The levy rice from Punjab meant for public distribution was allegedly diverted to a rice mill in Hassan, an inquiry has revealed. The rice collected as levy from rice mills in Punjab was allegedly diverted from a godown of the Food Corporation of India in Hassan to the rice mill.

The officials, with the help of the local police, seized 305 quintals and 40 kg of rice worth an estimated Rs. 9 lakh and a lorry from Guru New Tech Rice Mill in Hassan on August 15. The officials of the Food and Civil Supplies Department have found credible records to show that the rice in question was collected as levy from rice mills in Punjab.

An official of the department told The Hindu on the condition of anonymity that during the search in the rice mill the staff found labels on the seized bags that the commodity was collected as levy in Punjab. “The labels are credible documents to prove the case”, the officer said. Punjab government had collected rice as levy from rice mills. It is suspected that the rice stored in godown of Food Corporation of India in Hassan, from where the bags were allegedly diverted to the mill.

No licence

The rice mill has licence for hulling rice. “The mill owner’s business is to purchase paddy and convert it into rice. He has no licence to procure rice. If he did not intend to do any illegal act, where was the need to procure rice, when his business pertains to hulling rice?” said an official, who is part of the team conducting the probe.

Now it is suspected that without the involvement of official machinery, the levy rice could have not been diverted to the rice mill in Hassan. According to the officials concerned, the owner had intended to polish the rice procured and release the same to open market to make huge profit.

Lab reports awaited

V. Anbukkumar, Deputy Commissioner, recently told the media that the samples of rice seized were sent to laboratories to verify if rice was the same meant for the public distribution system. He had said that the laboratory reports would help the investigation. However, another official, on the condition of anonymity, said that the accused could not be convicted on the basis of quality and grade of the rice seized.

“The laboratory tests can only report the quality of the rice. As the rice market is vast, only 40 per cent of the rice produced is procured for the public distribution system, the rest is sold in the open market. The lab reports will not be of any help to track the movement of these rice bags”, the officer said.

Political pressure

The investigation into the case is being conducted both by the police and the district administration involving tahsildars and senior officers of the Food and Civil Supplies Department. Ravi D. Channanavar, Superintendent of Police, told The Hindu that the owner of the rice mill, who was arrested, had disowned the rice seized. “We are waiting for reports from the Food and Civil Supplies Department for conducting further inquiry”, he said.

The officials admit that they had been under pressure from political leaders in the course of investigation as the owner of the rice mill has political connections. The rice mill owner’s family has another rice mill, which had allegedly involved in the rice scam that hit the headlines in 2004.

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