|Income tax officials and Ranchi police count the envelopes containing cash seized from a room of a capital hotel on April 7, 2013, a day before the mayoral polls
Ranchi, March 13: The Congress high command may have re-nominated sitting MP Subodh Kant Sahay for the prestigious Ranchi seat, but the former Union minister has been saddled with possibly a bigger fight than anti-incumbency on his hands.
Ranchi police, in a sealed status report to State Election Commission, has for the first time earlier this week named Sahay as one of those involved in his protégé Rama Khalkho’s mayoral election cash scam in April 2013.
Though the Rs 21.90 lakh seized from a Ranchi hotel a day before the voting is loose change in Jharkhand’s scam history, the timing of the police report is damning for the sitting MP as he starts his campaign. The report, of which The Telegraph has a copy, mentions the Congress MP among those who allegedly conspired to influence voters and poll officers in favour of Khalkho.
Investigating officer DSP P.N. Singh was also transferred twice from the case, the report adds.
“On April 7, 2013, a day before mayoral election, Income Tax and Ranchi police seized three bags containing Rs 21.90 lakh in 55 envelopes from room number 202, (hotel) City Palace in Ranchi, where an election meeting was arranged. Besides Subodh Kant Sahay, his younger brother Sunil Sahay and close aide Santosh Singh, candidate Rama Khalkho, Congress leader Niranjan Sharma and others were present… evident from the CCTV footage. They had assembled here to influence polling process with help of money,” the report reads.
It goes on to add that holding such meetings “is a crime under section of 559 of Jharkhand Municipal Act 2011.
“They have attempted to influence investigation by managing the transfer of the investigating officer of this case and other means,” the report alleged.
So far, police have zeroed in on Sahay’s aide Santosh, who along with an unidentified person, had carried to the hotel bags of cash amounting to Rs 21.90 lakh, way above the Rs 5 lakh cost cap per candidate.
Call details of Santosh, Sahay and Sunil, as well as other suspects, have apparently led the police to believe that the MP monitored the shady show. Between April 6 and 8, 2013, Sahay (9431106877) made numerous calls to Santosh (9430734855), the report said.
The renewed efforts of the police seem partly the fallout of a Jharkhand High Court rap last year. Justice HC Mishra, while hearing Sharma’s bail petition, observed: “The Ranchi MP, the Ranchi mayor and others were present in the hotel. Instead of arresting them, the police gave them the chance to slip.”
But the police also had their own constraints.
Investigation officer DSP Singh was transferred from the case by state home department on June 8, when Rama Khalkho was first grilled. The department, under chief minister Hemant Soren and principal secretary N.N. Pandey, withdrew the order on State Election Commission objections. The home department again transferred DSP Singh this February to the CID. Singh is now on sick leave.
“The officer concerned (Singh) can’t be transferred when probe is on, otherwise it will be seen as an attempt to influence the case. In this case, many high-profile people are involved or are suspects,” election commission secretary Umesh Prasad Singh told The Telegraph.
While Sunil is evading arrest, Sahay is calling the case a conspiracy.
“The sum was meant for booth expense in 55 wards on the day of polling, which includes expenditure and challenge money,” Sahay had clarified earlier, referring to the small sums a candidate’s election agent pays as fine to a polling officer if the former happened to “challenge” certain voters as fake.
But, the I-T department termed the money as stolen.
Police found four bank accounts from where the cash was withdrawn in phases a couple of days before polling. Two months after the case was reported, one Aquilur Rahman, apparently Sahay’s close aide claimed the money was obtained through donations.
Not many bought this explanation. In the first FIR (92/13) with Lalpur police on April 7, the day the cash was seized from the hotel, under section 171 E/H; and 414 of IPC; 133, 559, 568, 574 under municipal act and sections 8, 9, 10, 13 of Prevention of Corruption Act, the police named Khalkho, Niranjan and Sudhir. In November 2013, the names of Sahay’s brother Sunil and close aide Santosh were added.
The same month, Khalkho, after stints in Birsa jail and RIMS from June onwards, got bail from Jharkhand High Court.