Updated: October 3, 2021 10:17:16 am
Rebuking the police probe into the “organised misappropriation of MNREGA funds” in Lunawada block of Mahisagar, the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court of Lunawada has ordered the police to re-investigate the case under appropriate sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), 1988.
Referring the case to the special judge for corruption cases, the court said that the “negligence on part of the investigating officer was clearly visible on record” and also chastised the police for not having followed the procedure laid down by the law.
Hearing an application submitted by Assistant Public Prosecutor (APP) Yogesh Gosai, seeking trial under PCA, 1988, the court raised questions on why the Mahisagar district police had not followed the provisions to investigate cases of “evident corruption by public servants”.
In its order delivered on September 30, the Chief Judicial Magistrate said, “As per the provisions of PCA, 1988… the powers to investigate a case related to bribery and corruption is with an officer of the rank of the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DySP)… but as per the provision in the Act, a police inspector or an officer of the rank below the DySP can approach a metropolitan magistrate or a judicial magistrate to seek permission to investigate a case of bribery and corruption… However, in this case, no such attempt has been made… Not applying the Section 13(1)(d) of PCA comes across as a clear case of negligence on the part of the investigating officer…”
APP Gosai, representing the Mahisagar police, had said in his application that the case would be fit for trial under PCA, 1988, and should be referred to the special judge as per provisions in “fair interest of justice”.
District government pleader Sarjan Damor told this newspaper, “The districts that do not have an Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) unit of the police, must have a DySP investigating the case or an officer below that rank must take permission to do so. The Mahisagar district police applied Section 409 of the Indian Penal Code, which in itself prescribes that Section 13(1)(d) of PCA should also be added, which was not done…”
The court also said, “Public money meant for MNREGA scheme has been clearly misused by government servants in connivance with private persons. As per CrPC 216, the relevant section of the Prevention of Corruption Act should be applied… neither has the investigating officer has charged the accused under the Section nor has an officer of the rank of DySP investigated this matter. Because of this negligence…, it has become difficult for the prosecution to proceed with a trial under the anti-corruption laws… Therefore, APP has submitted that the case should still be sent to the Special Judge and tried as a corruption case.”
The court upheld that five of the 13 accused working for the government department would be considered public servants as they were paid remuneration for their service to the government, even if they were outsourced employees. The court also turned down suggestions that eight of the 13 accused in the FIR filed by Lunawada police could not be booked in the corruption case as they were traders.
The court said, “The accused traders have been charged with conniving with the government servants and offering incentives to the government servants to have the said transaction made to their accounts for their benefits.”
The FIR filed on December 2020 has named 13 accused, including district coordinator of the Management Information System (MIS) of the MNREGA portal, and Imran Patha, accused of hacking into the system and forge digital signatures to make “fraudulent” direct account payments to various vendors for works that were completed years ago.
Patha is an accused in four separate FIRs filed at Santrampur, Virpur, Lunawada and Balasinor police stations, in the alleged misappropriation of MNREGA funds to the tune of Rs 1 crore, after the District Development Officer (DDO) probed the matter, based on the complaint of a local whistleblower. A total of 28 were booked in the four FIRs.
The other government servants charged with corruption include assistant accountant of Lunawada taluka panchayat Mahul Gandhi, a former assistant accountant for MNREGA Lunawada Ejaz Qabri and two village employment volunteers and a technical assistant for MNREGA. The total fraud of MNREGA funds in the Lunawada block was calculated at Rs 45,37,694 as per the FIR, over three financial years from 2016 to 2019.
The court also said that the accused traders conspired to manipulate the online MNREGA software to change the execution agency and forge details of bill entries without physical bills by misusing digital signatures and siphoned of Rs 45.38 lakh.
The court said that “considering the petition in the larger interest of justice”, relevant sections 13 (1)(d) and 2(c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 should be applied in the case and the case be referred to the special trial court.
The four FIRs filed have booked the accused under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 408 and 409 for criminal breach of trust by clerk or servant, banker, merchant or agent, section 420 for cheating and 120B for criminal conspiracy, as well as under Information Technology Act sections 66C for fraudulently making use of the electronic signature, password or any other unique identification feature of any other person and 66D for using a communication device or computer resource to cheat by impersonation.
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