THE CBI has booked former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat for alleged attempts to buy the support of rebel Congress MLAs in 2016. His then Cabinet colleague Harak Singh Rawat, who is now a minister in the state’s BJP-led government, and Umesh Sharma, the editor of Noida-based Samachar Plus channel, have also been booked.
The CBI’s FIR is based on the findings of a preliminary enquiry launched in April 2016, following a “sting operation” video that purportedly showed Harish Rawat discussing a payoff with Harak Singh Rawat in lieu of the support of rebel Congress MLAs.
“The recorded video conversation dated 23.03.2016 has been examined by the Forensic Science Laboratory, Gandhinagar, and it has been opined that there is no addition/ deletion/ insertion/ tampering/ morphing in the video files, indicating that the recordings are genuine,” says the FIR.
The CBI has charged the trio under IPC sections pertaining to criminal conspiracy and bribery, and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
On March 18, 2016, the Uttarakhand Assembly Speaker declared the Appropriation Bill “passed”, without allowing a division pressed for by 35 MLAs, including nine rebel Congress legislators. Amid the controversy, the “sting” video surfaced days later. On March 27, 2016, just a day before Harish Rawat was slated to face a floor test, the state was placed under President’s Rule.
Meanwhile, the Congress dissidents, accompanied by BJP members, were flown out of Dehradun in a chartered flight. According to the CBI, Sharma met Harak Singh Rawat in Gurgaon, and the two “entered into a criminal conspiracy for the purpose of demanding gratification from Shri Harish Rawat in lieu of his support to the Congress government”.
The FIR states that on March 23, 2016, Sharma met Harish Rawat in the VIP lounge of the airport at Dehradun and discussed the demands of Harak Singh Rawat, who reportedly sought Rs 25 crore and the Deputy CM’s post or two ministerial berths. In return, Harak Singh Rawat reportedly promised his support and the support of two more MLAs.
Sharma allegedly made Harish Rawat talk to Harak Singh Rawat on the phone, and recorded their conversation. Harish Rawat reportedly told Harak Singh Rawat that he could have two ministries and make all the money he wanted, but he could not offer any cash immediately. Sharma then allegedly offered to renegotiate the deal for Rs 15 crore, and even suggested that he could arrange Rs 10 crore.
“The above discussed facts prime facie disclose commission of offences punishable u/s 120-8 IPC r lw 7, 8, 9 & I2 of Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 against Shri Harish Rawat, former Chief Minister, Uttarakhand; Shri Harak Singh Rawat, former Cabinet Minister, Uttarakhand, and Shri Umesh Kumar, CEO, Samachar Plus, News Channel, Noida and other unknown persons. Accordingly, instant regular case is being registered,” says the FIR.
Rawat later won the trust vote, in May 2016, after the nine MLAs were disqualified.