Top Punjab official held for spurious pesticide purchase

Chandigarh: Punjab's director-agriculture Mangal Singh Sandhu has been arrested for his alleged role in the multi-crore rupee spurious pesticide purchase, police sources said on Monday. The pesticide was sold to farmers.

A team of Punjab Police from Bathinda and Mohali led by Senior Superintendent of Police Inder Mohan Singh Bhatti raided Sandhu's house in Sector 42 here late Sunday and later arrested him.

Sandhu was removed as agriculture director by the government on September 17 but he obtained a stay order from the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the move to shift him.

Bhatti told the media that 53 bottles of imported liquor, 1,300 Canadian dollars, US$1200 and over Rs.4 lakh in cash were recovered from Sandhu's house.

Sandhu was booked for cheating and corruption and taken to Bathinda where he will be produced in a local court.

Sources in the Punjab government said spurious and poor quality pesticides worth Rs.33 crore were purchased by the agriculture department without following the tendering process.

The pesticide was distributed among cotton-growing farmers in Malwa belt of south-west Punjab.

Samples of the pesticide failed tests conducted by government agencies.

The cotton farmers in the state have suffered losses running into millions of rupees due to the white-fly pest attack on the crop.

Farmers have been agitating in Bathinda and other places for nearly three weeks over the government's apathy towards their plight.

After a major controversy erupted over the purchase of spurious and poor quality pesticide due to which farmers had to suffer, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on October 1 ordered a vigilance probe into the multi-crore rupee pesticide scam in the state.

Badal asked the director general of police (vigilance) to conduct an enquiry into the matter and submit the report along with action taken report to him within a month.

The Punjab government has been under fire from various quarters over the pesticide purchase mess which led to the loss of hundreds of crores of rupees to the state's cotton farmers, mostly in the Malwa belt.

Badal on Monday announced compensation of Rs.600 crore to the farmers affected by the 'white fly' attack which has destroyed cotton crop in almost 60 per cent area under cotton cultivation.

Farmers are up in arms against the state government for its failure to help them and for providing poor quality pesticides. The opposition had demanded a judicial probe into the pesticide purchase scam.

A war of words broke out over the pesticide scam as Agriculture Minister Tota Singh blamed the agriculture director for the procurement of spurious pesticide.

After Sandhu's statement in a section of the media that put the blame on Tota Singh and even pointed to Chief Minister Badal's involvement in decision-making on purchase of pesticide, the minister said the officer was muddling the facts to save his own skin.

The opposition Congress had demanded a judicial probe into the pesticide scam and sought the immediate resignation of the agriculture minister.

Green Revolution state Punjab contributes over 60 percent of the total food grains (wheat and paddy) to the national kitty despite having just 1.54 percent of the country's geographical area.

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