A bank account with over Rs 1 lakh that was ‘mistakenly’ linked to his Aadhaar number two years ago has cost Jeetrai Samant his freedom.
The 42-year-old beedi worker, from Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district, has been arrested by the state police for allegedly withdrawing the money that belonged to a woman, whose bank account was linked to his Aadhaar number erroneously.
Samant came to know of the money two years ago, as Covid cast its shadow across the nation, through a Common Service Centre. The centres serve as access points for delivery of essential public services, welfare schemes, etc in rural and remote areas of the country. According to sources familiar with the probe, the CSC also had a bank representative to help withdraw money that a beneficiary might have in his or her account.
But the law caught up with Samant last September, when the manager of Jharkhand Rajya Gramin Bank received a complaint from an account holder named Shrimati Laguri regarding money disappearing from her account. The manager wrote to the authorities and, on discovering the error that had taken place, asked Samant to return the money. Since he was unable to do so, an FIR was lodged against him in October under IPC section 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 420 (cheating) in the district’s Muffasil police station.
Superintendent of Police Ashutosh Shekhar told The Indian Express: “Samant was arrested on March 24. There was a mistake and his Aadhaar got linked to someone else’s account, but he did not return the amount. He allegedly paid a bribe at the CSC point so no one else would get to know. (When police issued a notice about the issue) he wrote a letter to us saying he believed Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sent him money.”
Bank manager Manish Kumar told The Indian Express: “Earlier, Bank of India used to sponsor the Gramin Bank, and now SBI does it. So the entire data was merged with SBI in April 2019, and it was during this process that Samant’s Aadhaar number got accidentally linked with someone else’s bank account. The woman did not complain earlier, else we could have stopped it.” He said it was “difficult” to pin blame on a single bank official.
A UIDAI official, requesting anonymity, said: “This is clearly the bank’s mistake. The UIDAI has no role in it.”
From October to March, Samant received three notices to appear before the police under CrPC section 41 A, under which police can arrest a person without a warrant in case he fails to appear before the court or the police since he is an accused.
The Indian Express had spoken to Samant in December, before his arrest. At the time, he claimed: “During the first lockdown, everyone in the village was checking the amount in their Aadhaar-linked account numbers as it was announced that people would receive something. I put my thumb on the reading machine and it showed a balance as Rs 1,12,000. I rushed to the Gramin Bank, but could not find any money having been credited there. When I asked them about it, they told me the government would have sent the amount.”
Police have claimed he withdrew Rs 2 lakh.
Samant, a father of six children, said he kept withdrawing the money during the lockdown since he was in financial distress and believed it had come from the government.
In response to one of the police notices, Samant had written to Superintendent of Police, Chaibasa, Ashutosh Shekhar in December. He claimed: “During the lockdown, there was a talk in the village that the Modi government is giving money in the account. My Aadhaar-based account showed Rs 1 lakh. The bank manager said I could withdraw the money. Now a case has been registered against me. I am not at fault. Without my knowledge, my Aadhaar was linked to someone else’s bank account. For the last two years, the bank did not even inform me.”
Sub-inspector Ratu Oraon of Pandrasali observation point told The Indian Express: “After receiving the first notice, Samant did come to the police station, but he did not commit to returning the amount. Obviously there was a mistake when his Aadhaar got linked with Shrimati Laguri’s account number, but it was his moral responsibility not to withdraw the amount.”
Asked why the arrest was not made earlier, Oraon said: “This was not an urgent case.”
He added that Samant’s account originally had only Rs 650, but he kept withdrawing amounts ranging between Rs 500 and Rs 5,000. “Even during withdrawals, the name of the account holder must have appeared, but he chose to ignore that.”