June 13: A Trinamul Congress Rajya Sabha MP and land policy adviser is among six charged with submitting inflated travel bills that yielded high reimbursements, sucking the party that swears by personal honestly into an expenses scandal similar to the one that rocked Britain a few years ago.
The CBI today registered a case against Debabrata Bandyopadhyay, the Trinamul MP and a former IAS officer, and five others.
The six public figures, along with some travel agents, have been charged with criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery.
CBI director Ranjit Sinha said most of the time, the accused furnished fake bills to get reimbursement from the Rajya Sabha secretariat without travelling.
“We scanned their travel bills and found that even when they chose to travel, they booked Air India tickets through travel agents under the airline’s promotional scheme in which a companion accompanying the passenger gets tickets at a concessional rate. But in the fake bills provided by them, they did not mention the concessional rate and got reimbursement of the full fare of the companion,” Sinha told The Telegraph.
Officials of the anti-corruption branch of the CBI carried out searches at 10 places in Delhi and Odisha.
“During examination of the records and bills from the Rajya Sabha secretariat, we found involvement of several other MPs in the travel bills reimbursement scam. They had also adopted the same modus operandi to cheat the government in the past and got reimbursement by furnishing fake bills. But these six MPs are habitual offenders,” Sinha said.
Bandyopadhyay, the Trinamul MP, said tonight he had not received any notice from the CBI on what is being known as the LTC (leave travel concession) scam. “I have so far not received any notice from the CBI regarding misappropriating LTC. This is a false allegation against me,” he told The Telegraph over phone from his Salt Lake residence this evening.
“I have come to know about the central agency officials’ visit to my New Delhi residence from my personal assistant. They had gone there to collect some documents. But how can they visit my residence without talking to me?” he asked.
Trinamul smelt a political rat. “We strongly condemn this attitude of using the CBI with the motive of political vendetta against the main Opposition parties. In a democratic set-up, this is just not done,” Derek O'Brien, the party’s national spokesperson, said in a statement.
Trinamul, which is increasingly viewing the BJP as the potential main Opposition in Bengal, suggested that the Centre had a hand in the case.
“The new government assumed office a few weeks ago. We were expecting it to start with a positive outlook and take up a developmental agenda. However, we are shocked that a beginning has already been made through rumour, and gossip and ‘plants’ in the media,” the Trinamul statement added.
Bandyopadhyay, who was described by Trinamul as “one of the most revered retired IAS officers”, had come in close contact with Mamata during her days as Opposition leader shortly after Singur became an issue.
Bandyopadhyay, who was secretary of the land reforms department when the Left Front government had distributed land parcels under Operation Barga, was part of the panel set up by Mamata after she became chief minister to prepare a land map for Bengal.
Calcutta police were the first to blow the lid off the LTC racket in March last year when it detained a passenger at Calcutta airport with more than 600 blank boarding passes of Air India. The airline alerted the vigilance department and eventually the case went to the CBI.
In the UK in 2009, several MPs were accused of cheating taxpayers while claiming reimbursement for travel between the parliament and their “main residence”. What many MPs did was designate a faraway countryside residence as their main abode and claimed reimbursement for mileage from London. In reality the MPs lived in London. Over the course of a year, this handy little earner could add up to thousands of pounds.