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Cops spar over ’13 mayor poll cash

Ranchi, June 15: Two senior police officers are locked in a dispute over investigations into a cash-for-vote controversy that came to light during last year’s Ranchi mayoral elections with a DIG pulling rank over the investigating officer to insist on a reinvestigation since he felt a number of “innocent” persons had been wrongly charged.

DIG of Chotanagpur range Praveen Kumar Singh has now sought a showcause on the investigating officer, DSP P.N. Singh, for having recently spoken to the media about the case involving the seizure of Rs 21.90 lakh from a Ranchi hotel in April last year, a day before voting was to take place.

In a letter to DGP Rajeev Kumar recently, DIG Praveen Kumar sought disciplinary action against DSP Singh and also raised certain questions on the direction of his probe.

“I have received a letter from the DIG in this regard. I am looking into this matter,” DGP Rajeev Kumar said.

After the cash seizure, the police lodged an FIR against then Ranchi mayor and candidate Rama Khalkho, Congress leader Niranjan Sharma and his aide Dhiraj Sahu.

Investigations led the police to believe that the seized cash, contained in 55 envelopes with around Rs 5,000 in each, was meant to be distributed among supporters and residents in various localities of Ranchi in exchange of their votes.

In the course of investigations, the police named one Santosh Singh as another accused. They also raised serious questions on the role of former Ranchi MP Subodh Kant Sahay and his brother Sunil, the unspoken assertion being that the senior Congress leader was there to supervise the distribution to help their candidate Khalkho win the election.

Khalkho, who surrendered in June last year, got bail from Jharkhand High Court after six months. She has alleged that the investigators were working against her, prompting a review of the case in April this year.

During this time, the DIG sought certain clarifications and observed that the case needed to be reinvestigated as the police seemed to have implicated “innocent people” without proper evidence against them.

The DIG raised a number of questions. For instance, he wanted to know whether sections 8, 9, 10 and 13 of PCA were warranted and criticised the investigating officer for failing to establish the source of the money seized during the raids. He also said that “forward trail” or likely recipients of the money could not be established.

Police sources said DSP Singh, in two separate replies, defended his investigation.

“In the light of a Supreme Court order in the Nupur Talwar versus CBI case, once a charge sheet is accepted by court, the case can’t be reinvestigated.

Khalkho was a mayor at the time and hence a public servant under the ambit of People’s Representation Act. Even the CBI, investigating two cash-for-vote cases, has imposed PC Acts,” DSP Singh contended.

On the DIG questioning the use of Section 414 of IPC (assisting in concealment of stolen property) against the accused, the DSP pointed out that Jharkhand High Court had last year denied Khalkho’s request to remove the section from the chargesheet.

The DIG also questioned the DSP’s decision not to record statements of one Aquilur Rahman, an aide of Sahay, and two others, Afsar Khan, alias Bablu, and Ajai Jain, who claimed the money was obtained through donations after a citizens’ meeting at Bihar Club near Kutchery Chowk on March 30 to support a “good and able” candidate for Ranchi mayor.

The DSP has contended that mobile phone locations and call details of those who claimed to have attended the Bihar Club meeting helped investigators conclude that no such meeting took place.

“Call detail record (CDR) is scientifically accepted and legally approved evidence. CDR confirms that they were not present at Bihar Club hence it is logically concluded that no meeting took place," the DSP said in his reply.

DIG, in his letter, agreed with Khalkho’s contention that the seized money was meant for “booth expenses”, suggesting it was an accepted practice among political parties before elections, and questioned the very premise of the investigation.

In his counter, the DSP cited election commission rules to claim that all candidates were required to open bank accounts before elections and funds for poll expenses had to be withdrawn from the account. In fact, prior permission of the election commission was required for withdrawing amounts more than Rs 20,000.

DGP Rajeev Kumar tried to downplay the controversy. "They may be arguing over merits of the case. Any case is subject to re-investigation following court’s order if fresh facts are emerging," he said.

But, DIG Praveen Kumar refused to comment on the case.

Khalkho is a candidate for the June 23 mayor elections. With black board as her symbol, she is busy campaigning, saying that all she wants is a fair investigation into last year’s cash seizures.