed a chargesheet in the case, and neither is the status of its investigation known. However, with the NDA government coming to power in Delhi, the APW shot off a memorandum to the Prime Minister and complained to the Union Agriculture Minister — which yielded results. Directed by the Centre, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has now taken up the case on the basis of the two FIRs lodged with the CID.
While the probe relates to alleged misappropriation of Rs 700 crore received by the Agriculture department under RKVY and BGREI schemes in the last four years, ED sources have reportedly said the dimension of the scam is at least four times larger at around Rs 3,000 crore. But even this may be the tip of the iceberg as many other Central schemes relating to agriculture are being implemented in Assam. Recently, the State Assembly even passed a resolution urging the Centre not to cut down its funding for major Central schemes including the tiol Mission on Agriculture Extension and Technology. The Union Agriculture minister in a recent visit to the State publicly pulled up senior Agriculture officials for not submitting utilisation certificates of spending Central funds. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, instead of demanding accountability from his minister and bureaucrats, publicly took their side and hinted that the NDA government at the Centre is being politically vindictive. Now if the ED probe picks up momentum, the roles of several senior officials of the Directorates of Agriculture and Horticulture along with the Seed Corporation, will soon be under the scanner. Demands have also been raised for the CBI to probe the matter. But the larger question is the total betrayal of farmers by the political system and administration in an agrarian State. For decades and under successive governments, agriculture has been a milch cow — with one scam after another in the me of supplying farmers with highbred paddy seeds, installing shallow tubewells for irrigating fields, building greenhouses for horticulture and so on and so forth. Without infrastructural or market support, farmers continue to raise crops in great fincial insecurity. Political parties invoke the farmer on whose straining back the burden of the State’s economy is primarily carried, and then rob them in all manner possible after winning power. It is high time the new dispensation at the Centre sets up a foolproof system to detect such loot and hold the perpetrators strictly accountable.