Plunder, adulterate, and pay commissions to officials. Supply low-quality wheat and rice to kids for the mid-day meal program while selling high-quality wheat and rice in the market. Hundreds of crores have been lost by the government in Punjab as a result of this fraud at every step of wheat and rice procurement, stocking, and distribution by the Food Corporation of India (FCI).
CBI’s “Operation Kanak” exposed this brazen corruption by an alleged syndicate of FCI officials and millers that misappropriated stocks and bribed officials. From the lowest level (labour) to the highest level (top officials), everyone got a commission every month. The only thing they had to do was to assist in pilfering from godowns and look the other way when quality was compromised.
A total of 99 places, including godowns and mills, were searched by the CBI, 90 of which were in Punjab. 75 officials, including Sudeep Singh, Executive Director, FCI (Headquarters), New Delhi, and Hemant Kumar Jain, General Manager (FCI), have been arrested by the CBI.
Based on the CBI FIR and investigation against FCI officials, as well as inquiries made by The Tribune from local sources, the scam operates as follows: the FCI buys wheat and paddy and stores them in godowns run by its officials or those owned by state agencies such as Punsup, Markfed, and Pungrain.
From 50-kg sacks of wheat, officials and staff steal up to 3 kg of grain each. There are usually 2,400 to 2,800 bags stacked and around 700 to 900 bags are pilfered by the staff. In order to compensate for the loss of weight, they added water to the gunny bags. Wheat stolen from the farm is then sold on the open market. From the workers in the godown to the top bosses, all share the returns, which are in crores.
Gurinder Singh, an inspector with Punsup, was arrested in Patiala last year for misappropriating wheat worth Rs 8 crore. Before he could be arrested, he fled abroad. In Kapurthala, another official of a procurement agency was charged with missing wheat stock worth Rs 12 lakh.
Corruption is alleged at different levels in the paddy industry. According to the current system, the FCI procures paddy from farmers and distributes it to millers. Millers must remove the husk and give rice equal to 67% of the paddy stock they receive. According to sources, corruption begins as a result of this norm. Despite better quality paddy and advances in milling machines, this 55-year-old norm has not been revised. From a stock of 100 kg of paddy, millers claim to mill up to 82% of rice. Only 67% of the required amount is displayed, while the remaining 15% is sold openly.
The second mode of pilferage involves millers who take out nearly 8% of the 67% quantity of rice. Instead, they mix low-quality rice.
Third, some millers adulterate the 67% milled rice with inferior or low quality rice brought illegally from other parts of the country.
The millers are supposed to bring 25 random samples of milled rice to FCI godowns. Millers either do not take samples or show good quality samples prepared in advance. Rice is another large-scale pilferage that occurs when the FCI sends rice to schools for the mid-day meal. Transporters are awarded tenders by the FCI to transport the produce. It is the responsibility of an inspector-level official to ensure that the produce reaches the students. The millers, however, control the transporter and pay the FCI official for approving the supply sitting in his office only.
In accordance with the FIR lodged by the CBI, FCI officials clear rice trucks for a set payment of Rs 4,000. There is a set ratio of bribes distributed among Delhi officials, state officials, depot managers, technical assistants, munims, and the labor force. According to local sources, the commission rate per truck was Rs 20,000.
The raid in Ambala was related to Manoj Kumar, proprietor of M/s Maa Bhagwati Rice Mill, Dera Bassi, accused of bribing FCI officials, according to CBI sources. A raid was conducted in Gurugram on M/s Origo Commodities, which is also accused of bribing FCI officials.
In cooperation with FCI officials, agents of Origo Commodities are accused of manipulating shortages of food grains supplied by them. For managing weight-related records, Dinesh Sharma paid Rs 50,000 to Batti Lal Meena, FCI official (Sunam), on behalf of Origo Commodities.