AN INTERNAL audit of the Odisha government claims to have detected financial embezzlement amounting to nearly Rs 300 crore, allegedly committed by employees in various cooperative banks and societies for more than 17 years.
While Union minister and BJP leader from Odisha Dharmendra Pradhan said that the audit “reveals organised crime” and that legal action should be initiated, Registrar of Cooperative Societies, Tribikram Pradhan, said they will try to recover the money first.
A top officer in the office of Auditor General, Cooperation Department, said that general and special audits have detected suspected financial embezzlement of around Rs 296 crore, ostensibly committed between 1999 and 2017 — in 16,265 cases, allegedly involving 22,081 employees.
Cooperation Minister Surjya Narayan Patro had instructed the Cooperative Registrar to initiate proceedings to recover misappropriated funds and attach errant employees’ properties if they fail to return the money. “A directive was issued by the minister on November 23 in cases of misappropriation,” said Tribikram Pradhan, who joined his post in December 2017.
The official from the Auditor General’s office said, “While the audit spans 17 years, Rs 59.22 crore was embezzled over the last three years in Rourkela, Sundergarh, Bargarh, Cuttack, Keonjhar and Koraput.” Rs 20.23 crore has been recovered so far, the officer said.
The embezzlement spans across various agencies linked to the Cooperation Department, such as Odisha State Cooperative Bank, Urban Bank, Central Cooperative Bank, Odisha State Cooperative Marketing Federation, Odisha Cooperative Housing Corporation, Inclusive Credit Society, and Odisha Cotton Growers, according to the officer.
Asked why the government is yet to initiate criminal investigation, Tribikram Pradhan said “If it (the money) is not recovered, and criminality is involved, other course of action will be taken.”
Dharmendra Pradhan, however, said, “There are two ways to deal with the matter: recovery and legal action. The government is trying to camouflage by showing that only recovery is to be done.”
A retired bureaucrat with the Odisha government said, “The same cases can be handled by the Registrar of Cooperative Society and the Economic Offences Wing (EOW). Why have they (EOW) not been immediately notified?”
Radha Kishan Sharma, Inspector General, EOW, Odisha, said: “We are not aware of this report. EOW can register a case in different ways — either after intimation by the public, a high court direction, or a reference by the government.”
Cooperation Minister Patro and Principal Secretary Ranjana Chopra were not available for a comment.