The Raman Singh government has dismissed the PDS (public distribution system) scam as a figment of the imagination of the Congress. Although 15 persons have been in jail for more than 18 months in connection with the scam — touted to be the biggest ever PDS scam in the country — the government filed an affidavit rubbishing the charges as politically-motivated to denigrate its much-awarded PDS system.
The alleged scam came to light in 2014 when the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) conducted raids across the state and seized cash and documents showing coded diary entries of massive pay-offs to officials and politicians.
The Opposition Congress has put the scam figure at a whopping Rs 36,000 crore and has alluded that Singh transferred scam money to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in Delhi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Nagpur.
In an affidavit filed in the Chhattisgarh High Court on 30 August, the Raman Singh government trashed the charges thus:
"...it is wrong to disparage the state government's policy of distribution of subsidised food grains... based on conjectures, surmises, politically motivated allegations and extrapolations, and to calculate an imaginary loss to the public exchequer due to an alleged PDS 'scam'. This has been deliberately done by the petitioner to denigrate the state government, its agencies and functionaries, and to mislead the honourable High Court into believing that there is indeed a PDS 'scam' as alleged."
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When everything looked good last year the government’s own ACB in February 2015 raided 28 places of the state food department (Nagrik Apurti Nigam) including offices and residences, and recovered Rs 3.4 crore. The ACB claimed that it had unearthed scam worth thousands of crores as per newspaper reports that quoted ACB officials.
Following the link, the main Opposition party positioned the scam as worth more than Rs 30,000 crore. Media hype was at its peak. The CBI filed its charge sheet against employees and officials of the food department. Fifteen people were put behind bars. The entire case was based on the procurement of poor quality food by the department, causing huge losses to the state exchequer and distribution of poor quality food to people in the state.
Interestingly, the government filed its reply in the Chhattisgarh High Court on a PIL on 30 August this year — the entire scenario looked different. In the reply, the government said that its PDS has been the best model in the country for 12 years, since the BJP came to power. There is no such scam. It is the imagination of Opposition parties. There is no question of distribution of poor quality of food grains, the government reply said.
Now the question arises that if there is no case, how did the ACB recover Rs 3.4 crore from food department officials. Legal experts say that a separate case has been filed under section 13(1) E of PC ACT in a special court of respective districts from where the accused hail and the case under 13 (1) D is not maintainable against them.
The BJP sailed into power for the third time on the basis of the food supply system and the chief minister was hailed as Chaur Baba (Rice Man). So who is playing foul and putting the BJP government in a soup? Why did the government never come out strongly against the allegations of poor procurement of rice which derailed the entire PDS in the state?
Political pundits said that the BJP government was never on a front foot during the entire episode and the blame game was mostly played at the expense of the employees.
However, the BJP leadership in the state tried to reason the issue, but until the reply was filed in court, no concrete steps were taken.
In earlier instances when the Congress tried to corner the BJP government and seek the resignation of the chief minister, the government was mild. It was only in the Assembly on the topic of no confidence Singh replied that the no-confidence motion was a “bag full of lies” and has no merit. He added that the motion reflected Congress’ frustration at “facing defeats across the country”.
Claiming that Congress has been the mother of all scams in the country, Singh said that to further his policy of “zero tolerance” for corruption, he has taken steps to ensure transparency, restrict officers’ discretionary powers and strengthen the police agency working against corruption. Pointing out that his government had introduced food security in the state, he claimed that his policies have curbed migration and ended starvation deaths.
Meanwhile the Leader of Opposition TS Singhdeo said that the government has failed on all fronts and has lost the confidence of the people.