Black hens fail to lay golden eggs

Mumbai: In recent times, even as politicians are being summoned for questioning by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), on Friday, it was the turn of a politician to walk into the offices of the central agency of his own accord.

The leader of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana, Raju Shetti, approached the ED to lodge a complaint, urging it to probe the financial irregularities to the tune of Rs 500 crore, committed by the chairman and the board of directors of Maharayat Agro Pvt Ltd, a poultry-rearing and marketing cooperative based in Islampur, Sangli district.

Stating that more than 10,000 farmers had been duped, Shetti demanded the bank accounts of the company officials be frozen immediately and they be questioned at the earliest. An FIR in connection with the scam was earlier lodged at a Pune police station.

Shetti alleged that the company had approached the farmers with proposal for rearing and marketing ‘Kadaknath’ chicken by promising hefty returns on bond papers. Furthermore, money was also collected towards procurement of chicken fodder, with the assurance that the investors would be supplied eggs and chicken. But even four-five months after making investments, the farmers did not get a single paisa in return.

In his complaint, Shetti alleged that even after a police case was registered against the chairman and board of directors of the firm, no action had been taken against them, as they are politically connected. Shetti has claimed that a minister, Sadabhau Khot, is related to one of the directors of this company. Khot has, however, denied these allegations.

The Rs 500-crore poultry project entailed the raising of Kadaknath hens, found in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, popular for their flesh which is rich in protein and iron and has a low fat content. The farmers were allegedly duped into rearing these hens with promises of high returns by Maharyat Agro India Pvt Ltd.

Shetti has alleged, "In this scheme, farmers are asked to invest cash, rear poultry and sell eggs as well as the hens. Along with the project head, every person has to invest Rs 75,000. The down payment is Rs 40,000 and the rest of the amount has to be paid in two instalments spread over three months. In this entire period, the company promises to provide food, medicines, vaccinations, and other equipment for 200 birds.

"After three months, the company leaves 100 hens and 20 roosters, taking away 80 birds from each farmer. After four-five months, when the hens began laying eggs, for the first 2,000 eggs, the farmer is promised Rs 50 per egg, for the second round of 2,000 eggs, Rs 30 per egg and for the next 3,500 eggs, a price of Rs 20 per egg. On this basis, the farmer is supposed to earn around Rs 2,30,000."

The directors, however, promised farmers Rs 2.75 lakh as assured returns. In exchange for Rs 75,000, the farmers were assured regular returns and promised they would be paid in two instalments. As a result, many farmers were lured into this scheme.

At Walwa taluka, in Kapurwadi, a farmer, Santosh Kadam, set up a cage for 600 Kadaknaths by investing Rs 7,20,000. But now, thousands of eggs are lying at home, unsold. He has no money to buy poultry feed and instead, he is feeding them leaves. He has borrowed a loan against his wife's small savings and had auctioned her gold to buy into this scheme. Now that the business has collapsed, he has no glimmer of hope.

By Debasish Panigrahi & FPJ Bureau

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