Women constables during a training at Birsa Munda Central Jail in Ranchi on Friday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Ranchi, Oct. 4: Former Bihar finance commissioner Vijay Shankar Dubey, one of the top CBI witnesses in the 17-year-old fodder scam, vividly remembers that cold night of January 24, 1996, when his landline phone rang.
On the other end, RJD chief and then Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad was roaring, he recalls.
“Ka ho Dubeyji! Ee ka tamasha hai? Bina kagaz pattar ke itne bade ghotale ka arop laga rahe hain. Ap mere adesh ke bina kaise yah sab kar sakte hain. Kya ham apko isi liye iss department mein laye they (What Dubeyji! What is this fuss? You are levelling charges of scam without proof or papers. How can you do it without my permission? Did I bring you to this department for this day)?” Dubey recalled Lalu as having said.
Dubey knew what had provoked Lalu’s rage. As finance commissioner, Dubey had forwarded a strong recommendation to Lalu through then chief secretary A.K. Basak, asking for a probe on huge financial misappropriation in the animal husbandry department.
Dubey’s recommendation was in the light of evidence he had gathered from Ranchi and Doranda treasuries. His calculations indicated an estimated theft of some Rs 1,195 crore by fodder mafia.
That night, Dubey thought better of arguing.
Now, 17 years and nine months later, much water has flown down the Ganga.
“While keeping down the receiver I heard Laluji tell someone Ka re badmaswa tum log itna bada ghotala kar liya ji (You rogue, you people did such a big scam),” the retired Patna-based bureaucrat recalled.
Lalu may have said the words to then joint regional director of animal husbandry department, Ranchi-based Shyam Bihari Sinha, widely known as the scam’s kingpin. Sinha died during the probe.
“The fodder scam and its long probe are worthy of a Bollywood film,” says Dubey, a day after Lalu and 36 others, including former Bihar chief minister Jagannath Mishra, bureaucrats and suppliers received jail sentences and fines.
Just five days before Lalu’s call, Dubey had got the first stench of the scam on January 19, 1996.
A monthly report from accountant general’s office in Patna had reminded the finance department about huge unsanctioned withdrawals from government treasuries in Ranchi, Chaibasa, Dumka and other districts.
Dubey immediately sent then additional finance secretary Mansingh to hold an inquiry in Ranchi and Doranda treasuries, and forwarded a three-page report to Basak.
On January 22 and 23, 1996, Dubey remembers having sent coded telegrams to district collectors — now called deputy commissioners (DC) — of Dumka, Chaibasa, Deoghar, Ranchi and others on the dubious withdrawals and asked them to start raids.
According to Dubey, Basak, who was obliged to Lalu for his three job extensions, flared up. “Basak accused me of trying to destabilise the Lalu government,” Dubey alleges with a chuckle.
“Nobody wanted a probe. The fodder scam started from 1975 and ballooned into a huge thing in the mid-1990s. Now, the guilty have been punished. I hope it sends the right message across society,” Dubey, who also had stints as Bihar’s chief secretary and Jharkhand’s advisor to the governor, said.
But the minefield of countless anecdotes knows how to wrap up his story at the right time. “Then West Singhbhum (Chaibasa) DC Amit Khare mustered the courage to conduct raids on January 27, 1996. History was made,” Dubey says.