Home Dehradun SIT to probe ‘scams’ in Horticulture Dept during Baweja’s tenure

SIT to probe ‘scams’ in Horticulture Dept during Baweja’s tenure

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By Arun Pratap Singh

Dehradun, 1 Aug: The Dhami government has decided to conduct an SIT probe into the ‘scams’ that allegedly took place during the tenure of Dr Harvinder Baweja as Director, Horticulture. It may be recalled that Dr Baweja had been suspended some weeks ago on charges of corruption. Baweja had been serving in Uttarakhand since 2021 as Director of Horticulture on deputation from Himachal Pradesh.

The order for the SIT investigation has been issued by Special Secretary, Home, Ridhim Aggarwal in this regard. SSP, Almora, SP, CB-CID, Haldwani, and officers of the Agriculture Department have been included as members of the SIT to be headed by IG, CID. Sources have claimed that several other officials of the state horticulture department are also on the radar for the same scam.

Baweja was brought from Himachal to Uttarakhand in 2021 but faced heat here when certain horticulture farmers from the state had staged a demonstration against him in Dehradun. However, the issue died down after a few rounds of mediation and Dr Baweja continued as the Horticulture Director. Sources in the horticulture department claim Dr Baweja has faced corruption charges in Himachal Pradesh and that the HP Government has also filed a chargesheet against him. However, there has been no official confirmation of this claim, so far.

Dr Baweja was suspended by the Government when BJP MLA Durgesh La,l who is considered close to CM Pushkar Singh Dhami, had levelled serious charges alleging a scam in the Jarmolda Horticultural Nursery in Uttarkashi. Lal had also made viral a video in support of his allegation.

Significantly, no Horticulture Director in Uttarakhand has had a peaceful tenure. With the order of SIT inquiry, the troubles for Dr Baweja may increase. So far, there was a departmental inquiry being conducted against him by Secretary, Horticulture, Dr BVRC Purushottam, the details of which are not public.

The allegations faced by Dr Baweja include that he was responsible for the sharp rise in price of Kiwi planting material sold to the farmers and had also delayed the procurement and distribution of ginger and turmeric planting material (the rhizomes called as seeds by the farmers). He has also been accused of spending more money than the allocation for participation in an International Horticulture Festival and of irregularities in accreditation of nurseries and of ensuring undue benefits to certain farmers. Apart from this, there were also allegations of irregularities in nursery allocation. Baweja was also accused of providing benefits to the farmers contrary to the norms. Allegations against him had started floating soon after he took over. Dr HS Baweja had come to Uttarakhand on deputation from Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture & Forestry in Himachal Pradesh.

It remains to be seen if the government will be able to prove the allegations against him. In the past, too, a prominent apple scientist Dr DR Gautam also from the same university had joined Uttarakhand as Director, Horticulture. He was accused of procuring some latest hybrid apple planting material from Europe for research and propagation without adequate prior sanction. An inquiry was ordered against him after his return to Himachal, which was never completed. The inquiry led to withholding of his pension after his retirement in HP but no charges were proven and he passed away in Solan (HP) without getting any pension.

Several other Directors of Horticulture in the state have been removed rather unceremoniously after being brought here from other high profile posts. Now, the government has created a post of Director General of Agriculture in place of Director, Horticulture, who will head both the Agriculture and the Horticulture Departments though there is no merger of the departments due to strong opposition by the lower staff from both the departments.