Fall from grace

Arvind and Tinoo Joshi,both IAS,were once the envy of Bhopal

Written by Milind Ghatwai | Published: April 1, 2013 12:41:59 am

On his morning walks in Bhopal’s “74 Bungalow” neighbourhood,known for its sprawling government houses and long winding roads on a sloping hill,Arvind Joshi would attract the envy of many. His was a life many could only dream of.

He was a senior IAS officer,a former Air Force man at the peak of his bureaucratic career. His wife Tinoo too was a senior bureaucrat,both born in 1954,she three months earlier than he was,both of the 1979 batch of IAS officers,and both principal secretaries in Madhya Pradesh. Their children were studying in the US,and Joshi had a sister each working in the US and the UK.

Son of a retired director-general of police,Joshi was soft-spoken and polite,according to those who have known him. Tinoo Joshi,on the other hand,was somewhat aggressive,according to those who have worked under her.

There was a time when people seeking favours would frequently visit the couple. On February 4,2010,however,it was income tax sleuths who knocked on their door,and it was not favours they were seeking. They searched their D-19 bungalow and one owned by Arvind’s father H M Joshi,who lived with his wife in Arera Colony. What tumbled out of the bungalows,the couple’s bank accounts and their lockers has kept several agencies busy since then — Rs 3.04 crore in Indian currency and nearly Rs 8 lakh in dollars,pounds and euros,and a trail of unspecified assets in excess of Rs 360 crore,which included land and houses,including flats and farmhouses.

Suspended a day after the raids,the couple are now living almost in seclusion. Due to retire by the end of 2014,they face the threat of possible dismissal from service before then,confiscation of their properties,and prosecution for amassing such assets,which are hugely disproportionate to their salaries.

Little of this wealth reflects on the Madhya Pradesh general administration department’s website,where details of the husband’s immovable assets occupy a little more than a page,and those of the wife’s property even less space.

In contrast,the IT department’s report runs into thousands of pages. It took months to compile,with sleuths having pored over investment and expenditure details in India and abroad.

Apart from the IT department,the couple are under being probed by the Enforcement Directorate and the Lokakyukta Police. They have been under a government-ordered inquiry that went on to recommend seizure of their properties under the state’s Special Courts Act. Today,no one wants to be seen near D-19 or admit his or her association with the couple.

Then and now

The soft-spoken Arvind and the “aggressive,short-tempered” Tinoo fell in love during training as IAS batch-mates. Both have MBA degrees from an Australian university.

Their high-profile lifestyle would be marked by frequent air travel,parties and hotel visits. Since the raids,they have been interacting only with those they are closest to. And Tinoo has reportedly conveyed to friends that she was clean,and blamed her husband for inviting trouble. Arvind,meanwhile,has shown no remorse while being subdued,according to some of the people he has been interacting with.

Most of these people say Arvind always carried the impression of a hardworking bureaucrat who did not speak much and who appeared to be focused on his work. He was principal secretary for water resources and Tinoo principal secretary for women and child development,both departments flush with funds received from the Centre and foreign agencies.

“To be honest,he appeared brilliant and very confident,” recalled an official with the World Bank,one of the funding agencies. The raids have not affected the flow of funds from the World Bank.

When Arvind left the Air Force,it was apparently because of injuries. After clearing IAS,he began his career in 1981 as assistant collector,Jabalpur. A fitness freak,he was posted as joint secretary in the Ministry of Defence between May 1999 and May 2004.

Tinoo too began her career as assistant collector in 1981,in Khargone. She worked in the Prime Minister’s Office as deputy secretary from July 1988 to January 1990. During her last posting,she earned a reputation for choosing tenders according to personal preferences. She was sometimes accused of being biased towards those who spoke Bengali — she hails from West Bengal.

A source once tasked with the monitoring of funds spent by the women and child development department under Tinoo Joshi alleged that she would go to great lengths to find faults with bidders she did not favour. Tinoo did not get along with another woman IAS officer,her junior in the department.

Months after the raids,Tinoo told the Lokayukta police that she could not be blamed for what her husband had done and claimed ignorance about some of the investments made in her name.

It was Tinoo who was home during the IT raid on D-19. The husband,then out of town,flew in later. The image of a crestfallen Arvind,trying to cover his face against the backdrop of neatly stacked foreign liquor bottles,was complemented a day later by images of his harried wife,who refused to come out of a bank on seeing photographers,eventually using her dupatta to cover her face.

Arvind later claimed that the bottles were empty and he was fond of collecting used liquor bottles. The inventory of 49 bottles made by IT sleuths did not specify whether they were full or empty.

When The Indian Express reached Arvind Joshi on the mobile,he said,“I am in the middle of a conference somewhere.” He promised to talk later but never did. The last time he spoke about the IT department’s assessment,he called it “monstrous fiction”.

Husband and wife had both been empanelled for the post of additional secretary at the Centre. Tinoo had been set to go on deputation to the Directorate General of Forign Trade.

Murmurs to noises

A retired chief secretary said the Joshis never had a “squeaky clean” reputation,but only a few were aware of “this side” of the couple. Various government sources gave indications that the couple had been warned but did not mend their ways.

Between 1985 and 1988,when he was Morena collector,Arvind was the subject of some gossip among his juniors over the way his earnings seemed to swell,according to a former colleague,but it wasn’t then taken seriously enough to harm his reputation.

What really set tongues wagging was his five-year stint in the water resources department from February 2005,with additional charge of water works from March 2007. No one had ever had such a long stint holding these charges in departments that handle funds running into hundreds of crores of rupees every year.

The first formal complaint against Joshi was made to the Lokayukta by former BJP legislator Narendra Birthare in 2007,accusing him and others of involvement in a Rs 360-crore scandal in a canal project in Shivpuri. Birthare alleged that instead of cement concrete sluices steel ones were used,that retired engineers were appointed on contract,and that bribes were paid for promotions and postings of engineers when Joshi was heading the department.

Birthare was then with Uma Bharti’s fledgling party; he is today in the BJP state executive committee. He says a primary case was registered by the Lokayukta police but his complaint was never probed because of Joshi’s political contacts. When the Lokayukta police did act against the Joshis,it was based on the exhaustive inventory from the income tax raids.

Sources say the government hesitated about suspending the couple,but its hand was forced by television images of the income tax sleuths counting wads of cash. Transparency International member Ajay Dubey alleged that Arvind could not have prospered without the patronage of the political leadership,which kept him posted in the same department for five years.

More than three years since the suspension,and more than a year after the MP government recommended their dismissal,the couple’s fate remains to be decided.

Over these three years,the couple have approached the high court as well as the Central Administrative Tribunal,all the while insisting before investigators that the wealth was not ill-gotten.

The wealth

Sources in the IT and Lokayukta said the couple bought hundreds of acres of land,some of it near tiger reserves,and property in MP,Noida,Delhi and Assam,besides investing in stocks and derivatives. The Enforcement Directorate is investigating the couple for money-laundering and foreign exchange violations.

A senior officer of the Lokayukta’s special police establishment said Arvind did not have to spend from his pocket on tours but would still claim reimbursement,though that would have come to little compared to what he allegedly made from other sources. The SPE probe has unearthed assets of Rs 43.20 crore,much less than the IT department’s assessment in excess of Rs 360 crore. The SPE is going only by the documented value of the properties.

What seems to have proved the couple’s undoing is the high-premium insurance policies they took in their and family members’ names.

An insurance agent,Seema Jaiswal,is among the accused along with Arvind’s parents,his sisters,and H M Kohli and Pawan Agrawal,two Bhopal-based associates who allegedly helped route the money.

Receipts for lakhs of rupees spent on buying music systems and hotel stay were recovered during the raids.

Many investments,such as life insurance policies worth crores,were made in the name of retired state police chief H L Joshi,Arvind’s father,and investigators say his pension and income from agriculture was too meagre to justify these.

The couple also invested in the name of their son Ishan,showing him as director of J K Wines,including during the time when he was a minor. A lot of land was bought in the names of Joshi’s NRI sisters,something that has landed them in trouble too; the contention that they had given him a power of attorney to purchase properties has not cut ice with investigators. Arvind has a brother in the army; the authorities have not found any investment made in his name or those of his family members.

Investigations have unearthed evidence of benami investments,money-laundering and front companies. One investment is particularly intriguing — 18 flats in Kamrup Housing Project in Guwahati.

THE IAS COUPLE & THE REST

Arvind Joshi

Suspended as: Principal secretary (water resources,MP) from 2005 with additional charge of principal secretary (water works) from 2007. Suspended February 5,2010.

Earlier posts: Assistant collector,Jabalpur (May 1981),Morena collector (1985-88),deputy secretary in health ministry (1988-89),director (public grievances) in Railway Board (1989-1993),MD in State Handicraft Development Corporation (1994-1999),joint secretary in defence ministry (1999-2004),secretary in state school education department (2004),secretary for biodiversity and biotechnology,and commissioner for tourism and culture (2004-05).

Tinoo Joshi

Suspended as: Principal secretary (women and child development,MP) from 2008. Held additional charge of social justice (2008-09). Suspended February 5,2010.

Earlier posts: Assistant collector,Khargone (October 1981). Datia collector (1985-1987),deputy secretary in PMO (1988-90),deputy secretary in labour ministry (1990-92),director,MP food and civil supplies department (1993),commissioner (handlooms) in textiles ministry (2000),OSD in Federation of Indian Export Organisation (2005-07).

FAMILY & FRIENDS

H M Joshi (retired DGP) and

Nirmala,Arvind’s parents

Abha & Vibha (Arvind’s sisters). No investment in a brother’s name

Ishan (Arvind and Tinoo’s son). Probed for expenses on his two-year course in Pennsylvania University. He was shown director of J K Wines

Asmi (Arvind and Tinoo’s daughter). Probed or expenses on four-year undergraduate course in University of Maryland,two-year course in University of Washington.

H P Kohli,Pawan Agrawal

(associates)

THE PROBE

WHAT: Prevention of Corruption Act,Prevention of Money Laundering Act,Foreign Exchange Management Act,Special Courts Act

WHO: Income tax department,Enforcement Directorate,Lokayukta police. Retired chief secretary Nirmala Buch conducted another probe,concluded that wealth disproportionate to income. MP government has recommended dismissal.

WHY: Investments in agriculture and commercial land,share market,flats,JK Resorts,JK Wines,bank accounts

For all the latest News Archive News, download Indian Express App

Share your thoughts
Advertisement