Congress MLA from Dhrangadhra, Parsottam Sabariya was arrested by Morbi police on Sunday for his alleged involvement in a purported scam involving the repair and restoration of percolation tanks and minor irrigation schemes in Morbi district. Police said the MLA demanded Rs 40 lakh from the prime accused in the scam in exchange for not raising the issue at local level or in the Gujarat Assembly. He had already accepted Rs 10 lakh cash, police added. However, Congress said Sabariya had been targeted by police to shield “BJP bigwigs” involved in the scam.
A team of Morbi police had picked up Sabariya from his residence in Trajpar village on the outskirts of Morbi town at around 4 am on Sunday and had brought him to Morbi town for questioning. After grilling him for hours, he was formally arrested by “A” Division police in Morbi town at 2 pm.
Superintendent of police of Morbi district, Karanraj Vaghela said that after the MLA came to know about alleged irregularities in the repair and restoration work, he demanded Rs 40 lakh from those involved in the scam. “The MLA, through his associate Bharat Ganeshiya, demanded Rs40 lakh (from another accused) for not raising the issue of irregularities in repair and restoration of minor irrigation schemes at local level and also on the floor of the Assembly. They eventually, finalised the deal for Rs 35 lakh and accepted Rs 10 lakh in installments from the prime accused and representatives of societies (which had been assigned the work contract). As a security for the balance amount, he had also accepted a cheque of equal amount from a person who is a witness in the case,” Vaghela said.
Halvad taluka of Morbi district is part of Dhrarngadhra Assembly constituency.
Sabariya’s arrest comes a month after “A” Division police of Morbi registered an FIR on the basis of a complaint filed by Satish Upadhyay, executive engineer of irrigation department in Morbi district panchayat. In his complaint, Upadhyay had named C D Kanani, then executive engineer of irrigation department in Morbi district panchayat, and Chaitanya Pandya, proprietor of Sustainable Construction Management Consultancy (SCMC), a Rajkot-based consultancy firm which had been assigned project management consultancy of repair and restoration of percolation tanks in Morbi.
Upadhyay had stated in his complaint that the irrigation department of Morbi district panchayat had undertaken the work of repairing and restoring 334 percolation tanks, check-dams and minor irrigation schemes (MIS) in financial year 2017-18 and 2018-19. The irrigation department, which was then headed by Kanani, had engaged SCMC for drawing maps, preparing cost estimations for projects, tenders and bills for them etc. In all, Rs 20.31 crore had been allotted for the 334 projects. Later, the actual work of repairing and restoring the waterbodies was awarded to various registered societies of labourers and private contractors, he said in the complaint.
However, after the state government received complaints over irregularities in these repair and restoration projects, the state irrigation department had formed five committees last month to conduct spot inspection at the project sites. These committees, each headed by an executive engineer, had conducted primary inspection between September 19 and 22. Each team had been assigned a taluka of Morbi district. The teams had randomly selected 10 projects for inspection. In all, they made spot visits and inspected 46 projects.
Upadhyay stated in his complaint that these teams submitted report to the effect that there was huge discrepancies between ground realities and documents pertaining to repair and restoration of projects. They had concluded that the work shown in documents had actually not been done on ground, he said. They had pointed out that irregularities to the tune of Rs 66.91 lakh had been committed in the the 46 projects they had inspected. Upadhyay added.
After the teams submitted their reports, the Narmada, Water Resources, Water Supply and Kalpasar department of the state government had ordered Upadhyay to file a police complaint in this connection. Accordingly, the executive engineer filed a complaint with the “A” Division police station on September 27. Based on his complaint, the police had booked Kanani, who has since retired and lives in Rajkot, and Pandya under IPC Section 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant), 465 (punishment for forgery), 467 (forgery of valuable security etc), 471 (using as genuine a forged document) and 120-b (criminal conspiracy).
Police had arrested Kanani and Pandya days after the FIR was launched. Subsequently, police had arrested Bharat Rathod, president of Malaniya village labourers cooperative society and Ganpat Rathod, who was looking after Malaniya cooperative society on fifth of this month. Police say that Malaniya cooperative society was one of the societies which had been awarded the work of repair and restoration of water bodies by the irrigation department. All the four accused are presently in judicial custody.
“Statements of accused who have been arrested suggest that the MLA sought bribe from them for not making public their irregularities at local level and also not to raise them on the floor of the Assembly. Bharat Ganeshiya, an advocate from Halvad and who has also been arrested today has also corroborated this information. He was acting as a middleman between the MLA and the other accused,” the SP further said.
Vaghela said that they have added various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act to the case after it emerged that the Congress MLA sought money from those accused of irregularities in government contracts.
“While we have not recovered any cash from the MLA so far, Ganeshiya had issued Sabariya a cheque as a security for the balance payment of Rs25 lakh besides the Rs10 lakh that the MLA has already accepted,” said Banno Joshi, deputy superintendent of police of Morbi division.
The SP said that the irrigation department is conducting technical inspection of the remaining 288 projects. He said that with inspection of other five projects having been completed, the amount has already touched Rs1.12 crore for which the accused have committed irregularities.
As Sabariya, who is a first time MLA, was being questioned, four other Congress MLAs from Morbi district — Lalit Kagathara from Tankara, Mohammed Javid Pirzada from Wankaner and Brijesh Merja from Morbi — camped outside “A” Division police station. After police confirmed Sabariya’s arrest, Merja and Kagathara said that Sabariya had been wrongfully arrested by police as, they claimed, there was no evidence against him. They said that they would launch an agitation against his arrest.
Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said the party MLA had been targeted by police to save “BJP bigwigs” who, he said are involved in the alleged scam. “Police are saying that our MLA demanded money for not raising the issue on the floor of Assembly. But does the state government act on any issue which is raised on the floor of the House? The BJP has completely undermined the Assembly as a forum of debate. Sabariya has been targeted by police as BJP bigwigs in Morbi are involved in the scam. Let us not forget from where the Talati recruitment scam had originated? They would not arrest the those are illegally mining sand and soil from Halvad. But they would arrest a Congress MLA just on the basis of an audio clip of a dubious man as Morbi has become BJP-mukta district,” Doshi said.
Incidentally, BJP had lost all five Assembly seats in Morbid district at elections held last December. This was a huge setback for the BJP which had won four out of the five seats in 2012.