KARNATAKA

Cartel may be behind racket in FCI rice, say police

MANGALORE, JUNE 1. The rice racket unearthed some time ago may have international links and the possibility of a cartel being behind it cannot be ruled out, says Ravindranath, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Corps of Detectives (CoD).

Addressing a press conference here today along with the Inspector General of Police (CoD), Sushanth Mahapatra, and the Superintendent of Police (CoD), Krishnam Raju, Dr. Ravindranath, who is the investigating officer, said that 39 traders had been questioned in connection with the case.

One person, Mahadevan of S.S. Maritime, had been arrested for his alleged involvement in trading in foodgrains belonging to the Food Corporation of India (FCI), he said. The value of the 3,42,000 bags (50 kg each) of rice confiscated from various godowns in the State was Rs. 13.20 crore. The investigating team had also recovered some documents vital to the investigation, Dr. Ravindranath said. The arrested person had been remanded in judicial custody till June 6, he said.

Teams of investigators were working in Bangarpet and Hassan also and clues had been found indicating the involvement of national-level traders, shipping firms and clearing and forwarding agents in the trading of the FCI rice. Dr. Ravindranath said 39 traders and three mills in the State were selling rice to three exporters, namely, Tayal Agro, Sharp Menthol India and Mittal Agro India, all Delhi-based companies.

The confiscated rice was meant for some African countries. It was to have been loaded on to a ship scheduled to berth at the New Mangalore Port on May 26 but, for some reason, the ship did not berth there. The international trading was being undertaken by a Swiss company on a letter of credit (LoC) favouring the company. The ship was to have carried 17,000 tonnes of rice.

The investigation so far had revealed that the rice was procured by the traders from the mills at Rs. 7.60 a kg and sold at Rs. 8.50 a kg to the three trading houses in Delhi. All the rice found in the godowns, including those in the New Mangalore Port, belonged to the FCI.

The investigating team had asked the University of Agricultural Sciences to ascertain the quality of the rice to determine whether it was meant for social welfare schemes for the poor or for commercial trading.

The investigators had also questioned some Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) officials in Hassan, Bangarpet and Mangalore, Dr. Ravindranath, said and hinted that some more arrests were likely to be made.