Income Tax Department and Enforcement Directorate raids in opposition states are not new for those who have followed the fortunes of the Reddy brothers, Trinamool Congress leaders in Bengal and Jagan Reddy, to name just a few, over the past six years. But the comprehensive and meticulously planned search operations in Chhattisgarh over four days tell their own tale. No politician, cabinet minister or MLA was raided – only bureaucrats, their lackeys, chartered accountants and liquor traders were thoroughly searched.
Then why would chief minister Bhupesh Baghel be so perturbed as to call an emergency meeting of the cabinet, meet the governor and fly to Delhi to hold consultation with P.L. Puniya and Sonia Gandhi? Why would Randeep Surjewala devote an entire press conference to the “Centre’s attempt to destabilise the government”? Why are these bureaucrats so important to the present set-up, considering that unlike Arvind Kejriwal’s principal secretary Rajendra Kumar, who was also raided, none of them hold that rank?
Vivek Dhand, who was Raman Singh’s chief secretary for four years and was given an honourable post-retirement job as the first chairman of Real Estate Regulatory Authority, was the prime target. He had also been secretary to chief minister Ajit Jogi and has been in positions of power for the past 20 years, since the state came into existence.
It is reported that when the IT sleuths picked him up from his daily workout at a local gym, he could hardly believe that a man of his stature could be subjected to a search. The IT department believes that he is behind every big land deal in the state, from hotels to malls to commercial and residential areas. Nothing moved in the state without his consent when it came to land deals.
Recently, however, his luck has changed. In a PIL filed by one Kundan Thakur, the Bilaspur high court ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation enquiry in a state-sponsored NGO. It appears from the prima facie evidence that the court reviewed that Dhand was amongst five IAS officers who had benefited from cash withdrawals from a fund meant for persons with disabilities over 20 years, totalling nearly Rs 1,000 crore, much in the manner of Bihar’s fodder scam.
Dhand went to the Supreme Court, claiming that it was preposterous to even name him in this case, let alone CBI investigate the matter. On his insistence, it seems the state also approached the high court to review its judgment. Dhand got four-week relief from the Supreme Court and the case will come up for hearing again later this month, but the search and seizures may have ruined his case.
The second most important man on the list is Anil Tuteja, IAS and a known Dhand acolyte for years. He held the important Nagrik Apurti Nigam (NAN) portfolio, which spearheaded the Raman Singh government’s crucial food policy. He is believed to have become very close to Baghel during his suspension over the past three years. He was reinstated by Baghel and made special secretary, industries.
Two things can ruin his newfound power. One is that the Department of Personnel and Training has given permission to prosecute him in the multi-crore NAN scam in which Rs 80 lakh in cash was recovered from his personal assistant’s office, following which he was suspended for over two years. A state service officer, he had been promoted by Dhand and as long as he was in the government, Dhand did not allow the state to proceed against Tuteja.
Now a BJP MLA, Devji Bhai Patel, has written against Tuteja to the CBI and Central Vigilance Commission to investigate how he was able to travel to Dubai, England and Canada under suspension without informing the government as many as 12 times. He has provided the details of the travel including ticket and flight numbers and alleged that he was buying property through hawala channels in these countries. Tuteja has tough times ahead.
Soumya Chaurasiya is a state service officer of SDM rank who had fair record and obscure presence in the state since she joined the service in 2008. She is believed to have served in Paatan as SDM, which is Baghel’s home ground, and become close to him. She was presently the all-powerful deputy secretary in the chief minister’s secretariat, and dealt with all bureaucrats with a harsh hand, which has made her very unpopular with them.
She refused to join the search operations for nearly two days, while the IT teams pitched tents in front of her home in Bhilai. She is quoted in local papers as saying that she is the daughter of a former school principal and from a wealthy family, so she will be able to explain all land deals.
Ejaz Dhebar, a former Amit Jogi acolyte and NSUI president, became mayor of Raipur last month. Most people in the Congress believed that it may be too soon or a post beyond his capacity, but he had the full backing of Baghel. It is believed that the Dhebar family handles the money that comes in from the liquor trade and mining.
Note that the IT press release says that most of the money trail comes from liquor and mining and then goes on to shell companies based in Kolkata. Dhebar is also believed to be the spirit behind the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests in Chhattisgarh, but ironically after the raids the state police moved in to remove all the tents and people that had been sitting on dharna for the past two months at the city’s main square.
Last but not the least in the pack is A.P. Tripathi, who was brought in by the Raman Singh government from BSNL. He framed the e-tracking policy of the excise department of the previous Raman Singh regime. The tracking involves electronically following the liquor trucks as they left the government godowns and distillers. He went into a bit of a low phase after Singh’s ouster, but came back because the regime did not change even though the head had gone. He is believed to be a key element in the hawala movement of money from Chhattisgarh to other destinations.
Others raided include businessmen, liquor traders and CAs, so the high pitch with which the Baghel government is reacting is surprising indeed. Most of these officers were BJP big horns and all their connections were well known. Baghel perhaps should have stayed away from them and built his own team.
As it is, there is resentment in the state Congress over non-appointment of chairmen and state body members. Now, a former Panchajanya editor has been appointed vice-chancellor of the state’s only mass communication and journalism university. Congress will have to be more responsive to its cadres if it has to counter the tactics of the Central government and build a team that is identified with it and its policies.