The vigilance bureau headquarters
Ranchi, March 8: The vigilance bureau has constituted dedicated teams for focussed investigations into two major corruption cases involving a former minister and the state electricity board after being repeatedly pulled up by Jharkhand High Court for its inability to make any headway.
Justice D.N. Patel and Justice S. Chandrashekhar had criticised the state for shielding absconding officers and politicians, including JMM MLA Nalin Soren, for allowing financial irregularities to the tune of Rs 45 crore while buying implements, vegetable seeds, fertilisers and pesticides far in excess of what was required during his tenures as agriculture minister between 2006 and 2008.
On February 23, governor Syed Ahmed and adviser K. Vijay Kumar expressed their displeasure at the bureau’s inability to complete investigations into the Rs 45-crore seed scam and also the Jharkhand State Electricity Board (JSEB) corruption case involving eight officials.
These officials had allegedly made a fraudulent payment of Rs 10 crore to a company in 2008-09 even though it hadn’t fulfilled contractual obligations.
“Four teams have been constituted, three for seed scam and one for the JSEB case headed by investigating officers. Each team has been asked to show results, including execution of arrest warrants, collecting evidence and filling the missing links of the cases,” SP (vigilance) Ranjeet Kumar Prasad told The Telegraph.
The teams, each comprising four members, have been given a month’s deadline to show results.
The bureau had lodged an FIR against 12 people, including former agriculture minister Nalin Soren, in 2009. So far, only two of the accused — former agriculture directors Nistar Minz and V. Jayram — are in judicial custody.
In February, the bureau issued arrest warrants against Nalin and nine others — Rajesh Kumar Singh, Anjani Kumar Mishra, Arun Kumar, Piyush Kujoor, Anil Kumar, Dinesh Prasad, Aniruddh Kumar, Ajeshwar Prasad Singh and Bhavesh Thakur.
While none has been arrested yet, Nalin applied for anticipatory bail in the vigilance court that is scheduled to hear his plea on March 16.
Nalin, who was state agriculture minister in two governments — Madhu Koda’s between October 2006 and August 2008 and Shibu Soren’s between September 2008 and January 2009 — had ordered the purchase of implements, huge quantities of vegetable seeds, fertilisers, pesticides far in excess of what was needed.
The seeds, allegedly bought from private firms like M/s Nefed and M/s Naramake, were later found to be of poor quality.
In the case of the JSEB, eight of its officials are under the scanner for allegedly paying Rs 10 crore to Ramjee Power Construction Ltd in 2008-09 even when the company had not done any work.
The case was first referred to the CBI by then JSEB chairman Shiv Basant. However, the CBI ruled out any criminal intent behind the payment made after an order of arbitration.
But Basant asked the vigilance bureau to look into the issue in 2010 again. After a preliminary probe, the bureau rejected the findings of the CBI, arguing that since the JSEB officials did not contest the ruling that came out of the arbitration process in court, it reflected “malafide intent”.
The bureau then issued non-bailable warrants against former JSEB finance controllers, including Niranjan Roy (chief), Devasish Mahapatra, V.P. Dubey, P.K. Sinha and Sanjeev Kumar.
Over the last two years, there has not been any further progress in the two cases.
A senior police officer, however, tried his best to defend the bureau. “We have made a lot of progress in the last six months. But, a lot more is needed to be done in terms of evidence,” he said, admitting that they were all under pressure to perform and show results.
“There are so many missing links… (but) the next hearing is scheduled on March 18,” the police officer said.
As many as 14 district agriculture officers and 110 BDOs have been the major impediment to the resolution of the seed scam. Most were yet to send in reports or purchase documents.
It is only after the last high court hearing when judges gave 10 days’ time to the BDOs and the other officers that documents have started trickling in.
Today, investigation officer Shailendra Kumar Burnwal interrogated Satyanand Bhokta, who was agriculture minister in the Arjun Munda-led government of 2006, for over two hours in connection with his department’s purchases.