NAFED chairman Vaghjibhai Boda indicated that two major incidents of fire that gutted groundnut worth Rs 31 crore since February in Gujarat could have been a conspiracy to hide corruption in procurement.
The Gujarat government has been denying any sabotage in the two incidents.
National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (NAFED) chairman Vaghjibhai Boda said the state-government agencies, not NAFED, are directly involved in procuring groundnut from farmers.
His comments came in response to state Agricultural minister R C Faldu's remarks that groundnut was procured by the NAFED and that the state government had no role in procurement.
Groundnut worth Rs 3 crore, stored at a rented warehouse in Shapar industrial area near here, had gutted in fire last month.
In February, groundnut worth Rs 28 crore were gutted in fire at a godown in the Gondal taluka in Rajkot.
Boda said NAFED, a central nodal agency, was not directly involved in purchasing groundnut and has designated GUJCOT (Gujarat state co-operative cotton federation limited) to carry out procurement through its network in Gujarat.
Similarly, the warehouses for storage of procured groundnut were hired by another state agency - GSWC (Gujarat State Warehousing Co-operation), he told reporters here.
"We at NAFED has followed norms and guidelines. But, unfortunately, these local agencies (GUJCOT, GSWC) have not followed the Central agency's guidelines while hiring warehouses, resulting in fire destroying huge stock of groundnut," Boda added.
Responding to Faldu's remarks, Boda said the minister was misinformed.
"It is wrong to say that NAFED was responsible. His remarks are far from the truth. Either he was not given proper information about this issue or he has not studied the matter," he said.
The NAFED chief also indicated that warehouses might have been intentionally set on fire to hide the alleged corrupt practices in procuring groundnut.
"There is no doubt that some businessmen worked in connivance with those who worked at the groundnut procurement centres to siphon off good quality stock and then deposit sub-standard stock back at warehouse in gunny bags with NAFED logo" alleged Boda.
"I can not digest the claims (of police) that fire was caused due to some kind of accident. I firmly believe that such incidents happened out of malafide intentions of some people," he alleged.
Reacting to NAFED chairman's claims, Congress leaders reiterated their demand for an inquiry by a sitting judge of the high court or supreme court.
"It is now clear that warehouses were intentionally set on fire to hide large scale corruption in procuring groundnut. It was a conspiracy by the BJP government to save its people who were involved in this racket. NAFED chairman today gave approval to what we have been saying since day one," said Leader of Opposition in Gujarat Assembly, Paresh Dhanani.
State unit Congress president Amit Chavda alleged that the BJP government played a key role in setting these warehouses on fire to hide corruption.
Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Nitin Patel said it might be possible that some people "may have tried to misuse the system".
"However, majority of the groundnut purchased from farmers is of good quality. Even NAFED have started the process of selling the groundnut in the market," Patel told reporters in Ahmedabad.
Following today's developments, Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani said the state government is taking adequate steps in this regard.
"If needed, our government will take some more steps. We are in no mood to spare the guilty" Vaghani told reporters in Gandhinagar.