For the past two years, the Dilshad Garden neighbourhood in North-East Delhi would wake up every morning to witness a peculiar sight — a hefty man in a pair of shorts and T-shirt, riding across the streets on his Bullet. Flanked by six cameramen, the man, wearing aviator shades and with a cigarette in his hand, would go around giving instructions every now and then. Initially, some mistook him for a beat constable or a law enforcement officer. But when many in the area started getting frequent calls from him, they soon realised he was trouble.
Anil Dutt Sharma, a 52-year-old motor parts businessman, who allegedly made his riches more as an ‘RTI activist’, was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Branch of the Delhi government recently. He was charged with extorting money from builders in East, North-East and South Delhi. He would threaten them with filing RTI applications for unauthorised constructions if they did not pay up.
Investigators said they have also found alleged involvement of senior officials from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, who would help him out in his racket. They said they have found at least 27 audio recordings of the deals Sharma made with senior MCD officials, including 75 junior engineers and assistant engineers.
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According to sources in the ACB, Sharma used to get a regular flow of income every month from at least 150 builders. Investigators estimate his earnings at Rs 35 lakh a month, which he invested in properties across Delhi and Noida. Sources said they were verifying the properties, a list of which he has given to the ACB.
Sharma was caught by a team of ACB officers on June 24 while accepting a bribe of Rs one lakh from a builder near the ‘Ex-Taj’ restaurant in Shahdara. The builder, on whose complaint he was arrested, told The Indian Express, “He had been harassing me for the past two years. I have built 35 properties in Shahdara and for each of them, he would charge me between Rs 50,000 and Rs one lakh.”
“Last month, he came to me asking me for Rs two lakh. I told him I needed time since my nephew had passed away. He said he was sorry for my loss but added that it was not as if the construction of my new building had stopped. When I returned three days later, he doubled the rate and charged me Rs four lakh. I was fed up and that was when I decided to approach the ACB.”
As the news of his arrest reached Dilshad Garden a day later, shopkeepers and builders celebrated by distributing sweets. Sounds of “Badhai ho!” rang across the neighbourhood, with some builders calling up colleagues in other localities, informing them of the news.
President of the B Block Market Association Gurpreet Singh Bhatia said, “We just couldn’t believe it. Someone had the courage to stand up and file a complaint. This had gone on for too long. He had been blackmailing people in the neighbourhood and would not relent despite our repeated requests. We have had several meetings between shop owners and builders in the area and every time we would approach him with a request, he would threaten to falsely implicate us.”
A builder, who did not want to be named, said, “He had shown us a document, claiming it was a PIL before the Supreme Court which had the addresses of a long list of properties in East and North-East Delhi. He told us if we didn’t pay him the amount he asked for, he would go ahead with the complaints. We all have families to look after. We had no choice.”
Sources said Sharma used to file at least 120 RTI applications a month at police stations in the area, requesting for information on the number of raids conducted in the area to seal illegal properties. He had also gone in appeal to the Central Information Commission, which had heard at least 36 cases of his in just two days. In one such appeal, he sought information on 37 properties in a neighbourhood in East Delhi.
Sharma spared no one. Sources said he once also filed an RTI against a juice vendor, saying he was encroaching upon the area. Local enquiries by investigators revealed that three months ago, Sharma had asked for a glass of juice from the vendor in Patparganj. After almost emptying the glass, he told the vendor the juice was not good enough and refused to pay. When the vendor demanded money, Sharma threatened him and came the next day, saying he had filed an RTI against him.
Sharma would also threaten neighbours, saying they needed to park their cars properly since he needed the road clear as he was a very busy man and was always in a hurry to reach his destination.
Sharma would reportedly operate out of a 10×10 feet room, typing away all day on his laptop and referring to his files once in a while. Investigators have recovered 50,000 pages of RTI documents.
“Every time someone refused to give in to his demands, he would click the property and send the image on WhatsApp to a senior MCD official whom he addressed as ‘Didi’ and ask the officer to send in a raiding team. I dealt with the same situation. I begged him to take whatever he wanted and leave when he approached me five months ago. I gave him Rs 75,000 and he called the official back, saying the raiding team could be called back,” alleged another builder.
As 10 more complainants have approached the ACB, investigators are scanning Sharma’s call detail records to ascertain how frequently he was in touch with the MCD officials. His voice samples have been obtained and sent for a forensic examination.
The rates for each property were fixed. Sources said while for a floor of a property measuring less than 50 sq yards, Sharma would charge between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000, if the property measured more than 100 sq yards, he would charge Rs one lakh.
Sharma’s son, a class XII student, said his father had been framed. “The complainant in this case had been calling my father since June 17 but my parents were in Haridwar. When they finally met on Tuesday, he put the money in his pocket. My father accidentally placed his finger on the notes which has got him in trouble. He is innocent. He is an RTI activist who was solely focused on finding out illegal encroachments in the area. They were scared their businesses would be shut which is why they targeted him,” he told The Indian Express.
When a neighbour approached him asking him about his father, he said: “Papa Singapore gaye hai (Papa has gone to Singapore).”