Fodder shock for state finance secy

Sukhdev Singh

Ranchi: A special CBI court, hearing fodder scam cases, has called for the prosecution of 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 the 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 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.

Wednesday's developments, 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.

The chief minister held at least two rounds of meetings with Verma, his principal secretary Sanjay Kumar, development commissioner Amit Khare, personnel secretary Nidhi Khare. Sukhdev was also present at 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 official 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 issued notices to two CBI approvers, Shivkumar Patwari and Shailesh Prasad Singh, asking why their status as approver should not be cancelled. It ordered that their properties, bought between 1990 and 1996, be confiscated.

CBI insiders said that to make somebody as witness and approver is not the matter of domain of any individual officer of the agency.

"It has to be seen and approved at least at stages. And in case of differences of opinion the opinion of Attorney General of India is taken. In the case of Ojha we too wanted to make him accused in several fodder scam cases. The CBI had taken opinion of the then Attorney General Soli Sorabjee who said that Ojha is a fit case of departmental proceedings," the official said.

The CBI sources also justified the decision to allow Patwari and Shailesh Prasad to turn approver. Patwari on the basis of fake transportation bill had withdrawn Rs 80000 from the treasury. Patwari who is CBI approver in RC 38A/96, 39A/A/96, 41A/96, 45A/96 and RC 64A/96 had helped the CBI to establish fake procurement, allotment and withdrawal in various districts.

He confessed before the CBI that he along with the then Dumka regional director Sheshmuni Ram (accused in several cases of AHD scam, now dead) had visited the then Santhal Pargana commissioner SN Dubey. They paid Rs 40 lakh to Dubey nullify the order passed by the then Dumka DC Anjani Kumar Singh under which any withdrawal more than Rs one lakh was subject to confirmation of DC.

The CBI had option to book either Patwari or Dubey as accused. Then CBI director Joginder Singh asked the then CBI regional director U.N. Biswas to take appropriate decision.

"After much consultation it was decided that it is better to expose corruption at higher echelons and punish culprits. Same happened in case of Shailesh Prasad whose statement helped the CBI to build the case against former Congress MP Rajo Singh (now late) who accompanied Shailesh to Lalu Prasad and paid him Rs 20 lakh bribe to cancel transfer of district AHD officer B.N. Sharma so that scam continues. The case of approvers must be carefully examined and seen in totality because it will have negative ramifications on other cases," said another CBI official who was associated with investigation.


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