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Politics

In Chhattisgarh, Probes Into Sins of Previous Regime Run Into Trouble

Four SITs formed by Bhupesh Baghel have hit a wall due to his own impatience to get results.

Raipur: The Bhupesh Baghel government in Chhattisgarh loves to take decisions late at night. It’s usually 1:30 am – just when newspapers are being put to bed – that a bombshell is delivered.

A dozen such bombshells have been dropped in the shape of a special investigation team (SIT) within weeks of Baghel taking charge. Two FIRs have been registered against a DGP-level officer, Mukesh Gupta who is a former head of intelligence and the Economic Offences Wing.

Gupta stands on the front deck of a ship bound for troubled waters, one that is packed with individuals who until a few months ago wielded immense power in the state:

  • Aman Singh, former principal secretary to BJP chief minister Raman Singh for close to ten years
  • Puneet Gupta, former head of DKS Hospital, the state’s largest speciality hospital and Singh’s son-in-law
  • Baghel’s bête noir, former chief minister Ajit Jogi
  • Ajit’s son and former MLA, Amit Jogi
  • A former SP of the Economic Offences Wing, Rajnesh Singh

Four major cases have been filed and handed over to the Economic Offences Wing (EOW), which has a new chief in the infamous Bastar IG, Shiv Ram Prasad Kalluri.

Yet, before these SITs could move into action, the Chhattisgarh high court put brakes on them – staying some and questioning the purpose behind the others.

Such is the politics of Chhattisgarh that all these individuals and cases are intertwined with each other. What all four have in common is that they seem to have rubbed the new chief minister the wrong way. So far, it appears that Baghel is on a journey of purification of sinners of his own past.

There are four major cases and four SITs investigating them. As seems to be the rule in this post-Modi world, those who have lost power are being held to account for their past omissions and commissions – but not necessarily with the aim of punishment, but harassment.

The clever ones belonging to power circles have slipped into new roles. Some are being knowingly used by Baghel and his advisors while others have swum close to new power grids by offering truce and information.

Former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi. Credit: PTI

The DGP of Chhattisgarh was Baghel’s first appointment after he took over as chief minister. His choice of DM Awasthi made it clear that Mukesh Gupta, who has a running rivalry with Awasthi, had tough times ahead.

The second change was even more shocking – the controversial cop Kalluri, whom Baghel had consistently criticised for human rights violations, was made the head of the Economic Offences Wing and Anti-Corruption Bureau of Chhattisgarh.

With the return of V.K. Singh from the Intelligence Bureau as DG of the Economic Offences Wing and the DOPT not yet green-signalling the appointment of Awasthi, the outcome of every investigation has been charged with suspense.

Also read: The Eternal Return of Kalluri, One of India’s Most Tainted Policemen

The Antagarh tape case

For those not following the twists and turns of Chhattisgarh politics, here is some background.

In 2014, one Manturam Pawar was given a Congress ticket to contest the Antagarh by-election. He withdrew his candidatures soon after the date for filing nominations had passed, handing BJP a walkover. It appears he was paid a hefty amount for doing so.

The case reportedly came into light after an audio recording purportedly having the voice of Ajit Jogi, his son Amit Jogi and Punit Gupta involved in horse trading surfaced in the media in 2016.

Ajit apparently wanted to show the recently-appointed chief of Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee, Baghel in poor light. Raman Singh, on his part, wanted to win Antagarh, simply to make sure that Bastar stayed in BJP’s grip (Congress had won eight out of 12 seats in the assembly elections in 2013). Perhaps because of the involvement of Puneet Gupta, the case remained buried, but with Kalluri pursuing it aggressively, Baghel expects results before the Lok Sabha dates are announced.

The key characters in the Antagarh tape case are Firoz Siddiqui and Asif Memon, who played the role of brokers between the Jogis and Pawar, and seem to have recorded the conversations. Kalluri is now expected to get their statement recorded under section 164 of the IPC which will make it difficult for them to rescind.

Kalluri is also investigating Pawar’s properties. If the case progresses in the way the new government expects it to, the net will be spread wider to include former minister Rajesh Munat, Pawar and Raman Singh himself.

The Chhattisgarh PDS case

The Nagrik Apoorti Nigam (NAN) does all the procurement for some line departments, and specifically for the food department which covers paddy procurement and redistribution through ration shops.

A few years ago, 16 officers including two of the IAS rank – Anil Shukla and Anil Tuteja – were suspended after an initial enquiry found Rs 3.5 crore in cash and an incriminating diary at one officer’s residence.

There were unverified reports that the name of Raman Sigh’s wife and two ministers were also mentioned in the diary. Singh even defended himself in the assembly when the allegation broke in 2015. Like all things during that period, however, this too was put into cold storage.

This probe has been reopened, ironically, on the basis of a complaint by one accused, Tuteja, who claims he has been unjustly targeted as only 16 pages of the 109-page diary have been investigated. His plea is for all mentioned to be investigated. He has also alleged that evidence was destroyed by Gupta and his deputy Rajnesh Singh, who has now been roped in.

Interestingly, a SIT was announced even though a chargesheet had already been filed by the police, which is investigating the matter. It also shows Tuteja and Shukla as absconding – and now the former is a complainant in the same case.

Police officer S.R.P. Kalluri. Credit: PTI

E-tender scam

Around 2006-7, e-tenders became the preferred way to invite tenders for all state government contracts. They also became the easiest way to hoodwink the system.

In its latest report, the CAG has pointed out that 17 government departments took out tenders worth Rs 4,601 crores in 2016-2017. These related to every department from public works to public health and even ones like NAN. The tender forms were uploaded by the Chhattisgarh Infotech Promotion Society (CHIPS) – a government agency entrusted with the work – using 74 computers at its office located in Civil Lines, Raipur.

Amazingly, as many as 1,921 tender contractors used the same government computers to fill their tenders. It then seems that those entrusted were working in cahoots with the insiders.

Also read: Baghel: The Man Who Helped the Congress Rise like a Phoenix in Chhattisgarh

As many as 79 of these contractors used the same two PAN numbers, and the 235 e-mail addresses that were used for filling up the forms were also used by 1,459 contractors. One particular e-mail ID, the CAG has found, was used by as many as 309 contractors. The CAG has blamed CHIPS for not using a protected gateway and deliberately not securing its website.

An EOW team raided the CHIPS office and subsequently the PWD premises as well. All the officers entrusted with the filing of tenders were sealed off and their employees questioned. All the 1921 files mentioned in the CAG report have now been seized by the EOW and though it has so far refused to say what it has found in those files, it is clear that the CAG report itself is damning enough.

The EOW has also seized some computers and hard disks from the CHIPS office but has made no arrests so far.

The twist in the case came when one RSS veteran, Virendra Pandey – who has held the post of vice-chairman of State Planning Commission – wrote to chief minister Baghel. He said that former chief secretary Vivek Dhand should be named in the FIR as he was responsible for all e-procurement and headed the empowered committee that decided on all e-tenders.

Dhand is now the chairman of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority, a post Pandey alleges he got as a reward for the e-tender scam. Pandey now wants Dhand to be made an accused along with all the other members of the empowered committee and questioned in relation with the irregularities found in the CAG report. “The EOW raid has so far been an eyewash as it is an attempt to hide rather than name the real culprits,” he said.

As evidence, Pandey wrote in a letter that he released to the press that a tender was taken out for the development of the tender e-portal of the state government. On June 18, 2015, a company called MJunction was interviewed as it had quoted the lowest prices and was given the go-ahead on February 16, 2016. The unsaid part appears to be that Mjunction may be involved in insider jobs as alleged by the CAG.

According to Pandey, as head of the empowered committee, Dhand is directly responsible for all decisions and mala fide activity that may have resulted from them. The EC was constituted on May 24, 2005, and reconstituted on June 13, 2006. It was tasked with making decisions regarding all tenders worth over Rs 1 crore.

It further constituted a task force comprising all department heads and like of PWD and PHE, along with the IT secretary to ensure that funds were available for projects under the e-tender scheme. A total of 48,991 tenders have been taken out by ChIPS under the scheme with a material value of Rs 92,396 crore since its inception.

A source in the IT department said that the allegations by CAG are actually based on material provided by CHIPS itself. It appears that in 2013 CHIPS, observed that the vendor and buyer are the same as they appear to be using the same computer.

It wrote seven letters to various departments. This was brought to the notice of Dhand (the chairman of the empowered committee), who refused to take the departments to task.

Jhiram Naxalite attack

In 2013, almost the entire top leadership of the state Congress party was wiped out in a targeted attack in Bastar’s Jhiram valley.

PCC president Nand Kumar Patel, Vidya Charan Shukla and leader of opposition Mahendra Karma were among the 29 killed in the attack. The case was handed over to the NIA, which concluded that there was no conspiracy behind the attack – an explanation that has never fully satisfied the Congress.

A ten-member SIT headed by Bastar IG Vivekanand has now been formed to re-investigate the matter. It will try to ascertain if Ajit Jogi, his son Amit and the Raman Singh administration had any role to play in the matter. Several theories were floated at the time of the incident as Jogi had left the spot after the rally in a helicopter, while the rest left by road and were ambushed.

While the SITs have been formed and have also gone into action, they need to be able to present in fool-proof cases in order to get convictions.

A few good men

The first question is whether Baghel has the men to deliver what he wants. So far, it has been a mixed bag. Kalluri is distrusted by civil society and activists for his policing methods.

But Kalluri is now being defended in the state assembly by the state home minister Tamradhwaj Sahu on the pretext that there is no pending complaint against him.

Baghel will also have to be more careful about taking advice from those close to the previous regime. They have their own sins to hide.