October 1, 2015 1:40:37 am
Why did the CBI raid Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s private residence, Holly Lodge in Shimla, and 12 other places on September 26?
The CBI is investigating allegations that Virbhadra Singh, as union Minister for Steel and, subsequently, Minister for MSME in the UPA 2 government between 2009 and 2012, acquired an illegal income and assets worth Rs 6.1 crore. He allegedly invested the unexplained income in single-premium LIC polices through one Anand Chauhan, who opened an account in Punjab National Bank’s Shimla branch and deposited nearly Rs 5 crore in cash, before routing the money into the LIC policies. Chauhan was also the manager of Singh’s Shrikhand apple orchard in Shimla district during the same period. The CBI registered a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) against Singh, his wife Pratibha Singh, their son Vikramaditya Singh, daughter Aparajita Kumari, and LIC agent Chauhan in June 2015. On September 23, the CBI converted the PE into a regular case under the Prevention of Corruption Act, and the raids followed.
What other allegations does the Chief Minister face?
In 2012, Virbhadra Singh filed revised Income-Tax Returns for the years 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12, which showed massive increases in his incomes from the apple orchard. The income of Rs 7.35 lakh for 2009-10 rose to Rs 2.21 crore; for 2010-11, Rs 15 lakh increased to Rs 2.80 crore; and for 2011-12, the income of Rs 25 lakh increased to Rs 1.55 crore. Following complaints, the Income-Tax Department sent a notice to the CM, asking him to explain the increases. Singh currently faces I-T investigations and a case in the Income-Tax Tribunal, a money-laundering investigation by the Enforcement Directorate, and a case in the Himachal Pradesh High Court.
How, when did the allegations surface?
During the Assembly elections of 2012, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who was then Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, confronted Singh with the alleged facts of the cases. He released details of Singh’s revised I-T returns, which showed the huge increases in his orchard incomes, and of the temporary PNB account opened by Anand Chauhan to make investments on behalf of Singh and his family. Jaitley also accused Singh of forgery and money laundering, and subsequently wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seeking a probe. Singh filed a defamation suit against Jaitley, but withdrew it later.
In 2013, advocate and activist Prashant Bhushan filed a public interest lawsuit in Delhi High Court on behalf of the NGO Common Cause, alleging that the CBI had not probed the charges of corruption against Singh. This PIL is pending in the court. The next hearing is on October 14, when CBI is supposed to inform the court whether a case for lodging an FIR is made out.
Did the CM anticipate the CBI’s action?
At a meeting of the state cabinet two days before the raids, Transport Minister G S Bali alerted Singh about CBI investigators closing in on him. The Chief Minister asked all 11 ministers to sign a statement backing him. In their joint statement, the ministers accused the Centre of bringing false charges against Singh, and of misusing the CBI. Investigators showed up on the day Minakshi Kumari, the youngest of the Chief Minister’s four daughters from his first wife, was getting married. It was a quiet family affair at a local temple, about which many from even the Chief Minister’s party were unaware. The CM and his family were at home when the CBI arrived. On Monday, Virbhadra Singh’s lawyers sought a copy of the CBI FIR, but withdrew the application on Wednesday. Later on Wednesday, however, the CM moved the Himachal Pradesh High Court against the CBI.
How have the Chief Minister and his party reacted to the CBI raids?
Virbhadra Singh has not issued any detailed public statement so far. On September 27, he put out two tweets, saying, “I was on the way to Temple for my daughters marriage ceremony when I encountered with the CBI Team outside my house at Shimla”, and “I proceeded to the wedding ceremony, opened my house doors to the CBI & asked them to check what they want, as I have nothing to hide”. The Congress Legislature Party — 36 MLAs in a House of 68 — has thrown its weight behind him; his rival in the party, Anand Sharma, too has backed the CM. On Thursday, Congress MLAs led by veteran leader Vidya Stokes are scheduled to meet President Pranab Mukherjee in New Delhi to submit a three-page memorandum apprising him of the CBI raids. The Congress memorandum is likely to accuse the Centre of unfairly targeting Virbhadra Singh while ignoring the allegations of corruption and impropriety against BJP Chief Ministers Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje and Raman Singh.
How will the CBI raids impact the CM politically?
There is currently no challenge to his leadership. Singh has been a mass leader — one who has fought his way to the Chief Minister’s job in the face of opposition from the Congress leadership in 1993, 2003 and 2012. In 2012, it was the Congress’s compulsion to give him charge, even though he had had to resign from the union ministry only a few months earlier. The charges against him this time are, however, serious. What the CBI tells Delhi High Court in its status report will be crucial.
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