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ED moves SC, seeks retrial in Chhattisgarh ‘PDS scam’

The alleged NAN scam had emerged in 2015, during the previous BJP government in Chhattisgarh, when civil society and the Opposition had raised allegations of corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS).

The members also discussed the issue of reforms in the Targeted Public Distribution System.

The Enforcement Directorate on Friday moved the Supreme Court on the alleged Nagrik Apurti Nigam (NAN) scam, seeking a re-trial outside Chhattisgarh and asking for the case be handed over to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The Supreme Court has issued notices in the fresh writ petition to 20 respondents, including the CBI, the state government and the two main accused – IAS officer Anil Kumar Tuteja and retired IAS officer Alok Shukla, both of whom hold key positions in the state government — asking them to respond in 10 days.

Moving the petition under Article 32 – remedies for enforcement of rights – for the case to be handed over to the CBI and for a retrial to be held, the ED claimed that the evidence “clearly reveals the nature of the misuse of power in the State of Chhattisgarh, the tampering of evidence and influencing the witnesses going on and a potential conspiracy involving constitutional functionary also”.

The alleged NAN scam had emerged in 2015, during the previous BJP government in Chhattisgarh, when the Opposition had raised allegations of corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS), which until then had been hailed as a model for other states.

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In 2015, the then BJP government faced allegations that kickbacks were paid by rice millers and agents to officials to allow substandard rice to be distributed through the state’s PDS. NAN is the agency in charge of distribution and procurement of grains.

The government had then started a probe by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and Economic Offences Wing (EOW). The ACB raided NAN offices and claimed to have recovered cash and documents, before charging several officials, including senior IAS officers Shukla and Tuteja. While Shukla was then chairman of the Nagrik Apurti Nigam, Tuteja was its Managing Director.

Within days of the Congress coming to power in December 2018, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel announced the formation of an SIT.

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The two IAS officers, who were absconding after the chargesheet was filed, applied for anticipatory bail and were appointed in the government. In August 2020, the Chhattisgarh High Court granted them bail, which the ED has now challenged in the SC.

The ED’s petition in the Supreme Court lays emphasis on the two officials, stating, “Both these prime accused persons wield substantial political and administrative power and are very close to the Hon’ble Chief Minister, State of Chhattisgarh.”

While Tuteja is now Joint Secretary, Commerce and Industries; Shukla, a retired IAS officer, has been appointed Principal Secretary and heads multiple departments, including Health and Education.

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In its petition, the ED alleged several irregularities in the distribution of PDS grains “…which, inter alia, included a well lubricated system of illegal collection of money by the State officials for procuring lakhs of quintals of poor quality rice from rice millers”.

The ED also alleged that the SIT formed by the state “made at least seven unsuccessful attempts to stall the ongoing trial”. The ED stated they have “cogent evidence” that the present government helped the two main accused by pressuring officials investigating the case and “sharing the relevant and confidential information of investigation carried on by EOW/ACB with the prime accused and navigating investigation/report by the SIT as per desires of both the prime accused”.

Senior judicial officials of the state and state government officials were made aware of the petition late last week, sources said. “The State is aware of the developments in the case. These are conjured out of incorrect facts and the state will defend it properly,” said a source in the government.

Accusing the current state government and judiciary functionaries of “complete miscarriage of justice by influencing justice delivery system”, the ED said its writ petition is based on evidence and material seized by the Income Tax department in the investigation of a separate case, amongst other documents.

“The mobile phone seized by the Income Tax Department shockingly revealed both the main accused namely Anil Kumar Tuteja and Alok Shukla… in connivance with successive chiefs of the prosecuting agency namely EOW-ACB, Chhattisgarh, one very senior law officer in the High Court of Chhattisgarh, members of the SIT and with the intervention of the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, have weakened the offence of corruption against them by procuring favourable reports from the said prosecuting agency and SIT…,” the petition reads.

First published on: 06-12-2021 at 07:27:37 pm
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