Chhattisgarh PDS rice scam: probe widens as police find a list with names, alleged bribes

Memo found in search mentions ‘CM Madam,’ police say that refers to wife of Food Dept staff.

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj | Raipur | Updated: March 10, 2015 9:41:48 am

The Chhattisgarh anti-corruption bureau (ACB), which is probing irregularities in supply of rice for the public distribution system (PDS) in the state, is scrutinising an alleged balance sheet which lists, among others, senior IAS officers and personal assistants to the food minister and chief secretary as beneficiaries of illegal commissions.

The five-page balance sheet, recovered by the ACB from the office of Girish Sharma, personal assistant to Chhattisgarh State Civil Supplies Corporation managing director Anil Tuteja (Sharma has since been suspended and Tuteja removed), also has references to individuals which, it is alleged, point to Chief Minister Raman Singh’s wife, sister-in-law and personal assistant. But the ACB says the inferences being drawn to involve the Chief Minister are not correct.

READ: Fake ration cards pile up in ‘model’ PDS state

Additional Director General (ACB) Mukesh Gupta told The Indian Express: “These papers have names of some officers, but their involvement is yet to be established. It’s a big seizure. Things are still emerging. We can say anything only after the investigation is over.”

It is alleged that Girish Sharma — the ACB said he also owns a department store called Suvidha Mart — prepared a list of beneficiaries of illegal commissions received from millers who were allowed to mix poor quality rice and sell it to the state government for the PDS.

READ: Not just 2013, in 2008 too: Chhattisgarh’s fake ration cards given as election sop

An entry in one of Sharma’s sheets is dated December 5, 2014 and mentions a Rs 3-lakh transaction: “Chandrakarji ne jo CM Madam ko diya tha usse Barik ko diya (What Chandrakarji gave to CM Madam was handed over to Barik)”.

The food department has two employees named Chandrakar while K K Barik is the personal assistant of Raman Singh’s former personal secretary S S Bhatt, a manager at the Raipur headquarters of the civil supplies corporation. Bhatt was suspended after Rs 1.62 crore was recovered from his office by the ACB — both Bhatt and Sharma declined comment.

The ACB does not agree that this entry refers to Raman Singh’s wife. ACB chief Gupta said: “CM Madam here refers to the wife of Chintamani Chandrakar, a staff in the food department.”

READ: Why is the face of fake ration card scam now the ruling party treasurer?

The ACB points out that on December 5, the date mentioned in the sheet, Raman Singh’s wife Veena Singh was not even in Chhattisgarh. Critically ill, she was under treatment outside the state, the ACB said.

Another entry dated November 24 mentions “Rs 2500 Mobile for Bahadur” while an undated entry shows Rs 15,000 against “Car for Bahadur”. Raman Singh’s personal assistant is Bahadur but Gupta said: “The driver of managing director Tuteja is also Bahadur. This entry refers to him.”

There is also an undated entry of Rs 3 lakh for Aishwarya Residency in Raipur. While the upscale apartment complex is where Raman Singh’s sister-in-law lives, the ACB says many families live there.

Last month, the ACB recovered Rs 3.64 crore from the offices of the civil supplies corporation – Rs 20 lakh was seized from the office of Girish Sharma. Calling it “a huge racket in this department that makes money through commission from rice millers”, Gupta said the recoveries were a fraction since “they make monthly collections and this money is then distributed, from top to bottom”.

When The Indian Express sought his comments, Raman Singh said: “The Chhattisgarh PDS is a great success story and is still the best but unscrupulous elements always look at ingenious ways to beat the system. It is our constant effort to control them. The ACB’s strong action manifests this. I have given absolute freedom to ACB to do their job without fear or favour. The recent success of ACB proves this.”

“I assure you that let the investigation get over, I will take action against the guilty. No guilty, howsoever mighty he might be, will be spared. I am committed to zero-tolerance towards corruption. We are also bringing a law to confiscate properties of corrupt public servants,” he said.

The balance sheet mentions, among others, IAS officers with the food department and personal assistants to the food minister and chief secretary:

* There are several entries mentioning Dr Alok Shukla, who was food and health secretary when the searches took place. He was removed from the food department thereafter.

Considered one of the architects of PDS reforms in Chhattisgarh, Shukla came under ACB scrutiny after the sheets had entries of nearly Rs 2 crore against him and his partner “who runs a hospital in Raipur.
There are over two dozen entries, from August to January, detailing the amount and purpose. These range from Shukla’s spectacle lenses, electricity bills, air tickets, LED TV, membership fees of the Civil Services Officers Institute, clothes, mobile phone, household material like mattresses and curtains. Shukla’s personal assistant Santosh Tiwari is also alleged to have received over Rs 3 lakh. Another assistant Ansari allegedly received Rs 45,000.
Asked about the allegations, Shukla said : “I do not want to comment on it.”

* Vikas Sheel, former food secretary who drafted Chhattisgarh’s Right to Food Act, is mentioned five times in the balance sheet with the ACB – for payment of bills totalling Rs 26,960. He is not in the country and he could not be reached for comment because his phone was switched off.

* There are entries mentioning the personal assistants to chief secretary Vivek Dhand who once headed the food department. Kulesh Devangan and Dinesh Mishra, mentioned as “PA to CS”, are alleged to have received nearly Rs 2 lakh. Incidentally, they were with Dhand when he was in the food department. Dhand did not respond to phone calls or text messages for comments.

* Anil Tuteja was managing director of the civil supplies corporation. He was removed after his office was searched. He now heads the panchayat department. The balance sheet shows a November 22 entry for Tuteja’s PA Balmik Sahu. It is alleged Sahu received Rs 25,000. Asked about the searches, Tuteja said: “Investigation is on. It is not appropriate for me to comment.”

* Entries for Ghindore and Thakur – R D Ghindore and Shailendra Thakur are personal assistants to food minister Punnu Lal Mohile – describe them as “Mantriji ke PA”. It is alleged that both received Rs 10,000 each in January. Mohile did not respond to phone calls for comments.

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