Paddy shortfall blamed for mystery death of procurement officer

On the evening of September 19 last year, Nand Kumar Gupta, block extension officer (BEO) of Rafiganj town in Bihar's Aurangabad district, called his wife in Dehri-on-Sone where the family lived, and said he would not come home for the night but stay with a friend due to "overload of work".

The next morning, he was found dead near a canal under Fesar police station of Aurangabad. Police said Gupta had committed suicide and that a suicide note was found on him. But the post-mortem report was not conclusive. Gupta's elder brother, Nirmal Kumar Gupta, and his two sons Amit and Ajit, said the handwriting on the suicide note was not that of Gupta.

Based on Nirmal's statement, the Fesar police registered a murder case against unknown persons but there have been no arrests so far. Ajit alleges that the unfolding paddy scandal is to blame for his father's death as Gupta was responsible for paddy procurement in one centre in Rafiganj.

"My father lost his life because of government paddy," Ajit, who is yet to recover from the shock of his loss, told The Indian Express.

An investigation of events in the run-up to Gupta's death hints at a suspected web of corruption that started when paddy was procured by the Bihar State Food and Civil Supplies Corporation Ltd (SFC) and continued until it was allotted to rice mills, ending in a shortfall that is set to cause a loss of Rs 535 crore to the state government firm.

Gupta, 56, like many officers at the block level, was asked to take charge of paddy procurement at one centre in Rafiganj. Gupta, who had several junior staffers to help him, is said to have "blindly trusted" them.

But in mid-July, when the SFC asked him to allot all the paddy stock to mills for processing and submit the accounts, he was apparently crestfallen to find that there was a shortage of 160 MT of paddy worth Rs 17.28 lakh. And Gupta, who otherwise had a clean record in service, had become a suspect.

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