The death of Ashutosh Asthana,a key accused in the Ghaziabad Provident Fund scam,in an accident comes as yet another blow in a case that has been crawling since it first broke nearly two years ago.
The trial in the case is yet to begin,or the chargesheet filed. Till September 9,the CBI had filed four status reports,and claimed to have concluded the preliminary investigation. Attorney General G E Vahanvati had told the apex court on the last date of hearing that the agency was awaiting the report of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory that is examining 21,000 documents and 6,000 specimen signatures.
It was Asthana who spilled the beans in the Rs 7-crore scam in the Ghaziabad district courts,allegedly involving 34 judges,including a sitting Supreme Court judge and 11 others from the Allahabad and Uttarakhand high courts. He was the only person who recorded his statement before a magistrate and detailed the manner in which the money was siphoned off. He also named the judicial officers he delivered expensive gifts to.
Arrested in April 2008,Asthana died on Saturday under mysterious circumstances.
The accusations regarding the swindling of money for seven years,from 2001 to 2008,first came to the fore in January 2008 after hordes of court employees lodged anonymous complaints with the Ghaziabad district judge. Taking cognizance of the complaints,the judge forwarded the letters to the Allahabad High Court,which subsequently deputed a 16-member team,headed by Special Judge Rama Jain as the vigilance officer,to probe the matter.
The team visited the district court and scanned through the voluminous records of employees in January,after which Jain submitted a detailed report,confirming the allegations of fraudulent withdrawal of money from the treasury. Jains report raised apprehensions of a very big conspiracy to loot the public exchequer,as a part of which more than Rs 4 crore had been withdrawn in 2007 alone.
Endorsing the report,the three judge-committee,appointed by the High Court,gave a go-ahead to her to get the case investigated after registration of an FIR.
Subsequently,Jain recorded her statement as the complainant and an FIR was lodged on February 15,naming Ashutosh Asthana,who was the Central Nazir (chief treasurer),as the mastermind of the scam. The case was registered under penal provisions pertaining to cheating,falsification of accounts,criminal breach of trust by public servants,forgery,criminal conspiracy and corruption.
Alleging that the scam took place during 2001-2008,the FIR named 82 persons,besides Asthana,including 13 Class III court employees and 30 Class IV court employees.
Following a preliminary investigation,the police arrested Asthana on April 11 and 70 others were arrested too. Asthana recorded his statement and startled the police by alleging that 36 judges,who had acted as judicial officers in the Ghaziabad district courts,had benefited from the ill-gotten money. He produced documents bearing signatures of all the judges and their families named by him. Swinging into action,the police got his statement recorded before a judge,as only then it could have a legal sanctity and admissibility as evidence in a court of law.
On April 28,Asthana recorded his 29-page statement before Judicial Magistrate Dinesh Kumar,confessing not only his role in the scam but also reiterating his allegations. His statement threw up the names of 34 members of judiciary one apex court judge,seven Allahabad High Court judges,six retired High Court judges and 12 judges from subordinate judiciary in Uttar Pradesh.
Detailing the modus operandi,Asthana,who began working at the Ghaziabad district courts in February 1993 and was elevated to the post of Central Nazir only in February 2008,said the money was withdrawn from the PF accounts of the court employees years before maturity,with the consent of the judges,all of whom had served as district judges in Ghaziabad and were authorised to sign the vouchers. Asthana reportedly confessed that a large number of Class III and Class IV employees existed only on paper and bogus PF payments were made to them,with the knowledge of the judges. His statement listed the names of district judges who allegedly sanctioned withdrawal of money from the treasury as well as judges who had received consumer goods from him.
Adhivakta Kalyan Trust,Ghaziabad and Bar Association of Ghaziabad filed petitions in the Supreme Court and sought independent probe into the case. The Bar Association claimed the scam was worth Rs 23 crore and not Rs 7 crore.
The Ghaziabad SSP in August wrote to the state DGP,suggesting that the matter could be referred to the CBI as it was very difficult for the local police to investigate the case freely. Considering these communications and the response of the UP government,the apex court on September 23,2008,approved a CBI probe into the scam.