Sudhakar Singh: ‘I’m not at all apologetic about calling myself ‘choron ke sardar’… I’m representative of my people, not of govt’

Sudhakar Singh: ‘I’m not at all apologetic about calling myself ‘choron ke sardar’… I’m representative of my people, not of govt’

Bihar agriculture minister and RJD MLA from Ramgarh, Sudhakar Singh, has created a stir by openly flagging corruption in his department and accusing his own government led by Chief Minister and JD(U) supremo Nitish Kumar of not listening to him. The son of state RJD president Jagdanand Singh, Sudhakar throws light on his stand, his party’s position and Nitish’s reaction on the issues has has raised. Excerpts:

Why did you choose a public platform to flag corruption in your department and saying “Aur hum choron ke sardar hain (And we are the head of thieves)”? Did your statement not embarrass your own government and give the Opposition BJP a chance to attack CM Nitish Kumar and deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav?

I stand by what I said. I am not at all apologetic about calling myself “choron ke sardar”. Ever since I have taken over as agriculture minister, I am dismayed at number of calls of complaints from farmers regarding implementation of our every scheme in agriculture department. I cannot keep quiet. I am not representative of government but of my people. What I said should not embarrass anyone because I have flagged my serious concerns over deep-rooted corruption and overall poor implementation of our schemes.

There are reports that CM Nitish has been upset with your statement and that you were also reprimanded?

It is untrue. Neither CM Nitish Kumar nor anybody else told me anything in the cabinet meeting or elsewhere…My party knows about my stand and my demands to make things better in agriculture department. We have hardly achieved anything in last 17 years. As a minister, I have to identify problems and try to rectify them.

Can you specify problems and challenges facing the agriculture department?

Despite three back-to-back agricultural roadmaps, we have hardly anything to boast of. In 2011-2012, our total grain production was 1.77 lakh tonnes – in 2021-2022, we have produced 1.76 lakh tonnes. This is despite the point that we spent crores over a five-year roadmap. The third agricultural roadmap (2017-2022) is nearing its end but the achievement is nil. A roadmap is like a five-year plan with fixed objectives. When I reviewed the department works, I found it wanting.

How do you plan to redress the grievances of farmers?

Sadly, we have not put in place a system of grievance redressal in the last 17 years. There is no grievance redressal cell at headquarters or district levels where farmers can call up to register their complaints regarding seeds and fertilisers. If I, as a minister, start taking calls, there would be over 1,000 calls per days even if 0.1 per cent farmers would make a call.

Eighty per cent of Bihar people depend on agriculture. I have a very tough task ahead, of rebooting the system. Soon after taking over as minister, I had asked for statewide reports on complaints regarding poor seeds. It has been a month and I have not got the feedback (yet). Complaints are still coming in from various parts of the state. That is why I had said at Kaimur meeting that I doubted if any farmer had been using seeds provided by us.

What happened to your demands regarding engaging multiple agencies to procure paddy and wheat, and about restoring the mandi system?

We have the worst procurement system. I have already spoken about engaging multiple agencies to procure paddy and other grains. With only Primary Agriculture Cooperative Credit Societies (PACCS) procuring paddy now, most farmers are not able to sell paddy. We are also not able to maintain MSP. Several farmers have to sell paddy in open markets or to brokers at much lower price than MSP. As for restoring mandis where farmers can sell their agriculture produce including grains, I am surprised and dismayed at responses to my demand. I have already raised these demands in the cabinet without getting any response.

What is the way forward with the CM not listening to you?

I am not pinpointing anyone. I will keep raising these two core demands to set things in order in the agriculture department. Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav knows my demands. Eventually, I am answerable to the people.