Investigators, probing an alleged extortion racket run by a 52-year-old motor parts businessman who posed as a civic body engineer or RTI activist to threaten people, are probing the role of a retired assistant director in MCD’s slum wing as they try to get to the root of the racket.
Sources said the retired official allegedly taught Anil Dutt Sharma, arrested on Tuesday, how to file RTIs and what information to seek.
Through RTIs, Sharma extracted information on illegal constructions and, in collusion with MCD officials, allegedly extorted money from their owners, sources said.
Police have seized 50,000 pages of RTI documents, among other papers, from Sharma’s residence along with his laptop and a computer.
Though investigators are yet to establish the identity of the retired MCD official, local residents they spoke to described the official as an old bearded man and a regular visitor to Sharma’s residence at B-14, Dilshad Garden.
Local residents told investigators that Sharma too would visit the official, who reportedly lives in Patparganj, East Delhi.
Investigators are now on the lookout for this man, who they believe would be able to shed more light on Sharma and his alleged illegal activities.
Whether the retired MCD official, too, lined his pockets through Sharma’s illegal activities is being probed.
Sharma was arrested by the state government’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) on Tuesday.
Posing as a junior engineer in the MCD or an RTI activist, he usually targeted people carrying out illegal constructions in East, Northeast and South Delhi to extort money.
If the property owners fell in line, he would allegedly strike deals with MCD officials, offering them a cut in return for not taking action against the illegal constructions.
It was only when a builder, fed up with Sharma’s continuous demands for money, approached the ACB that Sharma was arrested. He was caught red-handed accepting Rs 1 lakh from a builder in Shahdara.
Explaining his modus operandi, a source in the ACB said Sharma would first identify properties with illegal constructions. Then, he would direct six cameramen he had hired to take pictures of the illegal portions.
“He would set out early in the morning around 5 am since all the shops in the area would be shut and residents would still be asleep. He would then ask his men to take pictures if he found a plank in a shop extended or an asbestos sheet placed in a manner exceeding its area requirement,” an officer explained.
He would then file an RTI, seeking details of the property, the area’s junior engineer, assistant engineer and executive engineer, and details on how many times MCD officials had carried out inspections, if any, and whether the said building followed rules laid down by the department.
He would then pose as a junior engineer and approach the builder or owner of that property and tell him that an RTI had been filed against him and that, if he wanted it to be quashed, he would have to pay him money.
“Yes, there are houses and shops where planks or rooftops exceed what is allowed under law, but that does not mean we are encroaching.
We can still understand if this man files an RTI and makes sure that illegal constructions are razed. But how can he ask us to pay him money? He is a racketeer and his aim to file these RTIs was only to blackmail people,” a resident in Dilshad Garden said.
If the owner or builder of a property was unwilling to pay bribe, Sharma would threaten them and call a senior MCD official, whose name and designation is being withheld for the purpose of investigation.
Addressing her as “didi”, he would ask her to send in a raiding team. The builders would then come around and agree to pay the amount he would ask for. He would then call up the same official and ask her to recall the raid party.
For each property measuring less than 50 sq yards, Sharma would ask for Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000. If the property was 100 sq yards or more, Sharma would charge Rs 1 lakh.
But Sharma saw ahead. He not only blackmailed his victims, but also recorded his conversations with the MCD officials he was involved with, so that they wouldn’t be in a position to retract and complain against him later. This way, he ensured that he kept both sides under his thumb and neither went against him.
With Sharma’s arrest, at least 75 junior engineers and assistant engineers, an Assistant Commissioner and a Deputy Commissioner are under the scanner after his call records and audio-recordings have shown him to be in conversation with them.
“In one conversation, Sharma is purportedly heard telling a junior engineer that the builder has been taken care of and that his construction should not be affected. The engineer is heard telling him that the matter would be taken care of at his end as well,” an ACB source said.
Reportedly, Sharma was taken to the FSL lab, where his voice samples were taken on Thursday.
During hearing of his plea at CIC, he was once thrown out
Anil Dutt Sharma was once thrown out of the chamber of the Central Information Commission (CIC) for allegedly misbehaving and threatening the forum, which was hearing a plea filed by him, sources told Newsline.
Reportedly, during the hearing, Sharma, who was not satisfied with the response of the Public Information Officer and had then appealed to the CIC, asked the stenographer noting down the proceedings of the hearing to “take down whatever he was saying”. The incident occurred this year.
Incidentally, the CIC was hearing 36 cases filed by Sharma in just two days. On the second day, during the hearing on the ninth case, the forum wished to discuss the matter with Sharma and asked the stenographer to wait for a minute.
However, an angry and restless Sharma told the stenographer to note down exactly what he was saying. This angered the forum, which asked Sharma to leave the chamber. Sources said since then, the remaining cases of appeals filed by Sharma have not been rescheduled for hearing.
Newsline accessed some of the RTIs that had gone in appeal to the CIC. While in one RTI, Sharma sought details of 37 properties, including the names of the junior engineers, assistant engineers and executive engineers in the areas where the properties are registered, as also their telephone numbers and details of how many times they had carried out inspections of these areas.
The CIC too took note of the hundreds of applications Sharma had filed and, in a written order, asked him to be a little more specific with the addresses whose details he had sought.
In one order, the CIC said, “The commission notes that the appellant Sharma has preferred a large number of appeals, which are registered with the commission for hearing. A rough calculation of the total number of private properties in respect of which information is sought runs into several hundreds. The commission is unable to gauge the true object of the appellant in seeking information in respect of all these properties. However, be that as it may, the commission can’t but frown on any attempt made to overburden the public authorities through repetitive RTI applications having 15 or more queries each. Most often, the addresses given by the appellant are incomplete.”
Sources said they were verifying these applications before the CIC. The owners of these properties too may be questioned.
RTI activists call for steps to curb misuse of Act
By: Kaunain Sheriff M
The arrest of Anil Dutt Sharma by the Delhi government’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) has raised concerns over misuse of RTI.
“The misuse of RTI is hurting citizens who use it for legitimate purposes. While exposing any misuse is a positive move, it also defames the RTI movement,” Subhash Chandra Agrawal, an RTI activist, said.
Activists believe RTI has become a tool to settle ‘personal rivalries’ in government departments. “You will see RTIs which are filed not just to access information but to settle rivalries, where one can threaten the other with the information,” Agrawal said.
RTI activists feel a more vigilant information commission can track fake activists.
“Previous Chief Information Commissioners like Satyanand Misra have tracked petitioners who filed frivolous applications. In a judgment, he also noted that such petitioners waste everybody’s time. In a similar way, the commission can track who are filing legitimate applications and those who are not,” Agrawal said.
He added that authorities should track and take action against ‘mysterious’ and ‘fraudulent’ applications. “Several fake petitions have been filed in my name using my forged signature. Very recently, the Delhi Police and the Ministry of Finance received RTI applications in my name. I have requested that an enquiry be set up to trace the culprit,” he said.
RTI activists feel that changes in the law will not stop misuse. “The law is very user friendly and it should not be amended. Every law is misused, but the authorities should build a system to avoid misuse,” Agrawal said.
A member of a Delhi-based NGO said, “The formulation of law took years. Now when the law has been implemented, we will certainly see some negatives. Serious action should be taken against misuse. But this does not mean transparency and accountability can be compromised.”
Seized audio recording: ‘I have taken money from him. Let his property be’
Twenty-seven audio-recordings, seized from Anil Dutt Sharma’s cellphone, confirm his conversations with MCD officials, including junior engineers, assistant engineers and senior officials, in which the two sides are purportedly heard striking deals, sources said.
Sources in the state government’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) said that in one recording, Sharma is purportedly heard telling a senior official in the MCD — whom he addresses as “didi” — on how he had received payment from a builder and, therefore, his property should not be touched.
“Le liya hai usse. Uska makaan chhod dena (I have taken money from him. Let his property be),” Sharma is purportedly heard saying over the phone.
To this, the official responds saying, “Accha. Dekh lenge (Ok. We will see).”
Investigators said while they have details of the conversations of the senior official in question and other officials allegedly in touch with Sharma, they were analysing the call records further before taking a decision on whether they should be questioned.
Sharma’s voice samples have been collected and sent for forensic examination. Once the results come in, the ACB will match the voice records and the call details, and then start questioning officials.
After questioning the officials, their voice samples too will be taken for forensic examination after which investigators will match these with those found in Sharma’s cellphone.
“We have evidence that Sharma was in frequent touch with at least 75 junior engineers, assistant engineers and other senior officials of the department. But we are not sure at this stage if they had any role in the racket. There could be instances of Sharma blackmailing the junior engineers with the support of senior officials,” an official said.