Bhopal: Every capital city in the country inevitably has a ring of power brokers, middlemen, molls and sleaze. Bhopal is currently witnessing the unravelling of a racket run by a group of five women who appear to have trapped at least 11 IAS officers, about half a dozen IPS officers, several Indian Forest Service officers and a still-unfolding number of politicians, mostly from the BJP, which ruled the state for the past 15 years. The racket appears to be singeing Chhattisgarh too, where at least two IAS officers, half a dozen IFS officers and two erstwhile ministers seem to have been enticed into the ring.
The details of the racket that continued for more than ten years are unimportant for the most part, except that it is now directly visible that it impacted the decision-making of top bureaucrats of the state, especially in the NGO sector. The alleged kingpins are a couple – Swapnil Jain and his wife Shweta – who had in turn roped in several other women.
The modus operandi was simple: become members of the Arera Club meant mostly for bureaucrats and hang out at the Jehan Numa Palace hotel, also frequented by the same set. They would then befriend the bureaucrats, lure them into availing the “services” on offer, record the ‘proceedings’ and then make the all-important call.
For the most part, the bureaucrats appear to have complied heartily and continued use of the services. The Jains have several NGOs registered in the women and child, forest, urban development departments and they demanded that funds be given to them. Along the way, they had managed to trap some smaller fish also, like Harbhajan Singh, the superintending engineer of the Indore Municipal Corporation.
As trade grew, so did demands
As the trade grew, the couple also found that the collectors they had entrapped had now become principal secretaries and additional chief secretaries. So their demands grew in proportion. The IAS officers now found it difficult to comply. Postings, transfers, handouts and contracts were being demanded with more authority now.
To shock the system into submission, a video of an additional chief secretary with one of the women in the ring was made viral on social media. The government did not name the officer but transferred him out of the mantralaya into the labour department for “conduct unbecoming of an officer”. It appears a decision was subsequently taken at some level to bring down the ring as its demands could no longer be met and almost everyone seemed susceptible.
The grapevine in Bhopal believes that chief secretary S.R. Mohanty took matters into his hands and instructed the DGP to form a crack team to trap the couple and their accomplices and recover every bit of material they may have accumulated. The SIT, initially under I.G. Sriniwas and now under an ADG level officer Sanjeev Shami, after shadowing the Jains for some time found that Harbhajan Singh was one of the victims. Singh was persuaded to lodge a complaint of blackmail, which led to the arrest of the entire set.
From here, the story takes the usual interesting political turn. Shami has submitted the names of the entrapped officers and politicians to chief minister Kamal Nath. The identity of the trapped officers is not being revealed, while the names of some BJP leaders are being speculated over in the press and rumour mills.
This has given Kamal Nath much-needed clout as several senior BJP leaders are believed to have been happy customers. Kamal Nath – under a cloud after the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre cases against him were reopened and his nephew Ratul Puri was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) – now has something to go after his opponents with.
The BJP, on its part, has vociferously been demanding a CBI enquiry for all the usual reasons: that it should be probed by an “unbiased” agency and that the government and its departments have been slinging mud at the BJP.
A senior Congress leader wants the names of the entrapped officers to be revealed immediately. “They are not victims. They have looted the system for their own pleasure,” the leader says. He points out that the Narendra Modi government has taken drastic measures against several IRS officers recently for allegations of corruption and misdemeanour. “If the BJP wants the case to be handed over to the CBI, it should be done while the SIT can continue its drill,” says Laxman Singh, a Congress MLA.
Since it’s established that this group had been blackmailing the officers and ministers and objectionable material has been recovered, it is now very simple to register cases against all the officers concerned. It can be done simply by investigating where they were posted during the past ten years and how many contracts and funds were given to the Jain NGOs.
There is a direct connect and undeniable evidence through a paper trail and call records. These officers can then be recommended for termination of services to the department of personnel and training (DoPT). But will chief secretary Mohanty do this? Harbhajan Singh, the engineer, has been suspended following his complaint against the Jains. But the additional chief secretary who starred in the viral video has simply been transferred without even a show cause notice. Sadly this is how the system works.