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Fodder shock for top Ranchi officer

Ranchi: A special CBI court hearing fodder scam cases has called for the prosecution of Jharkhand finance secretary Sukhdev Singh, a key witness whose testimonies helped the investigating agency secure high-profile convictions, including that of former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad.

The order, issued by special CBI judge Shivpal Singh under CrPC 319 on Wednesday, points to Sukhdev's alleged failure to prevent illegal withdrawals from Deoghar treasury when he was deputy commissioner of the district from June 23, 1993, to May 5, 1994.

Sukhdev, who is of additional chief secretary rank, has been asked to present himself before the court on January 23. While CBI sources iterated that they did not subscribe to the court's view that Sukhdev was part of the scam, the 1987 batch IAS officer approached chief minister Raghubar Das seeking to be relieved of his duties as finance secretary.

Sources revealed that Sukhdev wrote to Das through chief secretary Rajbala Verma saying that since the treasury was under the finance department, he was offering to step aside on moral grounds in the light of Wednesday's CBI court order.

The CBI court order that came around 11am followed by Sukhdev's letter to the chief minister sent the state government top brass into a huddle.

Chief minister Das held at least two rounds of meetings with Verma, his principal secretary Sanjay Kumar, development commissioner Amit Khare and personnel secretary Nidhi Khare. Sukhdev was also present in one of the meetings that discussed the CBI court order in the light of the state budget that is to be tabled in the Assembly on January 23.

"Nothing concrete has been decided. Ideally, the state government should challenge the order in high court," said a senior officer present at the meetings.

Another IAS officer dubbed the day's developments as shocking. "Honestly, how can proceedings be initiated against a witness and that too after a judgment has come?" he said, echoing the sombre mood in the corridors of Project Building.

CBI officers were stunned too. "He was a star witness of the CBI," exclaimed a senior officer of the agency. "He had recorded his statement before the court in 2007. His statement was vital to substantiate how senior bureaucrats and politicians were involved in the scam," he added.

He claimed that Sukhdev had instituted an inquiry when he came to know of the suspicious withdrawals.

"Sukhdev appointed Shivshankar Tiwari as executive magistrate for the probe, but the animal husbandry department did not cooperate by providing original documents. Sukhdev was transferred soon after," the CBI officer said.

Sukhdev, however, refused to comment.

On Wednesday, the CBI court also directed prosecution of former Bihar vigilance DG and Lalu's witness D.P. Ojha for allegedly sitting on several complaints of illegal treasury withdrawals. The court also issued notices to two CBI approvers, Shivkumar Patwari and Shailesh Prasad Singh, asking why their status as approver should not be cancelled. It also ordered that their properties, bought between 1990 and 1996, be confiscated.

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