VISAKHAPATNAM: In a surprise raid on the International Society for Krishna Consciousness’ (ISKCON) Sagar Nagar office in Visakhapatnam on Monday night, officials of the Vigilance and Enforcement Department unearthed alleged illegal diversion of rice meant for mid-day meals to a private company based in Kakinada and from there, to other cities.
It is suspected that the rice might have even been smuggled to other countries through containers by the Kakinada-based agency. The V&E and civil supplies officials seized a huge quantity of PDS rice kept for transporting in a lorry.
ISKCON is the agency entrusted with the task of providing mid-day meals in government schools in the State.
Acting on reliable information, the V&E officials raided the Sagar Nagar office and found workers loading rice bags into a lorry bearing registration number AP 31TT0457 allegedly for illegal transportation.
Nearly 110 gunny bags of rice was loaded into the lorry at the time of the raid.
ISKCON denies allegations
ISKCON denied diversion of mid-day meal rice. President of ISKCON, Visakhapatnam, Samba Das, said, “We collect rice from different donors. As rice donated is not of good quality, we sell the rice and get quality rice. Our former manager, whom we removed for misbehaving with women, gave false information to the vigilance officials. We have all the receipts of mid-day meal rice and the officers checked them”.
District collector Vinay Chand is learnt to have asked ISKCON to submit their version.
“When questioned, lorry owner-cum-driver Gavara Eswar Rao and worker V Sanyasi Rao alias Sunny admitted that they were transporting mid-day meal scheme rice to Kakinada after filling it into plastic bags from civil supplies department bags. The priest, Shyam Sundar Priya Das, who is responsible for preparation of mid-day meal on behalf of ISKCON, is behind the illegal diversion, the officials said in a release. The priest himself had called the lorry driver through V Sanyasi Rao.
Apart from 110 gunny bags (which comes to 5.5 metric tonnes) of MDM rice in the lorry, 286 bags of rice were also shifted into plastic bags from civil supplies gunny bags. A total of 396 bags weighing 19.80 metric tonnes (19,800 kilos) worth ` 5.94 lakh was shifted from civil supplies gunny bags into plastic bags and were kept ready for transportation.
The white gunny bags had the letters ‘Saelony and Export Par Sri Sitaramanajaneya, Kakinada’ written on them, which revealed that the rice was ready for transportation to Kakinada.
The V&E officials in Visakhapatnam alerted their counterparts in East Godavari district and in their raids at undisclosed locations in Kakinada, the officials are said to have seized a huge quantity of rice loaded in gunny bags.
“They are claiming that the gunny bags were made at Purna Market in Visakhapatnam but in our investigation, we came to know that the bags were brought from Kakinada,’’ a V&E officer told TNIE.
Stating that the alleged illegal diversion was taking place for the past few months, the officials said the rice might have been transported to other countries.
Civil supplies officials seized a total stock of 396 bags of rice in plastic gunny bags and 888 bags of rice in civil supplies gunny bags along with the lorry.
Cases were booked under the Essential Commodities Act 1955 against Gavara Eswar Rao, V Sanyasi Rao, manager MSN Murthy and priest of ISKCON Shyam Sundar Priya Das.
“Our verification revealed that ISKCON has not maintained the stock register after March 2019 and no officer from the education department or any other officer has inspected the stocks after February 2019. This gave scope for Shyam Sundar Priya Das to divert mid-day meal rice,’’ DSP and in-charge Regional Vigilance and Enforcement Office (RVEO), Visakhapatnam district, K Sravani, said.
ISKCON, however, denied diversion of mid-day meal rice.
When contacted, president of ISKCON, Visakhapatnam, Samba Das, said, “Apart from mid-day meal programme to schools and hospitals, we collect rice from different donors. As rice donated is not good in quality, we sell the rice and get quality rice for cooking. Our former manager, whom we removed for misbehaving with women, gave false information to the vigilance officials about diversion of mid-day meal rice. We have all the receipts and the officers checked them.”
ISKCON officials reportedly spoke to the district collector, who asked them to submit their version.