Kadaknath: 3 held after FIRs lodged

Pune: Three officials of a poultry firm have been arrested after farmers from several districts in Maharashtra lodged cases against the company for allegedly duping them of several crores of rupees on the pretext of helping them rear 'Kadaknath' chickens, police said on Tuesday. The black meat of the 'Kadaknath' chicken breed is popular in parts of central India, primarily Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, for its nutritional and medicinal values, with a kilogram of it selling at rates as high as Rs 900. Cultivators have accused the Sangli-headquartered Maharayat Agro India Private Ltd of swindling their investments in the name of business plans for rearing and "buy-back" of Kadaknath poultry birds.

So far, several cases have been registered against the firm in Sangli, Satara, Pune, Kolhapur, Palghar, Nashik, and Aurangabad, Pune's Dattawadi police station's assistant police inspector Shankar Salgar said. While police are yet to ascertain the scam amount, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana (SSS) leader Raju Shetti claimed farmers have been duped of nearly Rs 550 crore and demanded a probe by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the matter.

He claimed the culprits are related to a politician. Pune police earlier this month registered a case in connection with the 'scam' against the Sangli-based firm's founder director Sudhir Mohite, and other directors - Hanumant Jagdale and Sandip Mohite - for allegedly duping over 100 farmers of more than Rs 3 crore, Salgar said.

Similarly, the Islampur police station in Sangli registered a case against the firm's directors for cheating farmers of over Rs 10 crore, another official said. "Around 600 to 700 farmers from various districts have approached us and filed their complaints," he said.

So far three persons - Sandip Mohite, Hanumant Jagdale, and Pritam Mane, an accountant in the firm's Pune office - have been arrested, he said. "While Mohite and Jagdale were arrested by Sangli police, Mane was arrested by Pune police," he said.

Sudhir Mohite and two others wanted in the case are still at large, he said, adding that the case has now been transferred to Sangli police's Economic Offences Wing (EOW). One of the complainants, Nilesh Ambede, alleged that he invested Rs 2.5 lakh in the company's scheme but it did not deliver the chicks as promised. He claimed the company promised that it would buy back the full-grown chicken at Rs 300 per bird, he said.

Based on his complaint, the Pune police registered a case against the firm's officials under Indian Penal Code Sections 407, 409 (criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating) and 34 (common intention), Salgar said. Salgar said the firm - previously known as Rayat Agro India Ltd - was set up at Islampur in Sangli in 2017. It came up with various plans about Kadaknath chicken for which it received investments from farmers. In return, it used to provide 200 chicks (newly hatched birds) of the breed to the cultivators, he said. "The plan was that the farmer will rear the birds at his farm and once the chicken starts laying eggs, the firm will buy the eggs at Rs 20 to Rs 60 per piece," he said. The farmers were also told that once the bird is full- grown, the firm will buy it at Rs 600 to Rs 1,200 per chicken, Salgar said.

Initially, farmers received good returns, but once the investor base increased, issues started cropping up and farmers began to complain. "Some farmers complained that they paid the investment amount but did not receive any chicks, some said the firm took the eggs but did not give them their returns, some alleged that the special food for chicks, as promised by the firm, did not get delivered," the official said.

Some farmers also complained that when they went to the company's offices in Sangli and Pune, they were closed. Salgar said the affected farmers from various places in the state were approaching the police in this connection. "It seems that the firm's plans were impractical, as you see no egg brand is selling their eggs at Rs 20 to Rs 60 per piece. When farmers asked these questions to the firm's officials, they told them that after buying eggs, they would incubate them to produce chickens," he said.

The firm did not have an agreement with any chicken meat trader or brand to sell the Kadaknath chickens, he said. "This shows the investment plans were largely on paper. There are cases in which people invested up to Rs 10 lakh but did not get any chicks or other incentives," he said. Sunil Sutar, the Sangli district chief of Prahar Janshakti Party, said looking at the scam's magnitude, they want the Crime Investigation Department (CID) to probe it. Shetti, who has sought an ED inquiry into the scam, alleged that the total scam is worth Rs 550 crore and more than 10,000 farmers across the state have been affected. "We are seeking an ED probe to track the cash flow as the firm's balance sheet shows only Rs 95 crore," he said. The SSS workers on Monday tried to fling the Kadaknath chickens and eggs in the way of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' convoy during his 'Mahajanadesh Yatra' in Sangli, but the BJP activists foiled their bid.

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