Paddy procurement scam (Uttarakhand): Crop shown to have ‘grown’ on land that was actually national highway, cemeteries & schools

By Aakash Ahuja

In a large-scale paddy purchase scam in Udham Singh Nagar, Uttarakhand’s “rice bowl”, over 6,500 quintal paddy, shown to have been “grown” on 108 hectares of land that was actually part of national highway-74, schools and cemeteries, was procured by the Uttarakhand Cooperative Federation (UCF).
UCF, which is one of the four government agencies responsible for purchasing farmers’ produce in the district, “bought” the “extra” 6,500 quintal paddy from around 46 farmers for Rs 1.27 crore at Nakatpura procurement centre in Sitarganj in the last procurement year, 2021-22. A review of the centre revealed the crop was never grown or sold.

When authorities tried to verify the land, it turned out they weren’t agricultural fields in the first place. An officer in the know, who didn’t wish to be named, revealed the lands where the farmers had claimed to grow the crop, didn’t match the land registered in their names in revenue records.
The officer added, “The government has set the support price of paddy in Uttarakhand at Rs 1,960 per quintal. It’s also a possibility that the firm bought cheaper paddy from farmers of UP and Bihar and on records, made it look like these were bought from Uttarakhand farmers.”

“Farmers are required to register online before selling their paddy at purchase centres. For this, they are given an ID number containing information about their village, land and khasra number (which tells the government a farmer’s details). The irregularities that have surfaced, shows the administration failed to verify the accuracy of the information provided by farmers. It indicates a conspiracy between farmers, centre in-charges, and rice millers, and raises serious questions about the integrity of the system,” the official added.
In US Nagar, the plain district bordering Uttar Pradesh where most of Uttarakhand’s grains are grown, wheat is cultivated on around 1 lakh hectares of land. One hectare of land roughly yields 60 quintals of paddy. Since almost every year, procurement centres fail to reach the target of crop procurement, the “extra paddy” at a certain centre could easily be masked as an attempt to meet the target and wouldn’t raise any suspicion. It was a tip- off that alerted officials about the malpractice in paddy procurement.

The deputy registrar of the cooperative society is yet to look into 181 other paddy procurement centres in US Nagar, so the scale of the scam could potentially be much larger, sources said.

US Nagar district magistrate YK Pant said that the food supply department has been informed to take action in centres where such irregularities are taking place and from now on, details of land submitted by farmers will be verified strictly.

“We have asked officials to expedite the probe and report any such irregularities at the earliest. Suggestions have been given to the government to make some changes in the software to avoid leaving room for such frauds in the future,” said the DM.

“We have suggested that a farmer’s registration should be possible only when they upload a photo of the paddy field, while standing in it,” he said.

This article has been republished from The Times of India.