Agriculture minister Yogendra Sao’s official residence at Sector II of Dhurwa, Ranchi, on Friday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Ranchi, June 27: Decimated by Lok Sabha polls and fighting to revive its demoralised flock before Vidhan Sabha elections, Jharkhand Pradesh Congress pulled up agriculture minister and Congress MLA Yogendra Sao for engaging Birsa Agricultural University (BAU) contractual workers to oversee farming at his official residence in Dhurwa.
Senior Congress leaders deplored that BAU workers, allegedly paid for their labour by the varsity, worked in the minister’s farm on the backyard of his official residence and that his private assistant Mukesh Kumar happened to be his brother-in-law.
“Nothing should be done (by anyone) that can portray the party in a bad light. It creates a wrong impression,” state Congress president Sukhdeo Bhagat said.
“Earlier, it was agreed upon that Congress ministers in the government wouldn’t induct relatives as personal staff. We did not know this (Sao’s case). The party will definitely inquire into this matter.”
Contacted, Jharkhand Assembly Speaker Shashank Shekhar Bhokta of the JMM and former Speaker C.P. Singh of the BJP, despite their rival political dispensations, argued there was no constitutional or legal bar on ministers appointing relatives as personal staff.
However, Bhokta threw in the fine print of “convention’. “That a minister’s relatives should not be hired is a convention expected to be followed. Though there is no specific rule, sometimes convention is more powerful than law,” Bhokta said.
However, the farming activities of the Congress legislator from Barkagaon in Hazaribagh have given grist to the BJP mills. The lotus party is bullish about wresting the chief minister’s chair in Jharkhand.
Former chief minister, BJP veteran and leader of the Opposition Arjun Munda wondered caustically: “People would like to know if the minister deployed contractual workers of university to do some agricultural research work or to grow vegetables to meet his kitchen requirements.”
Authorities in BAU, which is already in the eye of an ugly storm concerning its VC M.P. Pandey, minister Sao and Raj Bhavan, when asked to explain the circumstances under which the minister could use the university’s manpower, indulged in bureaucratic jargon.
“The deputation was done according to certain provisions,” said an official but couldn’t pinpoint the provision.
R.P. Singh Ratan, director, extension education, BAU — who is considered close to minister Sao and is now officiating as BAU vice chancellor authorised by Kolhan commissioner K.K. Khandelwal after Raj Bhavan stripped Pandey of powers — tried to downplay the matter.
“There must be some provision under which BAU’s permanent or contractual staffers are deputed for works at Raj Bhavan or at the minister’s residence,” Ratan said.
Failing to explain the “provision”, he took recourse in an alibi. “In the past too, BAU’s contractual staff stayed in the service of ministers. But I will certainly bring this matter to the notice of the chancellor (governor Syed Ahmed).”
But a peek at Sao’s official residence in Dhurwa today certainly proved one thing. The minister, who has failed to make any impact on Jharkhand’s agriculture sector, has certainly sprouted a backyard green revolution.
Lady’s fingers, cucumbers, gourds and the likes are flourishing. A maize crop looked ready for harvest next month. A clean pond with fish was an eye-catcher.
“What do you want? What will you do with the camera? What picture do you want here? The minister is resting right now,” Anil Kumar, who called himself the minister’s officer on special duty, lobbed a volley of questions.
Before The Telegraph could ask Mahaveer Mahto, the gardener trimming the front-facing lawn, any questions, he was asked by one of the “aides” to leave.
Anil, meanwhile, advertised the son-of-the-soil credentials of “Saoji”. “He is less a minister and more a farmer. He is very committed about his work,” Anil said.
“Kabhi kabhi to woh khud hi kudali lekar pahuch jaate hain. Hazaribagh mein unke ghar par kheti dekhiyega to dang rah jaiyega. Sab chizon ko bariki se dekhate hain (Sometimes, he turns up with a pickaxe. If you see his home in Hazaribagh, you will be stunned, he pays so much attention to detail),” Pankaj, a computer operator at Sao’s residence-cum-office, said.
The loyalty is commendable. Asked on comment on the contribution of BAU’s scientists and workers to the minister’s farm, an aide diverted the query to a discourse on mangoes. “Iss aam ke ped ko dekhiye. Bahut phal lage hain (See this mango tree. It is laden with fruits),” he smiled politely.