Did Asthana scuttle CBI probe to save Nitish?

Did Asthana scuttle CBI probe to save Nitish?

“He is incapable of being dishonest”. This is precisely what U N Biswas, the then Joint Director of CBI, said in an interview in the late 1990s when asked about his junior colleague Rakesh Asthana, who was then a CBI SP.

A 1984-batch IPS officer, Asthana withstood all political pressure and interrogated Lalu Prasad for six consecutive hours before a charge sheet was filed in the Rs 950 crore fodder scam, which eventually cost Lalu his post in July 1997.

Two decades later, the same Asthana, facing bribery allegations and engaged in an ugly turf war with his boss Alok Verma, has been charged with scuttling a probe into the Rs 1,500 crore Srijan scam in Bihar and saving Nitish Kumar’s skin.

“Big breaking: Did Rakesh Asthana save Nitish Kumar from 2500 crore Srijan scam in lieu of switching from GA to NDA? CBI haven’t arrested main culprits of Srijan scam yet. CM siphoned off Rs 2500 crore from State treasury to Srijan NGO account (sic),” tweeted former Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav.

What is Srijan scam?

Srijan scam came to light on August 3, 2017, when it was detected by Bhagalpur District Magistrate Adesh Titarmare that there has been pilferage of government fund to the tune of around Rs 500 crore by a Bhagalpur-based NGO, Srijan.

An investigation by top cops indicated that around Rs 355.7 crore were fraudulently transferred from three heads – land acquisition (Rs 270 crore), urban development schemes (Rs 70.7 crore) and district administration (Rs 15 crore) – into the account of the NGO, Srijan Sahyog Mahila Samiti.

READ: Srijan scam: CBI gets nod to prosecute absconding ADM

Srijan was run by a social worker, Manorama Devi, who reportedly flaunted her connections with politicians and bureaucrats and helped Srijan spread its tentacles.

Seventeen people, including Prem Kumar, the personal assistant (PA) of Bhagalpur District Magistrate, were arrested after nine FIRs were lodged by the police. Later, when it was found that the embezzled fund had crossed Rs 1000 crore, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar ordered a CBI probe into the scam.

Turning point

The CBI Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP), S K Malik, headed the 20-member probe team which began an investigation into the Srijan scam. But when he requested the CBI court to issue arrest warrants against certain bureaucrats and politicians, alleged to be involved in the scam, Malik was transferred (reportedly at the behest of a top cop) and asked to join the Delhi office.

Of the four politicians under Malik’s scanner, one was a Union minister, while the other was a BJP Lok Sabha member from Jharkhand. The third leader under CBI lens was a former BJP MP, while the fourth one was a JD(U) leader.

Similarly, Malik wanted to interrogate at least five IAS officers. All these officers had earlier served as the district magistrate of Bhagalpur. One of these officials, after taking VRS, had even unsuccessfully contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as the JD(U) candidate.

“One can easily assume that the matter is being hushed up as even the two prime accused - Amit Kumar and Priya Kumar, the son and daughter-in-law of late Manorama Devi (founder of Srijan), have not been arrested although arrest warrant was issued against them one year ago,” opined former Rajya Sabha MP Shivanand Tiwary.

The absconding couple is said to be evading arrest as they reportedly enjoy connections with a top cop in the CBI, who hails from Jharkhand. Little wonder, Lalu, in his inimitable style, tweeted: “Asthana’s 'astha' (faith) towards Modi and his company is more than the Indian constitution….”

His aide Shakti Yadav was all the more blunt. “He is the same Asthana who along with Nitish, Advani and Sushil Modi made Lalu ji a conspirator…..Asthana is the person who has given clean chit to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in the Godhra carnage.”

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