news Monday, July 20, 2015 - 05:30
In what is the second “scam” to hit the recently elected BJP-led government in Maharashtra, irregularities worth between Rs 125-150 crore have been found in the purchase of farming equipment by the state government. Documents in possession of The New Indian Express reveal that the scam pertains to the purchase of Broad Bed Furrow (BBF) machines which are used to sow seeds. This expose by the newspaper comes on the back of the “Chikki scam”, in which the newspaper revealed women and child development minister Pankaja Munde’s role in the scam. On Sunday, Munde admitted that the charges were “partly true”. The report shows that tenders for the farming equipment machinery had been allotted at high prices, for machinery that may well turn out to be faulty. The government’s dealings have reportedly not only cost the farmer who pays a subsidised rate for the machinery, but also the state itself and the exchequer too. So what is the scam all about? TNIE reports that BBF machines worth between Rs 125-150 crore have been sold in the state but no data is available on the number of such machines sold. Earlier, the Maharashtra government had taken it upon themselves to implement the Centre’s Farm Mechanisation Mission. The State Agriculture Department had reportedly classified the BBF as a useful tool for farmers and advertised it extensively in Marathwada and Vidharbha, regions where maximum farmer suicides have been reported. According to the newspaper however, the state’s Agriculture Department ignored the lowest bidder for the commercial production of the machine. A copy of the tender reportedly reveals that a company by name of Sagar International Pvt. Ltd. had bid Rs 21, 120 per piece. Contracts were instead awarded to five companies who had bid higher. How it happened: Protocol dictates that district-level agriculture officials need to register their demand for machinery to the Maharashtra Agriculture and Industrial Development Corporation (MAIDC) says a department official to the newspaper. They add that the MAIDC then decides the supplier. Rules for such procurements also mention that the supplier must have a quality check done for the products by Punjabrao Deshmukh Agriculture University (PDAU). The report however mentions that a certificate was obtained from the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) based in Hyderabad instead. In addition, recommendations that the PDAU had suggested had been reportedly ignored. The fallout: Aside from costing the state exchequer more and being supplied through unwarranted channels, the machines are also believed to not work efficiently. BJP MP from Amravati in Vidharbha, Sunil Deshmukh, claims the machines are “useless”. “There was no manual with the machines. It took me four hours to assemble it. Shockingly, I found the machine useless as it leaves the seeds open and not under the soil. No crop can be grown using this technique,” he told the newspaper. Deshmukh says that the machine “directly causes a loss of Rs 13,500 to a farmer and Rs 34,000 to the exchequer.” He told the newspaper that the farmers were already “debt-ridden” and could not afford the loss. “The Agriculture Department did not even bother to obtain feedback from the farmers on whether they were satisfied with the machine,” he was quoted as claiming. A former bureaucrat who the newspaper contacted says that it was “mandatory” that these machines are manufactured within the state. “However, the suppliers got the machines from Rajkot, Gujarat,” he added. 
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