Farmer tried to 'influence' inspectors

A Morrinsville farming company boss allegedly offered Waikato Regional Council inspectors kickbacks to make an impending prosecution for dirty dairying "go away".

B & V Singh Ltd received three convictions in the Hamilton District Court and was fined $48,750 for unlawfully discharging dairy effluent into the environment.

During the course of the council inspections that led to the prosecution, company director Bilkar Singh allegedly asked the inspecting officers not to report the matter to their supervisors and to take water samples in a manner that would not show any environmental effect.

Repeated comments such as "how much to make it go away" were allegedly made by Singh to the two officers, the council said.

The farm was inspected twice by council officers in November and December 2013 after it was identified as having a "high risk" effluent system.

The council officers discovered on both occasions that there had been unlawful discharges of dairy effluent to farm drains that flow into a tributary of the Piako River. The council subsequently initiated a prosecution for the offences against the Resource Management Act.

The matter was heard last week before Judge Melanie Harland, who said in her view "a stern response is required in this case to denounce the attempts by Bilkar Singh to influence the investigation, and to reflect the defendant's lack of urgency in dealing with the inadequacies of its infrastructure.

"There seems to have been little regard for, and attempt made, to prevent the discharges into water."

Council investigations manager Patrick Lynch said his staff had done the right thing.

"As well as the disregard shown for the environment I think it is fair to say that the behaviour of Mr Singh has been quite appalling.

"Council officers have a challenging enough job as it is. For staff to be subjected to repeated suggestions to act inappropriately, and illegally, is totally unacceptable. The two officers involved reported the behaviour immediately."

Dairy inspections are a topical issue in the Waikato.

In June the council opted to halt its controversial dairy effluent inspection flights while a comprehensive study was conducted on whether it was the best means of keeping farm effluent out of the region's waterways.

The council has established a working party with representatives from the dairy industry and that group has been charged with determining whether or not to keep inspecting farms by helicopter. The flights are a much less time- and labour-consuming means of checking for effluent ponding or spillover on farms than manual, on-site inspections of each property.

However dairy industry representatives have lobbied the council, saying chopper inspections were a source of high anxiety for farmers already burdened with many other stress-inducing requirements.

Singh was unable to be contacted for comment.

Waikato Times