NAGPUR, Maharashtra — District officials told HuffPost India that over 300 permissions for fodder camps in Maharashtra’s Beed were granted by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Pankaja Munde-Palve since the camps began in February 2019.
An internal government report, HuffPost India noted, had found that NGOs propped up by the BJP and Shiv Sena were over-charging the state government for drought-relief cattle fodder camps they were running. BJP leader from Beed Rajendra Maske and Shiv Sena’s Beed district president Kundalik Khande were found to be running the highest number of camps, HuffPost India found.
As recently as a month ago, all permissions to set up fodder camps had to be sanctioned by the guardian minister of the district and Munde-Palve was the guardian minister for Beed.
District officials told HuffPost India that over 300 permissions were granted by Munde-Palve, before the powers to do so were transferred to the district collector.
“Corruption in fodder camps is a bitter truth. Over 17,000 fewer cattle were found in 18 camps during an official inspection in Beed,” said Dhananjay Munde, the leader of the opposition from the Nationalist Congress Party. “All these camps were given only notices. When will you file FIR’s against them?”
Munde noted that Sub Divisional Magistrate Shobha Jadhav had been intimidated by Shiv Sena leader Kundalik Khande when she went to inspect the Kolarwadi fodder camp run by Shiv Sena’s Beed district convenor Gorakh Singham.
“The lady official was threatened by those running this camp,” Munde asked the government in the upper house of Maharashtra legislature. “A local journalist, who reported on this issue, was given death threats. When will you act against such people?”
Corruption Cottage Industry
Local officials told HuffPost India that cattle fodder camps were first set up in large numbers in Beed, in central Maharashtra, during the 2017 drought.
“The drought situation in Marathwada created the need for these fodder camps,” the official said. “In practice, it is impossible for the administration to provide subsidies to farmers to feed their cattle which is why fodder camps are the best way to help them.”
The district administration was unable to run such a large number of camps, and so decided to sub-contract the work out to NGOs.
“It is true that they are supported by local politicians but I don’t see anything wrong in that,” the official said, seeking anonymity to praise the government. “What is wrong if a politician is supporting the farmers by opening up fodder camps?”
The problem, as HuffPost India found, is that the camps have become a veritable cottage industry of corruption.
These people are playing politics in a drought situation. The fodder camps are not to feed cattle but to feed ruling party workers.
Maske is considered close to Munde-Palve, who had convinced Maske — one of the leaders exposed by HuffPost India — to quit the Maratha group Shiv Sangram and join the BJP.
“The guardian minister of any particular district is behind the allotment of Chara Chavni. The collectors act on their instructions,” said Raju Shetty, a former Member of Parliament and president of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna, a farmers group. “These people are playing politics in a drought situation. The fodder camps are not to feed cattle but to feed ruling party workers.”
Munde-Palve did not respond to multiple calls from HuffPost India. Khande denied that he is running any camp in Beed but admitted that he helped 40 of his party workers to get sanctions for fodder camps. Maske claimed that he is running only three fodder camps.
Gods on Earth
The saddest part of Maharashtra’s fodder scam is that the ruling alliance is stealing from the state’s drought-hit farmers at a time when climate change is only likely to worsen their plight.
Yet farmers appear unaware of the corruption conducted in their name.
“If not for chara chavani, I would have had to sell my cattle and migrate somewhere else in search of employment,” said Sukhram Thorat, a 45 year old farmer who owns six acres of land near Aherwadagaon in Beed district. The camps had been lifesavers for local farmers, Thorat said.
“The people running camps are like Devachi Manas,” said Thorat, describing the camp administrators as “God’s people”.
Opposition Demands Inquiry
Opposition politicians have demanded a probe into allegations that the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance was fraudulently enriching its own political workers by embezzling funds meant for drought-hit farmers.
Maharashtra Congress president, and former Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan has also demanded an inquiry in this scam after HuffPost India’s report.
Opposition members raised this issue in the Monsoon session of the Maharashtra Legislative Council after a HuffPost India investigation indicated that corrupt BJP and Shiv Sena leaders in Beed district could be embezzling upto Rs 14.5 lakhs a day.