Nashik is an agricultural hub known for exporting onion, grapes and pomegranate. The vegetable produce grown here is sold across the country to states like West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
Unfortunately, it also suffers from a serious malaise – Traders pick up the produce to sell in various markets, but often fail to pay the farmers their dues, for many reasons – some legitimate, and others perhaps a little shady.
This lack of payment adds greatly to farmer woes, but they feel discouraged to file cases with the police, worrying about the frequent trips they have to make to the station or long delays before they get justice.
The farmers in Nashik’s rural areas had almost lost hopes of ever getting their rightful payments from. A cop has changed all of that, bringing hope in place of their despair.
Just a month after taking charge as Inspector General of Police (IG, Special) of Nashik division, Pratap Dighavkar has helped recover Rs 2 Crore in pending dues for the farmers.
Pratap took charge of the Nashik range (comprising Ahmednagar, Dhule, Jalgaon, Nandurbar and Nashik rural of North Maharashtra) in early September. “In the first week itself, orders were sent to all Superintendent of Police (SPs) in each district announcing a drive to register complaints against traders who allegedly duped farmers,” Pratap said.
Complaints Worth Rs 18 Crore by Farmers
The IPS batch 2001 officer from Nashik said the announcements were made through newspapers and social media. Pratap, who specialises in investigating economic offences, added that in 2019, 24 complaints of cheating were registered with the police and, since the drive got announced, hundreds of complaints poured in a matter of weeks.
Within three weeks, 593 complaints under the relevant sections of the law were registered across the division – amounting to Rs 18.69 Crore.
“Teams were formed under each police station, and an inquiry was conducted to follow up with the traders. After the teams knocked their doors, some traders started paying back their dues,” Pratap said.
“The police have registered a First Information Report (FIRs) against 97 traders who admitted that they could not pay the farmers due to financial reasons. Legal procedures will follow against them. Assets of these traders could also get seized to recover the sum,” Pratap said.
Additionally, traders have promised to return Rs 3.65 crore to other farmers.
The Action Does Not Stop There
Pratap said that an additional eight teams are being formed to be sent out to other states and reach out to traders.
Sachin Gore, additional superintendent of police, Jalgaon, said, “The farmers and traders have been visiting the police station. We are also encouraging both parties to resolve their disputes and settle the payments before legal actions are taken.”
Sachin said if the traders fail to pay the sum, offences are lodged.
Fifteen cases of people cheating youngsters under the pretext of employment, amounting Rs 33.33 Lakh, have also got registered, Sachin said.
Son of the soil
Pratap however, has a special connection with Nashik. “I was born in Satana in 1964, about 90 km from Nashik, and worked as a farmer before taking up higher studies,” he says. “I have toiled in the fields – ploughing, spraying fertilisers and growing pomegranate in my father’s field,” he explains.
Pratap says he knows the struggle a farmer faces. “I have seen farmers struggling during drought, fighting losses incurred in excess rains, in financial troubles to repay loans and the painful suffering at various ends,” he said.
However, it is not the first time that Pratap has done public good.
“During my stint in Raigad as Superintendent of Police (SP), I promised the then home minister R R Patil to make villages free from conflict and scored 80 per cent success, ranking first in the state, followed by Latur with 36 per cent,” he adds.
Pratap has been awarded for his various environmental achievements. The senior police’s work was repeatedly appreciated by the state government to recognise his contribution to the police force.
Among them are theIndira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Award (the Government of India’s Highest Award of Plantation & Forestation), Vanshree Award (Highest State Award for Plantation & Forestation) and the Late A.P.J Kalam Award for innovation and Governance in Public Service.
But the real recognition is coming from the farmers themselves. Bindu Sharma, a farmer from Nashik district, said that he had been waiting for several seasons now for a trader to pay him the Rs 5 Lakh he was owed for farm produce.
“I received the money after a wait of almost three years, thanks to the police officer helping recover the money. It is a blessed moment to have an officer sensitive towards the issues of farmers,” he added.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)