The State Assembly building in Ranchi
Ranchi; March 16: A CBI investigation into the cash-for-vote-stink that sullied the 2010 Rajya Sabha elections in Jharkhand has apparently hit a hurdle over some missing documents concerning one of the elected MPs and the state Assembly secretariat seems to be in the thick of it.
The all-important file, that contains the opinion of then advocate general on whether JMM Rajya Sabha MP K.D. Singh was holding an office of profit at the time of his election, has gone missing from the secretariat.
Pressured by the CBI on its whereabouts, senior officials of the Assembly secretariat were now trying their best to wriggle out of the mess by pinning the blame on a grade III employee working as personal assistant to one of them.
Reacting to two reminders issued by the CBI, the secretariat issued notices to secretary and returning officer Kaushal Kishore Prasad and deputy secretary and assistant returning officer Ramsagar on March 7.
Both denied any knowledge of the file, but pointed an accusing finger at Pankaj, a grade III Assembly employee. They said Pankaj, who was Prasad’s private assistant, was the one who had received the sealed envelope containing the AG’s legal opinion.
“The file containing the legal opinion and proceedings are missing. The official entry suggests that Pankaj had received the dispatch. But an office clerk won’t sign and receive something unless it has been seen and okayed by the authorities concerned,” claimed an Assembly employee.
Days before the 2010 Rajya Sabha polls, the secretariat sought the AG’s legal opinion on June 13 after BJP candidate Ajay Maroo challenged Singh’s nomination, alleging that as chairman of national meat and poultry processing board (NMPPB), under the Union ministry of food processing, he was holding an office of profit during the time of the Rajya Sabha elections.
The AG’s opinion came in on June 17, the day of voting. Singh and Dhiraj Kumar Shahu (Congress) were declared elected the same evening. Later, Maroo challenged Singh’s election in Jharkhand High Court, which ruled against him.
The CBI is conducting a probe into the 2010 cash-for-vote affair that is based on a damning television sting operation that allegedly showed five MLAs seeking money in exchange for their votes in favour of a particular Rajya Sabha.
An FIR was lodged against the MLAs — Rajesh Ranjan, Yogendra Sao and Sawna Lakra (all Congress), Uma Shankar Yadav Akela (BJP) and Simon Marandi (JMM) — under Sections 8, 9 and 171 B of Prevention of Corruption Act along with Sections 120(B) and 34 of IPC on the instructions of the Election Commission.
Later, the high court asked the CBI to take over investigations.
The CBI believes the file containing the AG’s opinion was crucial to the case. The results of the election could not have been declared unless the returning office (Prasad) had gone through his opinion. “Also, you cannot blame a clerk just because he received it,” said an investigating officer.
The mystery over the missing file has, in the meanwhile, deepened as sources in the Assembly claimed there was no mention of it in record books, something that could have helped the CBI track it.
Secretary in-charge of the Assembly Samrendra Kumar Pandey admitted the file was missing. “The CBI wants this file and we are searching for it. Hopefully, we will get it. We have sought information from the returning officer and assistant returning officer,” he said.
Prasad, however, refused to comment on the missing file. He has been under suspension since last year in connection with a controversy over his leave travel allowance claims.
On Wednesday, a CBI team collected video footage of the MLAs’ speeches in the House from the Assembly secretariat. Sources claimed the officers would match these with voice samples from the recording that was aired by the television channel.