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Govt slips into buy-time mode


The photograph taken on Monday shows the status of an electrical crematorium in Siliguri, one of the three for which IAS officer G. Kiran Kumar has been accused of releasing a cumulative amount of Rs 51 crore when he was the chief executive officer of the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority. This particular “crematorium” is located in Bagdogra on the outskirts of Siliguri town. Work started in 2012 but does not appear to have advanced much after the foundation was laid and pillars built in preparation to lay concrete. Bamboo poles crowd the floor of the “crematorium” now. Two incinerators are to be installed on the first floor, work for which has not started.The Rs 51-crore project for the three crematoria — the status of the other two, in Malbazar and Mainaguri, are more or less the same as this one — included construction as well as the installation of the incinerators. However, the full amount was released in tranches between April 2012 and March 2013 to the Calcutta-based contractor when Kumar was the CEO, according to police. A representative of the contractor was arrested and later freed on bail. Picture by Kundan Yolmo

Calcutta, Dec. 2: The Bengal government has confined itself to the minimum administrative steps necessitated by Malda district magistrate G. Kiran Kumar’s arrest and bail, possibly hoping to buy time and defuse a controversy that has the potential to be politically damaging.

It has sent Kumar on leave, decided to replace him, and put off a decision on departmental proceedings against the officer who arrested him.

I had never imagined that I might be arrested…. At first, I thought the
police commissioner was pulling my leg…. It was like a bolt from the blue

G. Kiran Kumar
District magistrate, Malda

There was no word on what would happen to Kumar other than removal from his post when he returns from his 15-day leave. Sources said three possible successors had been short-listed.

“Action against Kumar will immediately magnify the issue and offer the Opposition a chance to attack the government. Now is the time to let the controversy die a natural death,” an official said.

He conceded that the corruption charges against Kumar, relating to his stint as chief executive officer of the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA) between August 2011 and March this year, were “comprehensive” and necessitated “action”.

Similarly, no one would comment on possible future action against K. Jayaraman, who was removed as Siliguri police commissioner and put on compulsory waiting hours after arresting Kumar on Saturday.

Chief secretary Sanjay Mitra had on Saturday evening accused Jayaraman of “exceeding his brief” — a charge that, a senior official said, would normally have attracted departmental proceedings straightaway.

But Jayaraman is widely respected in the police for his integrity and competence and “departmental proceedings against him would send out wrong signals to the force”, a senior home department official said.

“The government is trying to strike a balance. The IAS and IPS officers involved have only been (or will be) removed from their posts without administrative action being initiated yet,” a bureaucrat said.

However, the government’s efforts at damage control — sources said chief minister Mamata Banerjee had personally cleared every move since Kumar’s arrest — could come under strain if the matter reached the courts.

Such a threat came from a political rival this afternoon. Former CPM minister and onetime SJDA chairman Asok Bhattacharya said a PIL would soon be moved at Calcutta High Court requesting a CBI probe.

“Whatever has happened in the past two-three days, from the transfer of the police commissioner to the release (on bail) of the former CEO (Kumar), has left us with serious doubts,” CPM leader Bhattacharya told reporters.

“We don’t think an independent and proper investigation by the state police or its investigating agency is possible any more.”

Trinamul has been edgy since the names of several of its leaders began surfacing in the probe into the SJDA scandal. Siliguri MLA Rudranath Bhattacharya, Siliguri councillor Ranjan Silsharma and Jalpaiguri party unit president Chandan Bhowmik are already under the scanner.

Even after Jayaraman’s exit, the probe lies with the Siliguri commissionerate. Many in the government and Trinamul believe that unless the controversy is handled with caution, it could have a far-reaching political fallout.

Government sources said the possible replacements for Kumar were Sharad Dwivedi, the current SJDA chief executive officer; Smita Pandey, project director for the Kolkata Environment Implementation Project; and Dinabandhu Bhattacharya, joint secretary in the home department.

The list will be sent to the Election Commission of India for approval, which is necessary because a rolls revision is on and the district magistrates are on deputation to the poll panel.

Jayaraman defended his actions this afternoon. “I don’t repent for whatever I have done. I have explained everything to the DGP,” he said while leaving Nabanna, the current headquarters of the state government.

In private, senior police officers said Jayaraman, thanks to a previous stint in the CBI, knew well how to keep documents ready before making an arrest in a case of white-collar crime.

“Jayaraman claimed there were eight cases against Kumar and he knew how to go about his work,” an officer said.

The administration has already faced uncomfortable questions on why the public prosecutor yesterday didn’t oppose Kumar’s bail in a Siliguri court, paving the way for his release within a day of his arrest.