Punjab minister blames official for pesticide scam

Chandigarh, Sep 28 (IANS) A war of words over the pesticide scam in Punjab escalated on Monday as Agriculture Minister Tota Singh blamed a senior agriculture department official for the procurement of spurious pesticide to deal with whitefly pest attack on the cotton crop in the state.

The scam hit the Parkash Singh Badal government after farmers suffered losses running into hundreds of crores due to the attack by whitefly on the cotton crop.

After agriculture department director Mangal Singh Sandhu’s statement in a section of the media that put the blame on Tota Singh and even pointed to Chief Minister Badal’s involvement in decision-making on purchase of pesticide, the minister on Monday said the officer was muddling the facts to save his own skin.

“All the ministers are directly responsible for the decisions taken in their departments and the chief minister’s involvement is sought only on matters of policy and inter-departmental concerns. Therefore, there was no ground for involving the chief minister in the present case,” Tota Singh said in a statement here.

“It was incumbent on the part of the officer to follow laid down procedure for the procurement of pesticides. Mangal Singh is now indulging in a blame game, thereby shifting the onus from one person to another indiscreetly, which is unbecoming of an officer of the stature of head of the department. The officer has shown scant respect for the official decorum and botched bare facts related to the purchase of pesticides just to save his skin,” Tota Singh said, taking strong exception to the “irresponsible utterances” of Sandhu.

Under fire from different quarters for the pesticide purchase mess, the state government removed Sandhu as agriculture director on September 17.

Sandhu was accused of purchasing pesticide Oberon that failed to tackle the whitefly menace.

He allegedly placed an order to buy 92,000 litres of Oberon – which was not recommended by Ludhiana-based Punjab Agricultural University – without floating tenders or competitive bidding.

Sandhu’s shifting was, however, stayed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Monday.

Meanwhile, the opposition Congress on Monday demanded a judicial probe into the pesticide scam and sought the immediate resignation of the agriculture minister.

Congress leader Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa alleged that Sandhu’s revelations made it clear that the scam took place in the agriculture department with the knowledge of the minister concerned.

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