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ACE recommends registration of FIRs against food dept officials over gunny bag scam

Updated December 04, 2018

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Registration of FIRs recommended for alleged involvement in embezzlement of Rs1.6bn in gunny bag distribution. ─ File photo
Registration of FIRs recommended for alleged involvement in embezzlement of Rs1.6bn in gunny bag distribution. ─ File photo

HYDERABAD: The Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) has recommended registration of FIRs against Sindh food department officials, including deputy director and district food controller, and some private persons on charges of involvement in the embezzlement of around Rs1.6 billion in distribution of gunny bags for procurement of wheat crop of 2017-18 season.

The ACE Karachi authorities made the recommendation after thorough probe in all six talukas of Sanghar district for which the food department had set perhaps the largest wheat procurement target (of around 700,000 bags). The case was forwarded to ACE by Sanghar district and sessions judge over reports of lack of transparency in distribution of gunny bags.

In all the six talukas, according to inquiry officer’s findings, middlemen remained the same who had bought wheat crop from farmers at lesser rates and sold the same to food department at the support price of Rs1,300 per 40kg in collusion with the officials and made windfall profits.

The officer found that the middlemen who were beneficiaries of the support price did not have agriculture land to claim entitlement for gunny bags. “The gunny bags were mostly given to political and influential people of Sanghar district,” said a source in ACE.

He said that poor farmers, who were not able to get gunny bags to supply their crop to the food department, sold the fruit of their labour to middlemen at as low a price as Rs800 per 40kg.

About other irregularities, he said, the food officials also deducted certain quantity of wheat from overall wheat crop that was supplied to the department which again jointly benefitted officials and middlemen.

“The modus operandi is that the middlemen buy wheat crop from farmers on credit and made payments to growers after supplying their crop to the food department,” said the inquiry officer.

According to findings of the inquiry, a loss of Rs461.125m was detected in Shahdadpur taluka, Rs455.78m in Sinjhoro, Rs460.2m in Tando Adam, Rs150m in Khipro, Rs105.25m in Jam Nawaz Ali and Rs121.69m in Sanghar taluka.

The FIRs were to be lodged after approval by competent authority against several assistant food controllers, in-charges of procurement centres, food inspectors and many private persons under Sections 409, 420, 468 and 471 read with Section 109 of PPC and Section 5 of Act-II 1947, said sources.

The inquiry was launched on the orders of Hyderabad circuit bench of the Sindh High Court while hearing identical petitions and subsequently district and sessions judge Sanghar conducted probe and forwarded it to ACE for further action.

The inquiry concluded that gunny bags were given to private parties and individuals instead of genuine growers. These individuals did not possess required form-7 which meant that they were not actual landowners.

Accounts were opened in banks and operated, statements of banks showed transactions involving payments by accused officials to agents and amount transferred to illegal beneficiaries in and outside the province, said the probe.

The inquiry proved that it was done to reap illegal windfall benefits from support price which was on higher side than that of the market rate. It found that revenue record produced by the food officials regarding gunny bags was fictitious and despite shortage of the bags an organised fraud of illegal distribution of gunny bags was detected. A ring comprising district-level food officials caused a huge loss of millions of rupees to government kitty through this scam, according to the inquiry findings.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2018

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