KASARAGOD: The Chengala-based agriculture officer P T Aji -- who was recently arrested for taking a bribe from a senior farmer -- was earlier suspended from service for more than two years for "grave irregularities" when he was in Thrissur, according to documents accessed by The New Indian Express.
The Special Vigilance Cell, probing his bribery case, had also discovered that he had procured his BSc Agriculture degree from Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Agra by "deceitful means."
The vigilance cell has now recommended the cancellation of the certificate.
The "deceitful" officer was promoted by the government which eventually saw him find his way to Kasaragod district, "the undeclared land of punishment transfers."
The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) on December 7 arrested Aji red-handed for demanding and taking Rs 5,000 from a farmer, who was working as the government's resource person to promote eco-friendly farming.
Subsequently, when the officials checked his service file, they found a dubious history.
When Aji, a native of Kumbalam near Kochi, was an agricultural assistant at the Krishi Bhavan at Mulavukad in Ernakulam district, he submitted a BSc (Agriculture) certificate from Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar University for promotion as an agricultural officer.
According to his certificate, he had passed out from the university in 2002. But the Principal Agricultural Officer of Ernakulam found that he had not taken permission or leave to complete a four-year course between 1998 and 2002.
An enquiry by the Special Vigilance Cell found that he had applied for a study leave without allowance for five years in January 1999, but cancelled it after seven months.
But the department found that he had taken leaves for 487 days between October 1998 and May 2002 and Aji said he availed the different leaves to complete the four-year degree course. "It is impossible because he will be woefully falling short of the required attendance," said a VACB officer in Kasaragod on Thursday.
Back then, the Special Vigilance Cell had concluded that Aji "acquired the certificate through deceitful means" and recommended its cancellation and action against him.
A retired professor of Kerala Agriculture University said a four-year course will have eight semesters. Each semester has 125 days of classes, including examinations. "Most of the universities demand at least 80% attendance. That means, he should be in the class for at least 80 days in every semester."
In four years, he should be in class for at least 800 of the 1000 days. By his own account, he was absent from work only for 487 days. "If he got a certificate from the Agra university, it is definitely by fraudulent means," he said.
But the state government, instead of checking whether he attended the classes and how he managed to get the certificate, checked if the BSc Agriculture course offered by Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar University in Agra was recognized by the universities in Kerala.
The Kerala Agricultural University, Mahatma Gandhi University, and Calicut University wrote to the government saying the course was recognized by the universities.
The government relied on the recognition of the course to accept Aji's certificate and decided to promote him as an Agricultural Officer in "due turn".
It, however, recommended action against him for completing the course without informing the department or taking leave. That was in November 2013.
Cut to 2017. Aji is now an agricultural officer of Kodassery Krishi Bhavan in Thrissur. On December 1, 2017, the Deputy Director (DD) of Agriculture in Thrissur conducted a surprise inspection at Aji's office. The DD's inspection found Aji had committed "grave irregularities, which included unauthorised absence, laxity in implementing the panchayat schemes, non-accounting of the sale proceeds of coconut seedlings, vegetable seeds, non-maintenance of log book of office vehicle, improper maintenance of movement register, work diary and cash book".
Now one may wonder if there is any other responsibility left for an agricultural officer.
Based on the report of the Deputy Director of Agriculture, the director of the department suspended Aji on January 1, 2018. "The suspension was revoked only after more than two years," said the VACB officer in Kasaragod. In December 2021, Aji was arrested for taking a bribe.
Is it another case of the government sending the bad apples to Kasaragod? The retired professor said: "Not bad apples. Rotten apples".