The Mahisagar district police has booked 28 people in four separate FIRs filed at Santrampur, Virpur, Lunawada and Balasinor police stations, late on Tuesday, in the alleged misappropriation of funds to the tune of a total of Rs 1 crore from Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) projects, after the District Development Officer (DDO) completed an inquiry into the matter, based on a complaint of a local whistleblower. Among the 28 accused is the District Coordinator of the Management Information System (MIS) of the MNREGA portal, Imran Patha, who is accused of using a ‘modus operandi’ of hacking into the system and forging digital signatures to make “fraudulent” direct account payments to various vendors in the four MNREGA blocks for works that were completed and closed several years ago.
Along with Patha, the police has also booked local village employment volunteers of the four blocks as well as the assistant accountants of the four Taluka Panchayats — Santrampur, Virpur, Balasinor and Lunawada. The accused were booked under IPC sections 408 and 409 for criminal breach of trust by clerk or servant, banker, merchant or agent, 420 for cheating, and 120B for criminal conspiracy as well as Information Technology Act sections 66C for fraudulently making use of the electronic signature, password or any other unique identification feature of any other person and 66D for using a communication device or computer resource to cheat by impersonation.
The Lunawada FIR has named 13 accused, including Patha, in charge assistant accountant of Lunawada Taluka Panchayat Mahul Gandhi, a former assistant accountant for MNREGA Lunawada Ejaz Qabri and two village employment volunteers and a technical assistant for MNREGA. The total fraud of MNREGA funds in this block is calculated at Rs 45,37,694.
In Santrampur, the FIR has two accused — Patha and Abdul Hayat, Proprietor of a Stone industry from Godhra. The fraud is alleged to have occurred in 2018-19 to the tune of Rs 12,47,890. In Balasinor, the FIR names five accused, including Patha and a vendor Mohsin Ghazi, a village employment volunteer Salim Ghazi, MIS coordinator of Balasinor Taluka Panchayat Jigneshkumar Bhatt and Mehul Gandhi. The total fraud is of Rs 3,82,492. In Virpur, the FIR names 13 accused including a technical Assistant of MNREGA for the block Sardar Khant, village employment volunteers Salim Ghazi and Dawood Jamal and MIS coordinator for Virpur taluka panchayat Satish Patel. Interestingly, Khant’s wife Shanta Khant is the first accused in the FIR, identified as an accused vendor, who received the benefit. The total fraud is alleged to be worth Rs 18,26,820.
The FIRs detail a similar ‘modus operandi’, where Patha, in connivance with the accountants and vendors is said to have “misused his access” to the MIS system for the MNREGA transactions and altered the digital signatures to “reopen” completed MNREGA works from several years earlier. The FIR states that the accused orchestrated the financial fraud through direct bank transfers into the accounts of the vendors by raising fake bills, which were not available as physical copies.
The fraud came to light when whistleblower Indravadan Parikh, an advocate in Santrampur wrote letters to various government departments seeking an inquiry after he learnt about the scam of Rs 19 lakhs in Santrampur.
On Wednesday, Parikh said that the FIR had left out many other officials who could be involved in the fraud. Parikh said, “The Taluka Development Officers, as well as the Accountants and other officers of MNREGA and accounts department at the district level, cannot be ignorant about this. I am planning to now write to the Chief Minister and the Vigilance Commission demanding a CBI inquiry into MNREGA transactions across the state.”
The Mahisagar police is yet to arrest any of the accused named in the four FIRs.