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Agriculture cleanup

The arrest of five Assam Agriculture department officials by the CID is merely the tip of the iceberg as far as probe into the Rs 700 crore scandal is concerned. With suspicion rife that the scam could be over four times larger at Rs 3,000 crore, it remains to be seen whether the net widens further to catch bigger fish in the coming days. Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal has vowed ‘zero tolerance’ to official graft, but eyebrows have been raised over his government taking its time to sanction prosecution against several Agriculture department officials, including its Director. In the partial chargesheet filed by the CID last month, 11 persons including 3 officials and 2 contractors were med. The five officials arrested after interrogation on Friday are presently posted in Golaghat and gaon districts, while investigations are learned to have revealed rampant irregularities in most other districts as well. The scam was detected in two schemes, the Rashtriya Krishi Vikash Yoja (RKVY) and Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India (BGREI). The Agriculture department was to supply paddy seeds, power tillers, tractors, fertilizer, insecticides and other inputs to beneficiaries under the two schemes. But as it has happened with myriad other schemes, department officials in cahoots with contractors looted funds in the me of thousands of bogus beneficiaries. It all happened under the watch of senior ministers like Nilamani Sen Deka and Rakibul Hussain of the erstwhile Tarun Gogoi-led regime. The BGREI scheme is considered important for our farmers to go for multiple cropping on large scale, with the Central government’s thrust to encourage farmers of eastern states to take up cultivation of pulses and oilseeds to add to paddy and wheat crops. The RKVY is ambitious in its scope, converging as it does major Agriculture sectors to incentivize state governments to set aside additiol funds in state plans to help raise farm growth rates. So a state government must perform well if it is to be eligible for continued Central support under RKVY — so it speaks volumes that Central funds for Assam under this scheme has been cut, as shown in the State budget for 2017-18.

Thanks to the NGO Assam Public Works using the RTI weapon to dig up facts, contours of the massive scam began emerging and it lodged FIRs with the CID in September, 2014. Since then, sleuths have been fanning out to the districts, uncovering anomalies galore in the lists of beneficiaries, procurement and expenditure patterns. Significantly, the CID initially failed to make sufficient headway in the probe. It was only after APW moved the Gauhati High Court, which in turn transferred the case to the special court, that the CID was galvanized to action with the Enforcement Directorate also getting into the act. Surely, the change of guard at the Centre too played a part in the investigations gathering steam. Assam remains a primarily agrarian state, despite efforts to make it develop in small industry and services. The fact that in just one case, as many as 343 Class I gazetted officers of the Agriculture department, fearing arrests in connection with the lime scam, moved Gauhati High Court for interim anticipatory bail in 2015, speaks volumes of what has been going on in the department. People who went to get work done in the department had to face empty chairs with the officials rushing about to stay out of the court’s reach and jail terms. Whether it is the supply of hybrid seeds, greenhouse material, pumpsets, planting bamboo or sundry other schemes, the Agriculture department in Assam has been getting away with brazen robbery and defrauding the farming community. There is no way a massive cleanup in its Agriculture department can be put off any longer, and bring to book corrupt officials whose energies were only focused on identifying Central schemes they could lay their dirty hands upon.

About the author

Ankur Kalita