Rice scam trail is catching up with 'Chawalwale Baba' Raman Singh
- Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh is facing the heat on the rice scam
- His Chawalwale Baba title now haunts him
- Congress has tabled a no-confidence motion against the government in the Vidhan Sabha
- It alleges that the CM and his family are involved in the Rs 1,50,000-crore scam
- The red diary of one of the alleged kingpins of the scam, Shiv Shankar Bhatt, is said to contain references to the CM and his family
- Patrika carried out a sting on Bhatt, in which he refers to the involvement of the state\'s high and mighty
- He also said that the scam money was used to fund the BJP\'s election campaign
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh has come to be known as 'Chawalwale Baba' in the state, mainly because of his overhauling of the state's Public Distribution System. The epithet now seems ironic with allegations that Singh's family is involved in a Rs 1,50,000 crore PDS scam in the state.
Campaigning for Singh during the 2013 Assembly elections, Modi had urged other states to adopt Chhattisgarh's PDS model. Now it is because of the same PDS in Chhattisgarh that the Congress is using to question Modi's claim of 'na khaoonga, na khane doonga'.
Raman Singh cornered
The scam caused an uproar in the Vidhan Sabha and the Congress has also tabled a no-confidence motion against the government.
Congress MLAs are demanding a discussion over the issue but the BJP is not willing to relent. Alleging a cover-up, Congress leaders say the government is afraid to have a debate on the scam.
"The whole country wants to know the truth. But the government is pushing it under the carpet," says Chhattisgarh Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel.
The Congress has moved 40-odd adjournment motions in the Assembly, most of which are related to the scam. Terming the anti-corruption bureau's (ACB) probe as incomplete, the party is demanding a CBI inquiry.
BJP and Congress workers also took the battle on to the streets on 20 July. BJP workers gathered outside the Baghel's residence and some of them threw black ink on his name plate.
Congress workers protested outside the residence of the state Home Minister Ramsevak Paikra and the Urban Administration Minister Amar Aggarwal.
Under pressure, the government finally took some action. It has given the sanction to prosecute Dr Alok Shukla and Anil Kumar Tuteja, the two IAS officers accused in the scam. They were also transferred and not assigned to any department.
Perhaps this was just to soften the Opposition's attack during the Assembly's Monsoon Session.
So, was the success story of 'cheap rice' in Chhattisgarh too good to be true? Was the 'Chawalwale Baba' image of Raman Singh nothing but a sham?
The tell-all Red Diary
Raman Singh began facing the heat in this matter after the ACB raided 36 offices of State Civil Supplies Corporation last February. The raids lead to a recovery of Rs 3.64 crore in cash along with several crucial documents.
This included a 'red diary' from Shiv Shankar Bhatt, then head of the State Civil Supplies Corporation and a former personal secretary to Raman Singh. It is alleged that the diary contains detailed accounts of illegal money to the tune of over Rs 3,000 crore.
The chargesheet that followed included six pages of this diary mentioning payments to 'Doctor Sahib', and also to 'CMM'. The Congress claims 'Doctor Sahib' is none other than the chief minister himself whereas CMM is 'chief minister madam' - his wife.
A report published in Indian Express this March mentions a five-page balance sheet recovered by the ACB from the office of Girish Sharma, personal assistant to former Chhattisgarh State Civil Supplies Corporation managing director Anil Tuteja.
The alleged kingpin's 'red diary' mentions 'Doctor Sahib' and CMM. Many believe these are Raman Singh and his wife
If the report is to be believed, the balance sheet points to the CM's wife, sister-in-law and personal assistant.
One of the entries in Sharma's sheet dated 5 December 2014 mentions a transaction of Rs 3 lakh: "What Chandrakarji gave to CM Madam was handed over to Barik". The department has two employees named Chandrakar while KK Barik is the personal assistant of Bhatt.
However, the ACB maintains CM madam here refers to the wife of Chintamani Chandrakar, an official in the department. It claims Raman Singh's wife was not even in Chhattisgarh when this entry was made.
According to the report, an entry dated 24 November mentions "Rs 2,500 mobile for Bahadur". Another undated entry shows Rs 15,000 against "car for Bahadur".
Raman Singh's personal assistant is Bahadur. But Tuteja's driver also has the same name. According to the ACB, this entry refers to the latter.
Both Girish Sharma and Bhatt have been suspended after the revelations.
Documents also reveal an undated transaction of Rs 3 lakh for Aishwarya Residency in Raipur. This complex is the place where CM's sister-in-law lives. However, many other families live there as well.
A Patrika sting done this March points towards the complicity of big guns in the scam.
In front of the sting camera, Bhatt not only indicts several top officials but also points towards the involvement of ministers and BJP functionaries. Here are some excerpts:
Patrika: Are the names mentioned in diary correct?
Bhatt: Yes, they are correct. But they are only a few names. The diary containing the other names was not found at all.
Patrika: Was this dairy seized from you or from Girish Sharma. Sharma is not saying anything on the matter?
Bhatt: What will he say? He used to pay bribes to Tuteja as well as Alok Shukla (then Food Secretary).
Patrika: Perhaps Sharma was instructed to do so?
Bhatt: He was the one involved in handing over the illicit money.
Patrika: A dairy was recently waved in the Vidhan Sabha. It had the name of one Valmiki. Who is this Valmiki?
Bhatt: Valmiki is Tuteja's peon.
Patrika: And who is Bahadur?
Bhatt: One Bahadur is the driver of MD. Another is the chief minister's cook.
Patrika: Which one is mentioned in the dairy?
Bhatt: Both of them are there. The one who features in the Rs 2,500 entry is Tuteja's driver. The other one is from CM's office.
Patrika: Does the dairy contain the CM's name?
Bhatt: To find that, you should go and search the BJP office. Investigate the funding of the Assembly elections.
Patrika: But how can the records of donations reveal anything?
Bhatt: You will find the names of the CM, Bhojwani ji, Kaushalendra Singh and Gauri Shankar. There is an entire channel for such transactions.
(Kaushlendra Singh is former MD of the Chhattisgarh State Civil Supplies Corporation Limited, Gauri Shankar Agrawal is currently the speaker of state assembly. Lilaram Bhojwani, a former head of the Corporation was appointed the treasurer of the Chhattisgarh BJP last November.)
Patrika: You had said Rs 6 crore was paid?
Bhatt: Rs 4.5 crore for the Lok Sabha elections.
Patrika: And separately for the assembly elections?
Bhatt: Yes. But the point is that such scams are being run in every department. The only one that comes to light is maligned.
How was the scam carried out?
The scam begam with the registration of rice millers. About 1,800 co-operative societies sell paddy to the MARKFED, which gives it to the rice millers. Only those millers who are registered with the Food and Supplies department are allowed to supply rice to the State Civil Supplies Corporation.
The mill owners have to pay a bribe of Rs 3/quintal to get registered. The paddy milled in the state runs into crores of quintals. Millers also have to pay Rs 2/quintal to take paddy from MARKFED warehouses.
After milling, the same amount is paid to dump the rice in state warehouses. From here, it is procured by the State Civil Supplies Corporation and Food Corporation of India.
Millers have to pay a bribe to both for selling their rice. This enables them to mint money even while selling rice of pathetic quality.
To add to this, Chhattisgarh is notorious for bogus ration cards. The state has 70.27 ration cards even though the number of households is 56 lakh. However, the government canceled 14 lakh of these after the general elections.