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900 officials get notice over missing stubble management machines in Punjab

2024 1largeimg 586102305Chandigarh: Almost 900 officials in the Agriculture Department have been issued show-cause notices by the department in the “missing crop residue management” machines case.

The officers have been asked to send their replies within 15 days of the notice being issued to them. According to information available with The Tribune, notices have been issued to Assistant Sub-Inspectors, Agriculture Development Officers, Agriculture Extension Officers and Agriculture Officers.

These have been issued after a physical verification of all stubble management machines, distributed between 2018-19 and 2021-22, under the centrally sponsored Promotion of Agriculture Mechanisation for In Situ Management of Crop Residue Scheme.

The verification of the machines was completed in November 2023, after which the notices under Section 8 of the Punjab Civil Services (Punishment and Appeal) Rules 1970 have been issued. In these notices, the number of missing machines has been mentioned against each officer.

It is learnt that of the 90,422 machines, purchased with the Central Government’s subsidy, nearly 11,000 machines were found missing. It is alleged that machines worth around Rs 140 crore never reached farmers and the funds were embezzled, allegedly by submitting fake bills. During four years, Rs 1,178 crore had been given to the state government for purchase of the machines. Special Chief Secretary, Agriculture, KAP Sinha, confirmed that the notices had been issued. “Some of these officers have also started filing their replies. They did not conduct regular verification of the machines to assess, if these remained in possession of the beneficiaries,” he said.

The districts where the maximum number of machines were found missing are Faridkot, Ferozepur, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Fazilka, Bathinda, Moga and Patiala. The Tribune had first highlighted the case of missing machines in 2019. A team of the Union Ministry of Agriculture had carried out a field survey and could not trace custom-hiring centres, established under the scheme.

A meeting of different unions of officers in the Agriculture Department was held in Bathinda where they had decried the issuing of notices. They alleged that under this scheme, the beneficiaries would apply online and a committee, headed by the deputy commissioners, would choose recipients through a draw of lots. It was later that departmental teams conducted a physical verification of machines and the subsidy was then directly transferred into the accounts of beneficiaries.

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