Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar appears to be working to regain his anti-corruption crusader reputation, one that has taken a beating in recent years.
In the last 45 days, since the end of July, the Economic Offence Wing (EOW) of the Bihar Police, which reports to the home department that Nitish helms, has been targeting state officials including its own — two SPs and two DSPs — over alleged ill-gotten cash and assets.
“We have been given a list of 42 officials to investigate by the home department. We have conducted raids on six already. Others will follow,” EOW Additional Director General (ADG) Naiyar Husnain Khan told The Print.
The list of 42 officials has its origin in what has become known as the sand mining scam, the result of a nexus between illegal miners, police and transport department officials.
The scam was detected for the first time by then Patna DIG (central range) Shalin in 2017.
Six months ago, the clamour on the sand scam increased, after Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav raised the issue. Following this, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who heads the home department, asked the EOW to look into it.
Sources in the EOW said all 42 officials were put under surveillance for the last three months, before raids were conducted.
On Tuesday, the EOW conducted a raid at properties allegedly owned by a police constable, Narendra Kumar Dheeraj, and recovered Rs 9.47 crore, more than 540 per cent of Dheeraj’s known sources of income.
“The actual figures may rise,” ADG Khan told ThePrint, but added that the raid was not connected with the illegal sand mining scam.
Senior officials under the scanner
The EOW has also been targeting senior police officers in the state.
Last Saturday, it raided premises allegedly connected to former SP Rakesh Dubey. Sources in the EOW said it found that Dubey had allegedly invested Rs 2.57 crore in hotels, construction companies and land.
“His properties are still under investigation. His salary account has been untouched for years,” an EOW official said.
Dubey, a promoted IPS officer, was attached to the Raj Bhawan for five years before he was transferred to Ara district. EOW sources said Dubey has not touched his salary account for the last 11 years.
Another IPS officer listed for investigation is Sudhir Poirka, the former SP of Aurangabad district.
In other action, sources said, the EOW raided a motor vehicle inspector’s house and found assets to the tune of Rs 2 crore.
Two DSPs had assets to the tune of Rs 1.5 crore while during a raid conducted by the vigilance department on an executive engineer of the state bridge construction corporation, sleuths had to bring in a cash counting machine to count the notes that turned out to be Rs 1.43 crore (the property is still being validated).
EOW sources Rs 16 lakh in cash was recovered from an executive engineer at Muzaffarpur, while another Rs 56 lakh was recovered from his home. All this and more has taken place within a span of the last 45 days.
“The fearlessness displayed by officials in making ill-gotten money is amazing. There is brazen and complete lack of fear, apart from cash being invested in real estate in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and other metros,” said a serving IAS officer who did not want to be named. “I will not be surprised if half the flats in Noida are owned by Bihari officials.”
He added that most of the officials are well connected politically. Eyebrows were raised in the last assembly elections when Nitish’s JD(U) handed a ticket to the wife of a government engineer.
Nitish’s fight against corruption has waned
In his first real stint in power in 2005, Nitish had managed to forge the image of an anti-corruption crusader.
The vigilance bureau went into overdrive. In the first two years of his rule, state government data shows it filed 122 cases after allegedly catching officials accepting bribes red-handed through using decoys.
In contrast, the previous 15 years under the Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi regime, saw the bureau filing just 47 such cases of catching officials using decoys.
Even though the vigilance bureau has filed 906 cases during the tenure of various Nitish governments, the numbers have been drastically reducing in recent years.
The bureau filed 83 such cases in 2017, 45 in 2018, 36 in 2019, and 12 in 2020.
An India Corruption Survey, 2019, issued by Transparency International India, placed Bihar just behind Rajasthan, as the two most corrupt states in the country. The report said that 75 per cent of the people surveyed in Bihar admitted to giving bribes.
A former IPS officer, on the condition of anonymity, said until 2010, the chief minister made efforts to curb corruption through bodies such as the Special Vigilance Cell (SVC), which consisted of former CBI officials. “But after that, Nitish Kumar appears to have lost interest in fighting corruption as the number of vigilance cases declined and SVC was virtually made dysfunctional,” the officer said.
Former Bihar chief secretary V.S. Dubey said corruption has become rampant now.
“The days of one crore are gone. Now it is Rs 10 crore or even Rs 100 crore,” he said. “Corruption is universal and cannot be wiped out completely but the government can reduce it by making its anti-corruption wing active.
“While chairman of the public administration committee, I had recommended proactive anti-corruption wings,” Dubey added. “Also, if no action is taken against corruption, every official thinks that they can get away with it and at the most, they will have to spend some time in jail.”
Nitish most corrupt regime: RJD
Not surprisingly, the opposition RJD has dubbed the Nitish regime as the most corrupt in the history of the state.
“It prevails from top to bottom. Nitishji has left the administration at the hands of five officials. He does not listen to public representatives,” RJD MLA Sarwajit told ThePrint. “I challenge anyone to go to a police station in Bihar and lodge an FIR without handing over a bribe.”
Even BJP MLAs agree.
“There should be a commission to investigate the properties acquired by everybody, from a peon to a chief secretary. The panel should even investigate the properties from a panchayat ward representative to the chief minister,” said BJP MLA Haribhushan Thakur, conceding there is rampant corruption in the state.
The JD(U), however, dismissed the charges.
“It is Nitish Kumar who strengthened the battle against corruption by forming additional government units for the anti-corruption drive. Even the Economic Offences Wing was created by him in 2012,” JD(U) MLC Neeraj Kumar to ThePrint.
“If action is being taken against government officials allegedly involved in sand mining, it was initiated by CM Nitish Kumar.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.