New Delhi: On January 2, four MLAs of the present assembly of poll-bound Meghalaya jumped ship to join the BJP. One among them was Sanbor Shullai, who was the president of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) until December 13 when he was sacked for anti-party activities.
Shullai, MLA from the North Shillong constituency, is, however, better recognised in the state as the deputy speaker of the assembly for two consecutive terms before he put in his papers on March 21, apparently in preparation for joining the BJP.
Shullai is also in recent public memory as the sitting MLA who, at a press conference in Shillong, admitted, rather justified, appointing two of his daughters and four of his relatives in different posts in the assembly secretariat during his term.
The press meet, held on November 28, was in response to another one held a day earlier by two persons from his constituency – Victorian Marbaniang and Disyona Passah. The duo’s press meet was in response to an RTI reply received by well-known activist of the state, Agnes Kharshiing, from the secretariat. The reply to Kharshiing, dated August 24, 2017, by the public information office of the assembly secretariat stated that Shullai’s daughters Evangeline Rabon and Vanesa Rabon were appointed at the secretariat during his term as a reviser and his personal assistant respectively.
Additionally, his nephew Ricky Shullai was hired during his term as a peon at the secretariat. His wife’s nephew M. Rabon was appointed as a junior watch and ward, and Rabon’s wife Gloria Hujon was given the job of a receptionist. Also, his niece Wansalan Shullai was appointed as assistant librarian – all in the secretariat.
In that press meet, Shullai brushed aside his act of nepotism in violation of the law and supposed abuse of his constitutional position, as shown in the RTI reply, to call it a “political conspiracy” hatched by his rival Banri Kupar Wahlang.
“Yes, I am for nepotism but to all people of my constituency…if my son or daughters including relatives applies for a government job and gets the job out of their own merit and ability how can one blame me, I am not the appointing authority and these kind of exercise entirely lies with the concerned department.”
However, on January 4, the controversy returned to the public eye with Kharshiing, along with another well-known activist of the state Angela Rangad filing an FIR against Shullai in the Sadar police station of Shillong. The activists accused him of misusing his powers by appointing his family members in different positions at the secretariat.
Their FIR is based on information received through more RTIs filed at the Department of Personnel on the procedures followed for those appointments, and also on various Acts of 1972 when Meghalaya became a state “to help understand the privileges of a public representative in the state as many Acts of the state are not in official gazette form.”
According to the FIR, the appointments were not in compliance with the relevant rules and due procedures were not followed, thereby giving an advantage to the relatives of the public representative. It accused Shullai of violating Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act “which lays down that if a public servant, by corrupt or illegal means or otherwise abusing his position obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage, he would be guilty of criminal misconduct.”
“By this act, the government has been cheated as the legislator has managed to loot the public money to benefit his close relatives which again is a breach of trust, corruption and he has to be booked by the law which prevails for one and all equally,” the FIR said.
Speaking to The Wire, Kharshiing stated, “In our FIR, we have also drawn the attention to another anomaly revealed in the RTI reply of the secretariat. It was about the legislator’s nephew Ricky Shullai who was continued to be shown on the secretariat’s employees’ list even after being elected as a member of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC).”
“Since the legislator in that press meet said he resigned on November 8, 2016, from the post after being elected to KHADC (from Laban), it is, therefore, required to investigate into the salary register as to who has been signing and receiving the salary in the name of Ricky Shullai. And if any manipulation arises, and if indeed Ricky Shullai has been receiving the salary after his appointment as the member of KHADC, the persons involved have to be booked as per the law.”
On being asked about the timing of the FIR – since Shullai alleged earlier that it was an attempt by his political rivals to get back at him in the run-up to the assembly polls – Khashiing said, “We have filed the FIR now based on the other RTI replies which we got a bit late. After the August reply from the secretariat, we waited for more information from other departments on the procedure of appointment followed as the legislator claimed that due process was followed.”
Speaking to The Wire, Shullai said, “This is nothing but a fabricated case brought against me by political rivals because the assembly election is nearing. The voters of my constituency will reject such allegations. My opponents are weak and I will win once again.”
The Wire contacted Priyanshu Pandey, SDPO, Sadar police station, and the investigating officer of the case, to ask about the FIR. He, however, refused to give any details stating, “Only the SP, Davis Marak, is allowed to speak to the media.” Marak didn’t respond to the attempts made by this correspondent to reach him.
Kharshiing is also the petitioner in the Meghalaya bench of the Gauhati high court in the alleged teacher recruitment scam of 2008-09, which the HC handed over to the CBI this past November as per her appeal. On January 4, the CBI filed an FIR naming the present PWD minister and Congress leader Ampareen Lyngdoh, who served as the education minister during that time, besides booking the present additional chief secretary P. S. Thangkhiew. Lyngdoh too has called it a “well-calculated move” keeping the coming elections in mind.
Meanwhile, according to state BJP sources, Shullai is set for a party ticket from his constituency (the list will be finalised after a visit of the party’s national president Amit Shah on January 6). Sources said that the BJP, which is on an aggressive campaign to wrest power from the Congress not just in Meghalaya but in the entire Northeast, “will only look at the winability of the candidate”.