Retired High Court judge Ishrat Masroor Quddusi and five others were arrested Thursday by the CBI in an alleged corruption case involving a Lucknow medical college which was trying to get relief from courts after being placed on a government blacklist. The Indian Express has learnt that the CBI, which secured custody of the six for questioning over four days, has in its possession phone intercepts that mention Quddusi and sitting judges of a High Court.
Sources said the phone intercepts of conversations regarding the Prasad Institute of Medical Sciences, one of many barred from functioning because of poor infrastructure, prompted the CBI to arrest Justice Quddusi, who had served in the High Courts of Allahabad, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, and five others — B P Yadav and Palash Yadav, promoters of the medical college; alleged middleman Biswanath Agrawal; alleged hawala operator Ram Dev Saraswat; and, Bhawana Pandey who, the CBI said, was Quddusi’s associate.
The CBI claimed to have found “incriminating documents” during searches that provided clues to the alleged involvement of Quddusi and his associates in several deals to try and secure favourable orders from courts. “A lot of incriminating documents have been found from the residence of Quddusi and other accused. Some of these have provided vital clues on certain other deals struck by the accused over the past few years. These deals are spread across sectors and may not be limited to medical colleges,” a CBI officer said.
Special judge Manoj Jain sent Quddusi and the others to CBI custody after the prosecution said their custodial interrogation was required to unearth the “larger nexus” in the alleged medical college scandal. The CBI told the court that a total recovery of Rs 1.86 crore had been made during searches.
Pramod Chaudhary, counsel for Quddusi, told the court that merely on the basis of allegations, offences under Prevention of Corruption Act could not be made out against his client. “Merely by suggesting to withdraw a petition doesn’t constitute a crime… there is no recovery from him and the CBI hasn’t mentioned why they want the retired judge in custody,” Choudhary said.
Sending the accused to CBI custody, special judge Jain said: “It is an embarrassing situation, but if they (CBI) are not given custody, the truth will never come out.”
Sources in CBI said Bhawana Pandey had been arrested by the agency earlier as well. In 2001, she was arrested, along with then Central Board of Excise and Customs chairman B P Verma, in an alleged corruption case. It was alleged that she was a front for Verma, that she struck deals and received bribe money to be delivered to Verma. The CBI had also alleged that she influenced transfers and postings of officials during Verma’s tenure.
From Kumaon in Uttarakhand, Pandey had joined the Congress and later networked with Samajwadi Party politicians, sources in CBI said, adding that she had built a wide network and accumulated considerable wealth. She was presently staying in a flat adjacent to that of Quddusi in Greater Kailash in New Delhi.
According to CBI sources, a 2014 sting video features Quddusi and Pandey in which they are heard negotiating with a person regarding court cases on diesel cars. The CBI FIR alleged that promoters of the Lucknow medical college, one of 46 barred by the government from admitting students for two years, had approached Quddusi who had promised relief from the court in exchange for bribes to influential people.
The college challenged the government order in the Supreme Court which, the FIR said, directed the government on August 1 to consider afresh the material on record. In compliance with the order, the government heard the matter and barred the college from taking admissions for two sessions — 2017-18 and 2018-19. It also authorised the Medical Council of India to encash the college’s bank guarantee of Rs 2 crore.
The promoters of the college again approached the Supreme Court with a petition. At the same time, they also got in touch with Quddusi and Bhawana Pandey who, the FIR stated, promised to get the matter settled. According to the CBI, Quddusi advised the promoters to withdraw the petition in the Supreme Court and file a petition in the Allahabad High Court. The promoters then approached the High Court on August 25.
In an interim relief, the High Court ordered that the “petitioner college shall not be delisted from the list of colleges notified for counselling till the next date of listing i.e. August 21, 2017”, the CBI FIR stated. It also stayed encashment of the bank guarantee till the next date of hearing. The High Court, the CBI said, also “clarified that on the basis of the order, the petitioners shall have no right to claim any admission of the students”.
Against this, the MCI went to Supreme Court which disposed of the matter on August 29 with the college submitting that “it does not claim any benefit from the order passed by the HC”. At this point, according to CBI, Quddusi and Pandey “assured to get the matter settled” through their contacts.
They put the Yadavs in touch with Biswanath Agrawala of Bhubaneswar who “claimed very close contact with senior relevant public functionaries and assured that he would get the matter favourably settled”.
According to the CBI FIR, Agrawala “demanded huge gratification for inducing public servants by corrupt and illegal means in lieu of the aforesaid help”.