Chandigarh, January 14
Pilfer, adulterate, pay commission to officials. Sell high-quality wheat and rice in the market and supply low-quality to kids for the mid-day meal scheme. This has been happening at every step of wheat and rice procurement, stocking and distribution under the Food Corporation of India (FCI) in Punjab, causing losses of hundreds of crores to the government.
“Operation Kanak” launched by the CBI has taken the lid off this brazen corruption by an alleged syndicate of FCI officials and millers, who ran a well-oiled system of misappropriation of stocks and bribery. Starting from the lowest person (labour) to top officials of the department, all were getting a monthly commission. All they had to do was to help in the pilferage from godowns and look the other way when quality was compromised.
As many as 99 places, including godowns and mills, were searched by the CBI, 90 of these in Punjab alone. The CBI has booked 75 officials, including Sudeep Singh, Executive Director, FCI (Headquarters), New Delhi, and Hemant Kumar Jain, GM (FCI), and several millers.
Based on the CBI FIR and investigation against FCI officials, and enquiries made by The Tribune from local sources, the scam runs as follows: the FCI buys wheat and paddy and stores it in godowns run by its officials or those belonging to state agencies such as Punsup, Markfed and Pungrain.
In the case of wheat stock, officials and staff pilfer up to 3 kg of grain each from 50-kg sacks. Usually, 2,400 to 2,800 bags are stacked and the staff pilfer stock from nearly 700 to 900 bags. They put water on the gunny bags to make up for the loss of weight. The stolen wheat is then sold in the open market. The returns, which are in crores, are shared among all — from the labour in the godown to top bosses.
An inspector with Punsup, Gurinder Singh, was booked in Patiala last year for misappropriation of wheat worth Rs 8 crore. He fled abroad before he could be arrested. Another official of a procurement agency was chargesheeted in Kapurthala for missing stock of wheat worth Rs 12 lakh.
In the case of paddy, the alleged corruption takes place at different levels. Under the prevailing system, the FCI procures paddy from farmers and gives the stock to millers for milling. The millers remove the husk and have to give rice equivalent to 67% of the paddy stock given to them. Sources said corruption starts because of this norm. It is a 55-year-old norm and has not been revised despite better quality paddy and advancement in machines for the milling process. The sources claim that millers even mill up to 82% of rice from a stock of 100 kg of paddy. However, they show only the requisite 67% and sell the remaining 15% in the open market.
The second mode of pilferage is adopted by some millers who take out nearly 8% rice from the 67% quantity. They mix low-quality rice instead.
Under the third mode of corruption, some millers adulterate the 67% milled rice with produce either of low quality or inferior rice brought illegally from other parts of the country.
FCI officials are supposed to take random 25 samples of milled rice from trucks brought to FCI godowns by the millers. The samples are either not taken or good quality samples prepared in advance by the millers are shown. Another large-scale pilferage takes place when the FCI sends rice to schools for the mid-day meal. The FCI allots tenders to transporters for carrying the produce. An inspector-level official is supposed to ensure that the produce reaches the students. However, millers call the shots as they control the transporter and pay the FCI official for approving the supply sitting in his office only.
As per the FIR lodged by the CBI, a truck of rice is cleared by FCI officials at a set payment of a minimum of Rs 4,000. This bribe is divided among officials in Delhi, state officials, depot managers, technical assistant, munim and the labour in a set ratio. However, local sources said the rate of commission per truck was Rs 20,000.
In Haryana, CBI sources said, the raid in Ambala was related to Manoj Kumar, proprietor of M/s Maa Bhagwati Rice Mill, Dera Bassi, accused of bribing FCI officials. The Gurugram raid was related to M/s Origo Commodities, also accused of bribing FCI officials.
Agents of Origo Commodities are accused of manipulating shortages of food grains supplied by them in connivance with FCI officials. To cover the shortages, Dinesh Sharma, on behalf of Origo Commodities, paid Rs 50,000 to Batti Lal Meena, FCI official (Sunam), for managing weight-related records so that shortage was not reflected on paper.
- Pilfer produce, adulterate, pay commission to officials
- Sell high-quality wheat and rice produce in the market
- Supply low-quality stock for mid-day meal scheme for kids
- Share the returns, which run into crores, among all
What CBI FIR states
- Rice truck is cleared by FCI officials for a minimum of Rs 4,000; sources put the figure at Rs 20,000
- Bribe is shared among Delhi & state officials, depot managers, technical assistant, munim and labour
Punsup inspector was booked, official chargesheeted in 2022
- Punsup inspector Gurinder Singh booked in Patiala last year for misappropriation of wheat to the tune of Rs 8 crore; he fled abroad
- Another procurement agency official chargesheeted in Kapurthala for missing wheat stock worth more than Rs 12 lakh
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