Maharashtra: Locals catch officials trying to repolish worm-infested rice
Spoilt grain that was supposed to be discarded following this paper's expose finds its way back into distribution chain for Raigad tribals
Even after the exposé of the malpractices that senior officials of the Tribal Development Corporation (TDC) have been involved in, tribals of the state continue to face government apathy. Recently, a TDC official had ordered that worm-infested rice distributed among the Katkari tribals be repolished and sent back to tribals in Bhiwandi and Panvel. However, some workers of Shramjeevi Sangathana spotted the trucks and informed the FDA, which seized the consignment and sent the samples for analysis.
One such truck was seized in Panvel and two more in Vasai. TDC regional manager Sadanand Rajure had given the order on October 10. In the order, undersigned by Rajure, he said, "Total 295 quintals of rice was brought here (Chimbipada in Bhiwandi taluka) around June 17-27, 2020 for distribution among Katkari tribals, but on October 8, the workers of Shramjeevi Sangathana seized 13.60 quintals of worm-infested rice. Since the bags of rice were kept here since the last four months, the grains have gathered moisture. So, the remaining rice kept at Chimbipada needs to be re-polished before distributing it among Katkari tribals."
The order has also been signed by Superintendent of Chimbipada school S C Bhandare, Deputy Manager, regional office Jawhar Harshal Borole, Assistant Manager Vasant Pandurang Patil and Quality Controller Nandu Ahire. Sources at the TDC office told mid-day that Rajure was the decision maker and that the bags of rotten rice should have been disposed of immediately as it contains no nutrition.
The worm-infested rice was re-polished for further distribution among tribals
"But the senior officials did not raise their voice against Rajure, who ordered them to get the worm-infested rice re-polished and re-processed before distributing them again among the Katkari tribals," a TDC source told mid-day.
The rice bags were kept at the residential school of tribals at Chimbipada in Bhiwandi taluka. Hence, Rajure gave a handwritten letter to the headmaster on October 10 saying, "The rice (weighing 281.40 quintals) which is kept in your school needs to be re-polished. A government truck bearing registration number MH 15 EG 2045 will come to your school to load the bags."
Towards the end of the letter he gave instructions to Kalpesh Chavan, another TDC official from Manor, to take the worm-infested rice bags to Sadguru rice mill in Bhinar, re-polish them and distribute it among the Katkari tribals.
'Not fit for even animals'
Chairman of a government-appointed committee Vivek Pandit, who is also the founder of Shramjeevi Sangathana, said, "We got information that the worm-infested rice had been sent for re-polishing in Bhinar, Vasai and after that it would be distributed. That rice is not fit for consumption by animals also. Our workers seized two trucks in Bhinar and informed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)." He further said that another truck had been seized in Wakdi village of Panvel taluka. "Both the raids were carried out simultaneously in the wee hours of Tuesday," he said.
A TDC source said, "The rice was meant to be disposed of in the presence of the tehsildar. After the Chimbipada episode on October 8, an order was given to dispose of the rotten rice but Rajure preferred to get it re-polished for further distribution."
Pandit said, "Had the consignment not been seized in time, then the rice would have caused food poisoning among the tribals who are already dying of malnutrition. Rice samples have been sent for testing and the reports will come in the next five days. The further course of action will be decided after that."
Meanwhile, on Wednesday evening, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray called for an urgent meeting with Vivek Pandit and other senior officials of TDC. Sources told mid-day that Thackeray pulled up Nitin Patil, director of TDC, who attended the meeting through video-conferencing from Bihar where he has gone for election duty.
The source also added that a senior government official told the CM that a few tribals were ready to accept the rotten rice and hence it was re-polished for distribution. But Pandit raised strong objection to this. Pandit also told the CM that there was rampant corruption in the TDC since years and he had taken a strong stand for the welfare of the tribals. However, the CM said in the meeting that the tribals would get all their basic rights by August 15, 2022.
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