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Fuming at scam, boss goes on leave
- Secretary upset over graft: Officials

Calcutta, Sept. 13: Food commissioner and additional chief secretary Kalyani Chaudhuri has gone on a month’s leave “without citing any reason” in the wake of the alleged paddy procurement scam involving the food department.

Officials in the department said “madam has gone on leave” since yesterday.

“I know that Chaudhuri has gone on leave for a month. Do not ask me why,” food minister Paresh Adhikary told The Telegraph tonight.

Officials said Chaudhuri was “upset” because of the alleged involvement of some officials of her department in the “scam” in which around Rs 200 crore is said to have changed hands.

Bengal police’s enforcement branch found that some government officials colluded with rice mill owners and denied farmers the minimum price guaranteed by the state for their produce. Black-marketeers also pocketed quick gains from grains meant for common people.

Paddy was allegedly procured at Rs 400 a quintal, instead of the Rs 590 promised by the government. “In the process, money changed hands from the top to bottom,” enforcement branch additional director-general Bhupinder Singh said.

The revelations embarrassed the government already reeling under reports of starvation deaths in West Midnapore.

A food department official said: “Chaudhuri had taken strong exception to the manner in which a section of officials had allegedly minted money.”

The department has ordered an internal probe. “A special team has been formed to investigate the scam. I have instructed officials to furnish all the papers relating to paddy procurement this year. I am personally monitoring the probe,” the minister said.

Officials have been asked to visit godowns across the state for a reality check. They will scan documents and submit a report within a fortnight.

When asked about the enforcement probe, Adhikary said: “Let the police do their own job. I have to get to the bottom of any malpractice in my department.”

The enforcement branch had alleged the involvement of officials of the Food Corporation of India (FCI), State Consumers’ Co-operative Federation (Confed), district co-operatives and rice mill owners.

According to norms, Confed, the nodal agency for paddy procurement on FCI’s behalf, buys paddy from farmers at prices fixed by the government and sends it to mills where it is processed into rice.

The rice reaches FCI warehouses before making it to ration shops.

Preliminary investigation has revealed that officials padded up figures about the paddy inventories in godowns. Better quality rice was sold at a premium in the market and mill owners were even allowed to purchase paddy directly from the farmers.

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