Party alleges embezzlement of Rs.34 crore as coffee farmers launch an indefinite hunger strike at the Paderu mandal ITDA Project Office

Can a government official remain silent if his/her salary is not paid on the first of the month? They have, however, kept poor coffee farmers waiting for over four years to pay their dues due to alleged misappropriation of funds sanctioned for the coffee project by some unscrupulous officials and others.

The coffee farmers, who have been on a relay hunger strike for the last three days, launched an indefinite hunger strike in front of the office of the ITDA Project Officer here on Friday.

One leader from each of the 11 mandals in the Agency area is participating in the fast.

Addressing the gathering, CPI(M) State Secretariat member Ch. Narasinga Rao demanded that criminal action be taken against the officials, who were involved in misappropriation of Rs.34 crore and immediate payment of arrears to all coffee farmers.

Extending full support to the Girijan Sangham, which was organising the agitation in association with the CPI(M) District Committee, he said the fast would not be called off till justice was done to the tribal people.

The tribal people, who came from different mandals in the Agency, braved intermittent showers to listen to the CPI(M) leaders. Some of them were overheard asking others, and they expressed astonishment when told that Rs.34 crore was embezzled by officials.

Mr. Narasinga Rao said a total of Rs.33.47 crore of the Rs.45.45 crore drawn from the bank was misappropriated for the works done under the coffee project in the 11 Agency mandals.

A survey done by the CPI(M) team had revealed that several beneficiaries were forced to sign for the amounts not given to them, and some were forced to give their fingerprints without payment of any money.

The findings were confirmed by the social audits conducted in two of the mandals while in other mandals the audits were pending.

He said that during the last six months only Rs.28 lakh arrears were paid to coffee farmers in just one mandal.

He alleged that the coffee extension project in the tribal areas was taken up to promote a private foundation but not the welfare of tribal people.

He predicted a shortfall of foodgrains in the tribal areas in future as a vast extent was being converted into coffee plantations without proper planning.

He appealed to the tribal people not to tolerate corruption and called for social boycott of all those who indulged in corruption. He also appealed to all political parties to support the cause of tribal people.

CPI(M) Paderu division secretary M. Suryanarayana said clubbing of the Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS) with the Coffee Project in 2009 paved the way for large-scale corruption. He alleged a similar scam had also taken place in ‘pippalla modi’ (minor forest produce) project in Chintapalli mandal in which Rs.36 lakh was misappropriated.

He alleged that the Tribal Welfare Minister was bringing pressure on the district officials not to go ahead with the inquiry in this regard.