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Pawar comes to Khemka’s aid

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, chief of the Nationalist Congress Party, an ally of the ruling Congress party at the Centre, had come to IAS officer Ashok Khemka’s rescue. He ordered a central government probe into the seeds and fungicide scam, involving Haryana’s Congress government which the whistle-blower Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer had blown the lid off.

Khemka, who had earlier kicked up a storm by alleging a land scam involving Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, had been transferred by the state’s Bhupinder Singh Hooda government to Haryana Seed Development Corporation. There, the IAS officer unearthed two multi-crore scams in alleged illegal purchase of fungicide and seeds by the corporation. The Haryana government did not take kindly to this and Khemka was again transferred – the 44th time in his career – and posted as head of the state archives. He was later chargesheeted for his work at the seed corporation. Khemka has consistently alleged harassment by the state government and asked the Centre to rescue him but the Centre had so far not obliged, despite avenues being available under the central service rules.

Now, Pawar’s ministry has responded to Khemka’s pleas and ordered a Central Vigilance Commission inquiry in the alleged seeds scam, besides an internal ministry probe into continuing illegal purchase of a banned pesticide by Haryana government. Documents reviewed by Business Standard show the Union ministry had taken this decision in February.

In November last year, Khemka had written a set of letters to the minister alleging scams by Haryana government officials in misappropriating and illegally using central government funds provided under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and the National Food Security Mission.

Upon receiving Khemka’s complaints, addressed to Pawar, the agriculture ministry carried out an internal inquiry. It also asked the Haryana government to respond to the allegations. In one case, the state responded that the Punjab & Haryana High Court was already hearing the matter. In the other, it said the state seed corporation was not a public-sector unit of the central government, so a Central Vigilance Commission inquiry could not be instituted in a scam alleged within the agency. The second ruse by the state was to deny the Centre to intervene in what Haryana claimed was a “state matter”.

The agriculture ministry, which found Khemka’s allegations prima facie true, also dismissed the state government’s view that the Centre could not intervene. It said in its order: “Since the misuse of central funds has been alleged and a Government of India undertaking is one of the shareholders in Haryana Seed Development Corporation, the matter is referred to CVC for appropriate action/advice in terms of section 8(1)(c) of the CVC Act.”

In the fungicide case, the agriculture ministry took the view that if an injunction had not been granted by the high court, the central government should proceed against the company for illegally marketing and selling a chemical. The high court has not passed an injunction in the matter.

Pawar’s weighing in on the cases and the agriculture ministry’s decisions are likely to aid Khemka’s position by drawing the matter into the hands of the next government at the Centre and not leaving it to the Congress state government to decide independently. The Centre is now expected to also intervene positively in the ongoing high court case in one of the alleged scams. The Times of India had recently reported that the Haryana government was further cornering Khemka by giving him low rankings in internal reviews and setting him up for a dismissal on grounds of professional misconduct. It was also reported earlier that Khemka had alleged harassment by the state in a letter addressed to the state chief secretary.

Khemka had recently also found support from the Parliamentary standing committee on agriculture, which had, in its 61st report, stood by the officer on his allegations and asked the central government to probe all the cases he had raised.


A TALE OF TWO SCAMS
(Irregularities in Haryana, as alleged by Ashok Khemka)

  • In the fungicide scam, Khemka alleged, Haryana Seed Development Corporation spent ~60-65 crore to buy Raxil, a product of Bayer Crop Sciences Ltd. The agency also mandated farmers, against the regulations, to use the product for treating Karnal Bunt disease in wheat seeds. This contributed to a damage of ~3,000 crore worth of wheat crop, which was hit by the yellow rust disease. The state had to mandate use of another generic chemical for treatment
     
  • The Haryana Seed Development Corporation bought more than 130,000 quintals of seeds from private traders, without open tenders, at a rate much higher than that prevailing in the market. State and Nafed officials and a middleman were involved. CBI has registered a preliminary inquiry in this case.

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