Investigators believe that the recovery of more than Rs 20 crore from the house of an assistant civic engineer at Bally in Howrah district of West Bengal could open a can of worms involving politicians, civic officials and realtors.
The case involving the huge cache of illegal money, which came to light on August 16 during a raid. The probe is expected to be handed over to the Enforcement Directorate later this week. Officials with the state Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) said that preliminary findings indicate that Pranab Adhikari, sub-assistant engineer with Bally municipality, was only a custodian of the illegal wealth accrued by giving out building permits to realtors.
“Adhikari might have taken bribes, but he is just a tip of the iceberg. It seems he was keeping the money for powerful friends who protected him. He was much lower down the chain to have taken money without higher-ups being involved,” an official said.
The cache, however, has left officials who went on the raid flabbergasted as wads of notes started pouring from all over the modest house.
“It took us more than 20 hours to put a figure on the haul. Bundles of cash were stashed inside cushions, mattresses, ceiling, walls, refrigerator, TV cabinet and under tiles in the bathroom. Besides, the total Rs 20 crore and Rs 7.5 lakh in cash, mostly in Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, we also seized gold ornaments valued at around Rs 14 lakh, along with post office deposits of Rs 58 lakh,” said an officer present during the raid.
The discovery has provided the ruling Trinamool Congress a weapon against the Left as Bally municipality had been under CPM control since 1977 till it was merged with Howrah Municipal Corporation in June.
The Trinamool has been raising a hue and cry about the issue during the Left regime since Bally municipality went opposition-less till 2010 in all its 35 wards. ACB officials are set to interrogate municipal chairman Arunabha Lahiri and his associates, including some top officials. Lahiri said the case is a “political conspiracy”.
Officials said that the tip-off came from A P Singh, a realtor who paid Rs 11 lakh for a residential project. “Adhikari had asked Singh for Rs 20 lakh and was not sanctioning the building plans till the full amount was paid. Failing to cough up the whole amount, Singh went to the authorities with a complaint against Adhikari,” an ACB official said.
He, however, added that even Singh and a number of other realtors who set up projects in last few years are under scanner.
Sources pointed out that with most of the residential and commercial projects being along the banks of river Ganga, a real estate boom hit the area in the last few years. According to official estimates, not less than 2,500 building plans have been sanctioned between 1990 and 2010.
“We’ve got our hands on a diary and a note pad on which Adhikari maintained rough accounts and names of people with who he transacted. Rs 21 crore must be a fraction of the total money that changed hands in these years,” an official said.