Chhattisgarh PDS case: what it is, why nowhttps://indianexpress.com/article/explained/chhattisgarh-pds-case-what-it-is-why-now-5591839/

Chhattisgarh PDS case: what it is, why now

The allegations were that kickbacks were paid by rice millers and agents to allow the distribution of substandard rice through the state’s PDS.

Chhattisgarh PDS case: what it is, why now
Sects of Congress have publicly sparred over the party’s strategy for the PDS scam and blamed each other for taking the battle decisively to the BJP government.

A special investigating team (SIT) of Chhattisgarh Police recently registered a case against two senior IPS officers in an alleged scam that took place in the Public Distribution System (PDS) when the previous government was in power. What is this scam, and why is it politically significant?

The allegation

In 2015, the then BJP government faced allegations of corruption in the PDS, which until then had been seen as a model for other states. The allegations were that kickbacks were paid by rice millers and agents to allow the distribution of substandard rice through the state’s PDS. The agency in charge of distribution is Nagrik Apoorti Nigam (NAN).

Two govts, two probes

With the Opposition raising an uproar, the then BJP government started an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Economic Offences Wing. The ACB raided NAN offices, recovered cash and documents, and eventually charged several officials including two senior IAS officers, Alok Shukla and Anil Tuteja. The recoveries reportedly included a “diary” with details of kickbacks paid, and references to various individuals including, the Congress alleged, aides of then CM Raman Singh including “CM Madam”. The ACB clarified that these references were not to family or aides of the then CM but to officials; the Congress has maintained that the ACB probe was a sham and protected political beneficiaries of what they have alleged was a Rs-36,000-crore scam.

In their campaign for the Assembly elections, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and now Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel raised the issue of the scam. Within days of taking oath, Baghel announced an SIT. The Congress said the SIT would look at political beneficiaries.

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Many questions have been raised on the Congress government choice for IG, ACB and EOW — S R P Kalluri, who is leading the SIT. During the BJP’s tenure, Kalluri was accused by human rights activists, tribals in Bastar and even Congress leaders including Baghel, of human rights excesses and intimidation. The BJP, meanwhile, has questioned why Baghel is using multiple SITs for the “politics” of revenge.

The new case

The SIT has registered a case against former Additional DG of the ACB and EOW, Mukesh Gupta, and SP of ACB and EOW Rajnesh Singh. This has caused a flutter for two reasons — the seniority of Gupta, a DG-ranked IPS officer, and the fact that he had headed the probe into the alleged NAN scam until Kalluri was given charge. Gupta and Singh, now suspended, have been accused of criminal conspiracy, forgery, and illegal phone-tapping. SIT officers allege that Gupta and Singh fiddled with government records to legitimise phone-tapping, a charge Gupta has denied. R K Dubey, a DSP with the EOW, was named in the FIR as having written a statement claiming that he changed records under threat and instruction from Gupta and Singh. A day after the FIR was registered, however, Dubey approached the special NAN court in Raipur and the Bilaspur High Court and wrote an affidavit to the DGP claiming that he was being forced by the SIT to give false statements against Gupta and Singh, and that his life was in danger. The Bilaspur High Court said it could not intervene in the case but added the state should not pressure any citizen to give a statement in a particular way.

More politics ahead

In the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress effort will be to present a narrative that the previous BJP government had been corrupt. When in Opposition, Baghel had often attacked Gupta, calling him close to the BJP regime, and alleging he was working to protect then CM Singh and his aides. Now, the appointment of Kalluri and the rapid pace of investigations are being widely viewed as moves undertaken with a political objective.