(Clockwise from above) Gift packets with Srijan monograms, Manorama Devi, Priya Kumar and Amit Kumar. Pictures by Gautam Sarkar
Like all financial wrongdoings, the Srijan money transfer scam too has left a trail of ill-gotten wealth, allurement and a well-designed strategy on how to impress people who matter.
The special investigating team (SIT) has been digging deep to find out details of how the late Manorama Devi, the founder of Srijan Mahila Vikas Sahayog Samiti, formed relationships with officials and impressed them with valuable gifts. Junior ranking members of the staff in the departments concerned who were close to Manorama worked as go-betweens to convince their bosses about the NGO.
Sources in the know of the investigation said that Mahesh Mandal, the nazir (accountant) in the welfare department who was recently arrested by the SIT, was one such close lieutenant of Manorama, an association through which he accumulated huge property. Local sources said his son Shiv Kumar Mandal had spent a lot of money during the last Zila Parisad election. "Shiv Kumar had no political background but after the election, he all of a sudden emerged as a popular leader and is presently district president of the youth JDU here," a villager at Pista said under the condition of anonymity.
Manorama also had two other lieutenants - Prem Kumar, the personal assistant to the Bhagalpur district magistrate, and Amrendra Yadav, a clerk at the district nazarat or treasury. Both men, the sources said, acted as bridges between the district administration and Srijan.
Prem, who was arrested first by the SIT, earned not only huge properties but also managed to make many of his close relatives beneficiaries of the scam. He gifted over half-a-dozen shops to his brother-in-law at a mall that is coming up in the heart of Bhagalpur city.
Prem's involvement came to light when the sleuths zeroed in on Ajay Pandey, an official with Indian Bank. The SIT had detained Pandey for questioning and found in his cell phone inbox a message from Prem. The sleuths asked Pandey to call Prem, who oblivious that the banker had been detained, asked him to destroy all evidence.
Amrendra, ironically, was the complainant in the first FIR lodged by the district administration on August 8, but he disappeared the very next day. "We assume that he managed to escape. Our suspicions were proved right as the personal diary of Amrendra, which was obtained by the SIT, has revealed his deep involvement not only in the scam but also with Srijan," a top ranking district official said.
Arrested district welfare officer Arun Kumar has purportedly told the sleuths how he received valuable gifts such as heavy gold ornaments, land and cheques for hefty amounts in favour of his wife. The SIT has accused Arun of helping his wife to flee Bhagalpur with all ornaments and cash.
Manorama Devi, who once sold garments door-to-door after the sudden death of her husband, managed to erect the empire by forging strong social connections. "We all were misguided by her and she projected herself as the motivator of poor women by forming self-help groups for their livelihoods. Some of us were even approached by her close associates for nominating her name for some award like Padma Vibhushan etc," said BJP national spokesperson Syed Shahnawaz Hussain.
After the death of Manorama Devi in February, her younger son Amit Kumar and wife Priya Kumar took charge of the empire. Amit, who used to run a coaching class - A. Kumar Institute - here, paid more attention to organising parties and gatherings to which important people from the society were invited.
"Amit always acted as a financial expert and an expert in ethical cyber hacking, but ultimately the scam exposed his character," said a social worker who worked closely with Amit and Priya.