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Nafed chief smells a rat in Gujarat groundnut warehouse fires

Nafed chief smells a rat in Gujarat groundnut warehouse fires

JUNE 12 2018

 

Facing the heat over multiple fire incidents at warehouses in Gujarat, where the bulk of the Nafed-procured groundnut was stored, VR Patel, Chairman of the Central agency, has blamed the State and local agencies for failing to protect the stocks and causing a financial loss to the Central exchequer.

 

Since January this year, at least five fire incidents have been reported at groundnut warehouses in different locations, including Gandhidham in Kutch, Gondal in Rajkot and Jamnagar.

 

Hinting at a larger scam under the Centrally-sponsored procurement programme, Patel alleged that before the State elections in December 2017, the Gujarat government, which had announced that it would purchase groundnut from farmers, had hurriedly allotted procurement centres to agencies. The agencies, however, were incapable of conducting or monitoring the procurement process.

 

Deliberate malpractice

This resulted in malpractices at several warehouses, with dust and rubbish found in the sacks of groundnut, leading to the sacks weighing more.

 

“There is no denying that a deliberate malpractice was undertaken by some of the local procurement agencies. They ignored the rules and standard practices laid down by Nafed and allowed procurement of inferior quality groundnut, which had lumps of dust in the sacks,” Patel told BusinessLine, adding that a fresh inquiry has been sought from the State administration into the alleged scam.

 

Nafed had appointed four State-level procurement agencies, namely, Gujarat Cooperative Oilseeds Growers’ Federation Ltd (Grofed), Gujarat State Cooperative Marketing Federation Ltd (Gujcomasol), Gujarat State Co-Operative Cotton Federation Limited (GujCot) and Banas Dairy, through their affiliate taluk-level farmer cooperatives, to procure groundnut from the farmers.

 

No wrongdoing by farmers

“The role of the officials at the procurement centre and warehouses is under question. The wrongdoing has taken place at the procurement centre and not by the farmers. Warehouse officials colluded with procurement centres and falsely issued quality certificates,” he added.

 

Patel further said that Nafed had issued rules for the procurement centres to undertake regular fumigation at the warehouses, keeping a walkway of 2x2 feet and facilities for air ventilation. “There were scientific requirements for each warehouse. But local procurement agencies ignored these guidelines in appointing warehouses,” said the chairman.

 

“None of the Central warehouses had such problems. The problems and misconduct have taken place at the godowns of State Warehousing Corporation and those of the local agriculture marketing committees. This points at a clear case of corruption in the procurement,” said Patel.

 

Between October 2017 and February 2018, Nafed procured about 8.30 lakh tonnes of groundnut under the price support scheme, as Gujarat witnessed a bumper crop of 32 lakh tonnes.

 

Smelling a rat, Nafed has appealed for a fresh inquiry into the entire procurement process conducted at all the centres and all 830 warehouses where the groundnut is stored.

 

“A 5-member committee has been constituted with representatives of Gujcot, Nafed, Gujcomasol, Central and the APMC board to conduct an inquiry at all the centres. They have already started the process,” Patel said.

 

The Gujarat government denied any wrong-doing by State agencies. “Nafed appoints the local agencies. And at each level of procurement, Nafed officials remain present,” RC Faldu, State agriculture Minister told mediapersons.

 

Source:https://www.thehindubusinessline.com

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