The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) on Monday conducted ‘surprise checks’ at Consumerfed outlets and warehouses across the State and claimed that the apex body of consumer cooperative societies in Kerala had, at least in the past two years, procured essential commodities at higher than market rates from ‘favoured private suppliers’ and, in the process, caused huge loss to the government and ‘betrayed’ its stated aim of making available provisions at the lowest rate to consumers.
Investigators, who spearheaded the anti-corruption drive, code-named ‘Operation Annapurna,’ said that between April and July this year alone, the Consumerfed in Kollam district had purchased 18,66,199.3 kg of ‘Jaya Rice’ at Rs. 28.50 per kg when the market rate was Rs. 24.20 per kg.
The private suppliers, a set of wholesale rice traders, had procured the boiled rice from grain processing factories in Andhra Pradesh at a much lower rate and supplied it to the Consumerfed at higher than local market prices. They said the same pattern was seen in other districts also.
Investigators found large quantities of inferior quality rice, red chilli, jaggery, cumin, black gram and coriander, all the items procured from wholesale traders at exaggerated rates, ‘left unattended and spoiling’ at Consumerfed warehouses in the State.
Much of it had been returned by secondary societies, including Neethi stores, after consumers rejected the commodities due to their bad quality and exaggerated pricing.
Investigators said there was serious mismatch between actual stock and that shown on registers kept at Consumerfed warehouses. Deficit in net content of commodities stocked at warehouses, chiefly due to in-house pilferage, was seen.
The VACB said there was no proper accounting or auditing. The Consumerfed has incurred an estimated loss of Rs. 30 crore.
Large amounts of money were seen spent under the head ‘entertainment expenses.’ It made indiscriminate voucher payments to its staff on unverified expense claims.
The VACB noticed serious corruption and nepotism in the appointment of staff. VACB director Mahesh Kumar Singhla headed the operation.