Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) officials on Tuesday raided the house of Arunava Lahiri, CPM leader and the former chairman of Bally municipality, in connection with the recovery of Rs 21 crore from the modest home of a sub-assistant engineer of the civic body on August 14. A second ACB team also searched the house of Lahiri’s in-laws.
On August 14, ACB had recovered cash worth Rs 20.07 crore, bank and post office deposit certificates of Rs 58 lakh and jewellery worth Rs 14 lakh from the house of sub-assistant engineer Pranab Adhikary. Following the raid, Pranab and his son Tanmay were arrested. An employee with the Bally municipality since 1995, Adhikary drew a salary of Rs 45,000 and had earned a reputation of being the one who would pass any building plan if he was paid for it.
Three days ago, Lahiri was summoned at the ACB office and grilled for over three hours. Sources at ACB said they were waiting for necessary permission from the city sessions court before they could go ahead with the raids, as they were not satisfied with his replies.
On Tuesday, while one ACB team searched Lahiri’s second floor apartment of Jain Apartments near Belur, another combed his in-laws’ house. “There were several discrepancies in Lahiri’s statements. Both Pranab and his son Tanmay had named him, saying he knew what was going on and was one of the beneficiaries of the ill-gotten money. It is highly unlikely that the sub-assistant engineer was involved in scam without the knowledge of any of his superiors,” an ACB official said.
“Lahiri had denied any involvement in the scam but he was the vice-chairman of Bally municipality for around 10 years. No building plan can be passed without the signature and seal of the vice-chairman,” he added.
A diary containing names of builders and some CPM leaders, and other documents have been seized from Lahiri’s residence in the raid, which lasted for about four hours, sources said. On Tuesday, Lahiri, following directions from ACB, submitted his bank and property details.
Investigators had claimed that the Rs 21-crore discovery was linked to the “corrupt” Left regime in the Bally municipal board, which had been in power for 38 years – from 1977 to June 2015, when it finally merged with the Howrah Municipal Corporation. Significantly, from 1977 to 2010, the Bally municipal board did not have even a single Opposition councillor in any of its 35 wards.
The state CPM, however, distanced itself from Lahiri. “We go by what we had said earlier. If there is a scam and one of our partymen is a suspect, we will not defend him. We will recommend a proper investigation into the matter. No offender should be spared,” said Leader of Opposition and CPM state secretary Surya Kanta Mishra.