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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Fodder scam case: Inside the Chaibasa treasury

Post the fodder scam-allotment details are now online,once influential posts have lost power.

Written by Deepu Sebastian Edmond | Jharkhand | Published: October 27, 2013 5:15:22 am

The Chaibasa treasury is a boring place. There are no heaps of gold coins,for one. The only yellow in sight is the colour of the wrapping paper on files. In fact,the only reference to money is in the name of the online interface used to manage treasury affairs – Kuber.

Not so long ago,this building,located within the campus that houses the office of the Deputy Commissioner,went through interesting times. “I once saw a Rs 1 crore bill for the Animal Husbandry Department,” says B N L Das,who retired as an accountant at the treasury in 1994. He has since been convicted in three cases of fodder scam and sentenced to a maximum of six years in jail. Das,who has spent almost three years in jail,is now out on bail.

Chaibasa in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district is the site which launched 53 cases; the 45th one saw the recent jailing of Lalu Prasad for five years.

“DC Amit Khare raided the AHD office on the night of Republic Day in 1996. On January 28,I was told to keep all AHD-related files separately. A team of officials came from Patna on February 2; they interrogated me. Financial Commissioner Phool Chand Singh insisted that it was all the treasury’s fault,” recalls Sahdeo Prasad,who retired as a scrutiny clerk in 1999. Singh was sentenced along with his chief minister; he has to serve four years in jail. Prasad has been convicted in four cases,getting a maximum sentence of six years. Both Prasad and Das are accused in the ongoing trial in the case originating out of a supplementary chargesheet to RC 20(A)/96,in which Lalu has been convicted. Seven cases were registered for fraudulent withdrawals from the Chaibasa treasury; Prasad is accused in five,Das in four. Six officials of treasury were booked — two treasury officers,three accountants,a scrutiny clerk.

“I didn’t even know the Drawing and Disbursing Officer at the AHD. There was a designated messenger who came with bills. My job was to scrutinise the bill number,check whether the voucher had been passed,look at the stock-entry certificate. The allotment column had to be filled,but only the DDO knew how much it was,” says Prasad. That loophole — exploited by the district animal husbandry officer,also the DDO of AHD — was the first to be closed in the aftermath of the scam.

“Now,the allotment letter goes to the treasury first,where its details are fed online. As bills are passed against that head,money is deducted from that account. The system does not let even a rupee to be withdrawn beyond the allocated amount,” says West Singhbhum’s DC Aboobacker Siddique.

The treasury handles 2,400 to 3,000 bills per month. In August,the treasury cleared bills with a net worth of Rs 59.18 crore and a gross worth of Rs 65.13 crore.

Inside the treasury,bundles of files move across glass-top tables with the precision of chess pieces. The silence is accentuated by the sound of files being slapped down on glass by a peon.

“A number of people were suspended and almost everyone else transferred after the scam; no replacements were hired. I am the only accountant,” says S P Thakur.

The treasury’s computer room with its air-conditioning is a far cry from the main room with three rickety fans. “When we started,we wanted to ensure that everyone forgot the bad name associated with this office,” says one of the three computer operators. They are on contract and have not been paid for the last two months.

“Once the chair on which I sit was a powerful one,” says Ashok Kumar Singh,the district animal husbandry officer. Dr B N Sharma,who was sentenced to five years and fined Rs 1.5 crore,was the last of the powerful. “After the scam,the DAHO’s power to appoint grade 3 and 4 staff was taken away,and also our ability to transfer staff,” says Singh.

An AHD official claims that there’s no scope for a sequel to the fodder scam. “Things have changed; a posting at Chaibasa office doesn’t seem like a punishment anymore,” he says.

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