Scams jolt BJP govt in Chhattisgarh, but CM sitting pretty

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh appears to have escaped stiff scrutiny at a time when his counterparts in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are smarting under harsh criticism for alleged corruption. Lalitgate and Vyapam scams completely eclipsed the multi-crore Public Distribution System (PDS) rip-off in Chhattisgarh as a disjointed Congress failed to zoom it into nation’s focus.

A weaker opposition in Madhya Pradesh had circumstantial support in the unnatural death of several accused in Vyapam scam to press for CBI inquiry. But Singh has managed to keep the national sleuths away. The PDS scam got a macabre touch last fortnight when the primary whistle-blower, Surendra Kumar Shakya was found dead in his Jabalpur home. State police claim it was a suicide while Shakya’s son Nitin alleged foul play.

Surendra, general manager of MP Warehousing and Logistic Corporation (MPWLC) in Jabalpur, had complained to the police about disappearance of 53,000 sacks of paddy from the warehouse in March last year. Top bureaucrats wanted the police to make him a co-accused in the scam. ”He cycled to Kashmir from Gwalior, alone. Will such a gutsy man commit suicide? People involved are dangerous and can go to any extent to bury the scam,” says Nitin.

The PDS scam has its roots in the BJP’s answer to the UPA government’s Food Security Act. Raman Singh’s two consecutive assembly poll victories were largely attributed to efficient PDS. The dark underbelly was, however, exposed in February when the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) raided the offices of Nagrik Aapoorti Nigam (NAN), the civil supplies corporation, and recovered Rs 4 crore cash from its officials exposing the massive pilferage.

The officials were found passing 'monthly' shares to select beneficiaries. Diaries and pen drives recovered from them showed names of the top officials and politicians. The principal secretary to civil supplies department and the managing directors of NAN, both IAS officers, were removed. NAN provides all the food-grains to PDS system.

As the government soft-peddled the investigations, the Congress charged that there were attempts to destroy or tamper with the evidence. The ruling party, on the other hand, argued that the reports to the government would not have unearthed the scam in the first place without Raman Singh’s initiative.

Congress legislator Umesh Patel said, “Immediately after the recovery of diary and other evidences, efforts started to cover up tracks to the chief minister’s residence”. He said the investigation was led by the officer whose role was questioned after the massacre of the Congress leaders in Bastar in 2013. Dharam Lal Kaushik, state BJP president, rubbished the charges as a non-issue. “The Chief Minister initiated action against those involved. The matter is already in court.”

After its ascent to power in 2003, the BJP government introduced the Chhattisgarh Public Distribution System (Control) Order, 2004 making wholesale changes to the delivery and procurement system for civil supplies. According to Dr Parivesh Mishra, journalist, medical practitioner and political activist, an additional 1.9 million households (excluded from the 2002 BPL survey because of the Planning Commission cap on poverty numbers) were added in 2007 to the 1.33 million households already receiving subsidised food grains from the Central government. This expanded the coverage to nearly 80 per cent rural population on the eve of the elections.

Chain of pilferage

Raman Singh won in 2008 and again in 2013.His government repackaged the 2007 provisions under chief minister’s food grain assistance scheme as Food Security Act of 2013. Lakhs of ration cards were issued before the announcement of elections to double the number of BPL families from 33 to 70 lakh.

The ACB exposed the whole chain of pilferage through procurement of paddy from the farmers, addition of thousands of tonnes of paddy smuggled in from neighbouring Odisha and Maharashtra, carting, storage and allotment of paddy to the millers, recovery of rice from the millers and supply of the rice to the PDS outlets.

The production of paddy increased disproportionately every year with no apparent justification. In 2010-11, though the acreage increased from previous year's 3.48 million hectares to 3.51 mha, the jump in paddy production to 9.23 million tonnes surprised everyone.

The Centre shielded the state government as Union Food Minister Ramvilas Paswan told Rajya Sabha that the Economic Offences Investigation (EOI) and the state Anti-corruption Bureau has already taken necessary action. Raman Singh’s electoral success, people’s indifference to corruption and the Congress’ failure to pin down the government have lent considerable immunity to the government. Even the no-confidence motion brought by the opposition earlier this month failed.

The latest controversy raging in Chhattisgarh involves state school education minister Kedar Kashyap whose wife is alleged to have had a proxy to take the MA final examination. AICC general secretary in charge of Chhattisgarh B K Hariprasad said the government had not even filed an FIR in the matter. The Congress is divided on the issue. Former chief minister Ajit Jogi believes someone was trying to fix tribal leader Kashyap for his “fast rise” within the BJP. Hariprasad says Jogi is free to have his perceptions but the party wants an FIR registered and the matter investigated.

The government showed itself to be shielding the police on rape and murder of Meena Khalkho, a minor tribal. Three weeks after tabling the judicial commission’s damning report that dismissed the police claims of the girl being a Maoist who died in a retaliatory encounter four years ago, the government is no hurry to bring the criminals to book. The commission headed by retired Judge Anita Jha stated that “injuries detected on the victim’s body…suggested forced sexual intercourse.” The government tabled the report on Meena’s death and the CAG report that exposed irregularities of around Rs 2500 crore on the last day and escaped questioning.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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