Known for its mesmerizing landscapes, rich minerals and traditional Vanvasis customs, some of which have been celebrated and being practiced for thousands of years by the Vanvasi community, the tribal-dominated state of Chhattisgarh is all set to elect its new government after the state assembly elections scheduled to be held in November this year.
The state, which has so far witnessed fifteen years of rule under the BJP and eight years of rule under the Congress including the incumbent Congress government, which is all set to complete its five year tenure for the first time in the state, is now under the heat of an ongoing tussle between the BJP and the Bhupesh Baghel led Congress party.
On one hand, the Congress government is counting on the mass appeal of their leaders like Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and TS Singh Deo after the duo recently claimed to have settled their differences. On the other hand, the main opposition BJP is heading in the elections alleging wide scale corruption during the tenure of the incumbent Congress government.
It is to be noted that the mineral-rich state, which is also one of the top producers of rice, has grabbed the attention of the media lately for all the wrong reasons. The BJP hit the streets a number of times alleging that a number of scams, including the coal, liquor, Public Service Distributor (PSD), scams flourished and felicitated by the coal, liquor and other syndicates in cooperation with a few top government officials in the state. Now that the state assembly elections are approaching, here are the details of the alleged scams labeled by the opposition BJP and the Congress government’s rebuttal to them:-
Rs 2000 crore liquor scam
One of the biggest alleged scams that have also turned the heads of the national media lately is the Rs 2000 crore liquor scam that flourished right under the nose of the incumbent Congress government, as claimed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). According to the findings of the agency, a Rs 2000 crore liquor scam in the state being operated by a cartel composed of bureaucrats, private liquor suppliers, government officials and persons with heavy political backing flourished in the state with Anwar Dhebar as its kingpin.
The ED investigation in the case has so far revealed that one company namely M/s Prizm Holography Security Films Private Limited based at Noida, was illegally granted a tender to supply Holograms to the Excise department of Chhattisgarh. The company was not eligible to participate in the tender process, but in connivance with the company’s owner the senior officials of the state of Chhattisgarh namely Arun Pati Tripathi ITS (Special Secretary Excise), Niranjan Das (Excise Commissioner), Anil Tuteja IAS modified the tender condition and illegally allotted the tender to the M/s Prizm Holography Security Films Private Limited Noida.
As a quid pro quo, they took a commission of 8 paise per hologram and also took a commitment to supply unaccounted duplicate holograms to carry out a sinister crime of selling illegal country liquor bottles from state-run shops in Chhattisgarh. The hologram was a safety feature to ensure that authenticated liquor is sold in the state. But the action of M/s Prizm Holography in manufacturing duplicate Holograms in Noida, allowed the Liquor syndicate to use the very same safety feature to fool the gullible general customers.
Investigation has revealed that tender was allotted to this company as part of the criminal conspiracy and M/s Prizm Holography Security Films Private Limited was granted the tender in order to ensure a smooth supply of duplicate holograms to the liquor syndicate. The Holograms were made at the Noida factory and then transported to Chhattisgarh as per the instructions from the Liquor syndicate leaders. The syndicate, as part of the arrangement, allotted the contract of supplying 80 crore holograms in 5 years at a highly inflated price to M/s Prizm Holography Security Films Private Limited in return for an on-demand supply of duplicate holograms.
The ED complaint also revealed that during the course of the investigation, Vidhu Gupta, the owner of the M/s Prizm Holography Security Films Private Limited, had admitted that both the original and duplicate holograms were manufactured in their Noida factory premises.
Earlier on May 6 ED had arrested Anwar Dhebar, brother of the senior Congress leader and Raipur Mayor Ezaj Dhebhar and claimed that Anwar was the main kingpin on the ground in which around Rs 2000 crore was illegally generated by the criminal syndicate. Other than Anwar, ED had also arrested hotel promoter Nitish Purohit and liquor trader Triloki Singh Dhillon alias Pappu Dhillon alongside seizing proceeds of crime worth Rs 28 crore. The central agency in its submission before the court, had alleged that Purohit, promoter of a Raipur-based Giriraj hotel, was well aware of the illegal operations of Anwar Dhebar and had willingly assisted him in the movements of proceeds of Crime to IAS Anil Tuteja, another kingpin of the scam along with Anwar.
The economic intelligence agency of the central government has so far also attached 119 immovable assets worth Rs 121.87 crore of Anwar Dhebar, Anil Tuteja, Arunpati Tripathi and others in connection with the multi-crore liquor scam of Chhattisgarh on May 22 this year. The total assets attached or seized so far in the alleged state scam stand at approximately Rs180 crore.
Earlier the apex court while hearing a petition of one of the accused in the case had stayed the ED probe into the matter and said that there should be no coercive action against the officers and if the agency wants to resume action they have to seek permission of the court following which the deputy director of ED’s Raipur unit approached the Uttar Pradesh (UP) police to initiate a probe into the irregularities by ‘Prizm Holography Security Films Private limited’.
After the ED’s complaint UP police lodged a case under Kasna police station against Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Anil Tuteja, Indian Telecom Service (ITS) officer and a special secretary in the excise department, Arunpati Tripathi, IAS and excise commissioner Niranjan Das, a businessman Vidhu Gupta along with Anwar Dhebar on July 30 this year.
Allegation of Nepotism in CGPSC
Another serious charge that BJP labeled against the Congress government is alleged nepotism in Chhattisgarh Public Service Commission (CGPSC) examination 2021, whose results were declared in April this year. The declaration of the list of successful candidates stirred a controversy as BJP claimed fraud in selection of the candidates. The list includes relatives of a few Congress leaders, senior bureaucrats along with seasoned businessmen. The list also includes one ‘Nitesh’ whose surname has also been kept hidden; he is said to be the adopted son of the Commission’s Chairman, Tamam Sonwani.
Later on, a viral anonymous post by an unknown CGPSC aspirant stormed the state’s political galleries after the aspirants made serious allegations on the selection process of the candidates and claimed that a couple of drug addicts also got selected in the examination following which BJYM (youth wing of BJP) Chhattisgarh demanded that the 2021 PSC Examination should be re-conducted and a high-level committee should investigate the 2021 PSC examination. They also sought immediate suspension of the PSC chairman, secretary and examination controller.
The matter escalated further after the state’s PSC issued a notification for disposal of old irrelevant question papers and OMR sheets used in the previous years examinations triggering another protest from the BJP leaders who alleged that the notification issued by the CGPSC is nothing but a desperate move of the chairman to come clean on the records who is also awaiting his retirement in the coming months.
The coal extortion scam
Another alleged scam that allegedly flourished in the state is Rs 540 crore coal scam, which involves a prominent businessman with heavy political backing, Suryakant Tiwari. According to the investigation of ED, Tiwari ran a cartel with backing from a few politicians and senior government officials such as Saumya Chaurasiya, former deputy secretary of CM Bhupesh Baghel and Sameer Bishnoi IAS to collect levy from the coal transporters and businessmen.
The ED investigation revealed that the amendments made to induce a mandatory no objection certificate (NOC) by the district magistrate for the coal transporters led Suryakant to smoothly operate the extortion racket. The federal agency claimed that an extortion money of Rs 25 per metric ton was fixed for the transporters and coal businessmen to get the NOC. The extorted amount later got distributed among politicians and government officials; the ED investigation also highlighted irregularities in issuing NOC by the concerned authorities.
So far, the ED has arrested as many as nine accused, including the kingpin Suryakant Tiwari, his uncle Lakshmikant Tiwari, Sameer Vishnoi IAS, mining officer Shivshankar Nag, businessman Sunil Agarwal and others in the alleged scam. The federal agency has also attached assets worth approximately Rs 220 crore of Ms Ranu Sahu IAS, Suryakant Tiwari, Devendra Yadav MLA, Chandreshwar Prasad Rai MLA and others in the case.
Gothaan, cow dung and PDS scams
The next in line was the alleged scams that allegedly occurred in the Public Distribution System (PDS) and the flagship Gothaan scheme launched by the Baghel led government. Slamming the incumbent government for wide-scale irregularities and corruption in the PDS, the BJP has claimed that a scam worth Rs 600 crore has occurred alone in the distribution of rice from the government-owned shops.
The party has also alleged that Rs 10 lakhs being collected from each distributor for not carrying a stock verification. BJP has further alleged that earlier there was a system to monitor and manage the data on an online portal, but currently there is no information available pertaining to the distributed stock as the online monitoring system was closed by the Congress government in 2022. The party claimed that in its internal enquiry, irregularities have been found in a total of 13301 shops.
Similarly, the saffron party has also alleged that the flagship Gothaan scheme launched by the government has turned out to be another such scheme where wide-scale corruption has occurred. Recently, the party leaders have also alleged that even the records of the Congress government pertaining to cow-dung purchase is not accurate and a whopping figure of Rs 229 crore is missing.
Though replying to the query of the BJP leader, senior Congress leader and minister Tamradhwaj Sahu said that the figures pertaining to cow-dung purchase are accurate and no corruption has taken place in the scheme.
CM Baghel alleged ED actions politically motivated
Apart from the above-mentioned alleged schemes, the incumbent state government has also been on the receiving end for issues pertaining to poor quality of vermicompost being forcibly distributed to the farmers, the Mahadev app for betting and wide-scale conversion in the tribal-dominated regions of the State.
Despite allegations against the government, CM Bhupesh Baghel is defending his government and alleging the central government of vendetta politics. Recently, addressing a press conference in Delhi CM Baghel said that the federal agencies are claiming that a scam worth Rs 2168 crore had flourished, however despite persistent raids by ED and Income Tax (IT) since 2020 the agencies have only attached properties around Rs 200 crore that too includes a few ancestral properties.
Same is the story of the alleged coal scam where the agency had claimed that Rs 500 crore were illegally generated however, again the agencies have only seized properties worth Rs 150 crore. They are going after my close associates. It seems like the BJP will not contest the state elections but IT and ED will.
They are torturing people and threatening to put them in jail if they don’t cooperate; there is an atmosphere of fear, and it’s now the responsibility of the courts to intervene and look into this. There is something common in all these so-called scams that those who could be the biggest beneficiaries have so far not been touched, concluded CM Baghel.
Now amid this ongoing tug of war, which is being escalated by each passing day, the state will hold its assembly elections in November, where the two parties will lock horns for 90 seats of the tribal-dominated state. As of now, while the BJP is hoping to return to power after a five-year drought on the basis of the alleged corruption of multi-crore along with the issues pertaining to conversion and surge in Maoist violence, the Congress party, on the other hand, would have a difficult task ahead to woo the voters in their favor to return to the power.
In their pursuit for a comeback they also have to assure the Vanvasi community, a section of whom has been upset by the handling of communal flare-ups occurred between the local Vanvasis and the newly converted Christians early this year. Another headache for the Bhupesh Baghel led party is to fill the shoes of two times former union minister Arvind Netam who recently quit the grand old party alleging that the party is overlooking the exclusive constitutional rights provided by Baba Saheb Ambedkar to the Vanvasi (Adivasi) community. Therefore, there is no doubt that the road ahead for Congress would not be an easy one, and only time will reveal whether the grand old party secures its comeback in the land of Vanvasis.