A lesser known episode involving India Police Service (IPS) officers in the infamous Saradha scam comes from Assam where the case was recently shut by the government after a probe was ordered almost four years ago.
After the ponzi bubble went bust early in 2013, two IPS officers came under the scanner following a complaint from a person who identified himself as 'Advocate Ranjan Das'. The government decided to hand over the case to the directorate of vigilance and anti-corruption, which subsequently submitted a report to the state home and political department.
What happened thereafter, in a long sequence of events, has not only raised eyebrows among a large section of officials but has also left many questions unanswered.
In a reply to an RTI application, the directorate said that an inquiry was initiated against the officers but the government had kept it in “abeyance” based on the “representation” submitted by them. Subsequently, it adds, the regular inquiry was closed on 12 December last year through a notification [PLA(V)327/2014/ECF-63381/158] based on “available records”. And afterwards, it was found that the complaint was “pseudonymous.”
The application had also requested for copies of the complaint, inquiry report and comments on the file which were refused by the directorate on the ground it was exempted under Section 8(1)(g)(h) of RTI Act 2005.
The clause says that there shall be no obligation to share information if the disclosure would “endanger the life or physical safety” of any person or “identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence” for law enforcement or security purposes or information which would “impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.”
One of the two officers named in the complaint superannuated last year and the other is an additional director general of police currently posted in Assam.
Reluctance to share information
There was no reply from the home and political department of Assam government when the first RTI application was submitted in 2017 seeking information on the probe. It was again reluctant to share information when another application was submitted last year. It was only after the appellate authority was informed and the state public information officer reminded verbally that a reply was given which said that the application had been transferred to the police headquarters.
The time frame prescribed in the RTI Act 2005 for providing replies is not followed by many departments in the Assam government. The directorate, too, had sent the reply long after the stipulated period of thirty days was over.
The scam had affected lakhs of people in Assam from the lower income strata who found their investments wiped out. The network was laid and funds gathered through a network of agents, fake companies and the alleged assistance of some police officers.
The former Congress-led government in Assam forwarded the case to the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption after being intimated by the ministry of home affairs. Besides the directorate, the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate had also launched their own investigations to nab the kingpins and recover investments.
Some officials have expressed surprise over the sudden closure of the file which they claim is “unlawful” since the government had ordered a probe. Under normal circumstances, the next step ought to have been the submission of chargesheets by the directorate.
“That many officials were involved in the episode is evident from the sequence of events. Is it not surprising that the file remained hidden for two years in the office of the chief secretary after it was sent from the home and political department?” said a senior police who did not wish to be named. He identified another police official who had recently completed deputation with a central agency as playing a key role in the cover-up.
File kept pending in Chief Secretary’s Office
What the RTI replies from the directorate and home and political department do not disclose is the suppression of the file on the involvement of the two IPS officers in the scam for close to two years by former Chief Secretary VK Pipersenia.
An official of the home and political department claimed that the file was forwarded to the chief secretary’s office for further action on the case.
The matter came to light after RTI activist Dulal Bora approached the Information Commission after being denied information on the incident by the office of the chief secretary and home and political department.
On 19 March last year, the state public information officer in chief secretary’s office informed the commission that the file had been kept “pending by mistake and it resurfaced on account of cleaning of Chief Secretary chambers (sic) prior to his superannuation.”
Incidentally, the file was found by Pipersenia on the very last day of his term in office which was then transferred to the home and political department. He has clarified that it was not “intentional” and that he never suggested putting a halt to the inquiry.
However, the Assam Information Commission was convinced that deliberate attempts were being made to hold back the file and avoid disclosing information on the subject to the applicant. It did not believe that either Pipersenia or officials of the home and political department were “unaware” about the file bearing “substantial public importance.” The commission’s order, among other recommendations, also directed the incumbent chief secretary Alok Kumar to launch an investigation into the non-availability of the file for almost two years.
(Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey To Meet India’s Most Wanted Men)
Updated Date: Feb 09, 2019 19:45:23 IST