After Chikki Scam, Another Rs 125 Crore Maharashtra Farm Machinery Scam Stares at CM Fadnavis

Published: 20th July 2015 03:40 AM

Last Updated: 20th July 2015 10:32 AM

MUMBAI: A scam pertaining to the purchase of Raised Bed Planter, also known as Broad Bed Furrow (BBF) machines, used for planting seeds in farmlands, has hit the Maharashtra government.

Officials have roughly estimated that machines worth Rs 125 to Rs 150 crore have been sold so far in the State, though there is no data yet on how many machines were sold. The figures may rise after compilation of the complete data.

The Maharashtra government had undertaken the initiative to provide machinery to farmers in rain-fed areas under the Centre’s Farm Mechanisation Mission. The State Agriculture Department had categorised the BBF as a useful tool for farming and advertised it on a large scale especially in the regions of Marathwada and Vidarbha, where the agrarian crisis is at its worst. Nearly 1,500 farmers have committed suicides in these regions since January.

Papers available with Express show that the Agriculture Department purchased the BBF machines at a higher cost by neglecting the lowest bidder, Sagar International Pvt Ltd. The tender said Sagar had quoted a price of Rs 21,120 per piece. However, the contract was awarded to five other companies which had quoted higher rates.

An Agriculture Department official said that according to procedure, district-level agriculture officials register their demand for machinery with the state-run Maharashtra Agriculture and Industrial Development Corporation (MAIDC). The MAIDC decides the supplier. The rules also stipulate that a supplier must have done a quality check by Punjabrao Deshmukh Agriculture University. In this case, the suppliers procured the certificate from Hyderabad-based Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA). The Punjabrao Deshmukh Agriculture University had suggested changes in its design but they were overlooked.

Senior BJP legislator Sunil Deshmukh, a victim of the scam, confirmed to Express that he felt cheated after purchasing the BBF machine. “There was no manual with the machines. It took me four hours to assemble it. Shockingly, I found the machine useless as it leaves the seeds open and not under the soil. No crop can be grown using this technique,” he said.

Maharashtra's chief minister Devendra Fadnavis speaks to his staff at his official residence in Mumbai. |Reuters
Maharashtra’s chief minister Devendra Fadnavis speaks to his staff at his official residence in Mumbai. | (File Photo/Reuters)

Deshmukh’s close aide revealed to Express that the BBF machine supplier approached the legislator from Amravati after his complaint and “requested” a “compromise”. Deshmukh, however, declined. He also refused to comment on the supplier’s request. However, he said he was determined to take the issue to its logical end. “One BBF machine directly causes a loss of Rs 13,500 to a farmer and Rs 34,000 to the exchequer. The farmers are already debt ridden. They can’t withstand more financial loss. The Agriculture Department did not even bother to obtain feedback from the farmers on whether they were satisfied with the machine,” he said.A former bureaucrat said, “It is mandatory to make the machines only in the State. However, the suppliers got the machines from Rajkot, Gujarat. It is a serious breach if the design of the BBF machines was not up to the mark.”