Kolkata: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned four senior IAS officers, including West Bengal’s Finance Secretary Hari Krishna Dwivedi, in connection with the Metro Dairy disinvestment case, ThePrint has learnt.
In a letter addressed to Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha Thursday, the ED asked four bureaucrats — Animal Resource Development Secretary B.P. Gopalika, Renewable Energy Source Secretary Rajeev Kumar, Tribal Development Secretary Rajesh Kumar Sinha, and Dwivedi — to appear before the agency on 22 June.
Last year, the ED launched a probe into the controversial 2017 disinvestment of the West Bengal government’s stake in the Metro Dairy, which was India’s first public-private partnership in the dairy sector.
This is the only instance of disinvestment approved by the Mamata Banerjee government in the nine years it has been in power.
In the last 11 months, three senior bureaucrats and a Trinamool Congress MLA have been questioned by the agency in relation to the case.
ThePrint approached Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha via text messages for a comment but received no response.
‘Strong evidence for summons’
Most senior bureaucrats of the West Bengal government chose to remain tightlipped over the development, but according to a senior official of ED, the directorate has summoned the officers on the basis of “strong evidence in the form of official documents”.
“There were board meetings in which the decision to disinvest the company was taken. All these four IAS officers were present in the meeting and they signed the relevant papers,” said the official.
During the disinvestment in 2017, Dwivedi and Gopalika were the secretaries of finance and animal husbandry respectively. Singh and Kumar were part of the West Bengal Dairy and Poultry Development Corporation — a public corporation in charge of the development of government-owned dairies and poultry farms.
According to sources, the ED is yet to receive a response from the government on the summons. ThePrint also learnt that the agency has allowed the officers to appear via video conference, if they cannot be physically present due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A senior minister from Banerjee’s cabinet clarified that the chief minister has not taken a decision regarding the ED summons.
“These are all politically motivated cases. Our chief minister will take a final call on this. We are now fighting the Covid outbreak, aftermath of Amphan and the home bound migration. Amidst all these, the central agencies are now back to the business of calling our officers and leaders,” he said.
Significantly, this is not the first time that top bureaucrats from the West Bengal government have been summoned by central agencies. In 2019, Rajeev Kumar, the former chief of Kolkata Police, was being probed in connection with the chit fund scam cases. Also on the CBI list were top retired IPS officer — Surajit Kar Purkayastha — and senior IAS officer Atri Bhattacharya.
Purkayastha was being probed in connection with ponzi scams, while Bhattacharya was being investigated in connection with the Saradha scam.
Metro Dairy case
Metro Dairy was set up as India’s first joint venture dairy project between the West Bengal Milk Producers’ Federations, Keventer Agro and the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) as part of Phase-3 of Operation Flood in 1996. Later, the NDDB sold its 10 per cent stake to Keventer Agro.
In August 2017, the West Bengal government decided to disinvest and sold its 47 per cent stake in Metro Dairy to Keventer Agro — the sole bidder in the process.
Senior Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury filed a PIL in the Calcutta High Court in 2018, accusing the state government of undervaluing the company and preliminary enquiry was started by the ED the same year.
The directorate also flagged concerns about possible money laundering after Keventer raised funds from a Singapore-based private equity player immediately after conclusion of the deal.