As food and civil supplies minister in the previous SP regime, Raja Bhaiya swindled Rs 100 crore from the PDS. As he presides over the food ministry once again, Ashish Khetan exposes the shocking loot
A LITTLE MORE than a month ago, Akhilesh Yadav, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, earned a landslide victory on the idea of hope: Ummeed ki cycle. He had promised clean governance and a corruption-free government. When he refused to give the dreaded DP Yadav a ticket, he sent a signal that he meant business. But some of his gloss was lost on the day he was sworn in. His inclusion of the notorious Raja Bhaiya in his Cabinet as prisons and food and civil supplies minister created an uproar in the media. If Raja Bhaiya’s appointment was driven by political expediency, here’s incontrovertible proof why Akhilesh must confront and overcome that expediency. TEHELKA now exposes why he should not even be in the Cabinet and definitely not as food minister again. His rightful place, it appears, should be in jail and not the Uttar Pradesh Secretariat.
In the last Samajwadi Party regime (2003-07), under Mulayam Singh Yadav, Raja Bhaiya was food minister and presided over the crucial PDS scheme.
In a shocking revelation, a close aide of Raja Bhaiya has told the CBI and the Supreme Court that in his last stint, the controversial minister had presided over a well-oiled network of stealing and smuggling of PDS foodgrain and made a personal fortune of over Rs 100 crore in less than four years. The total magnitude of the foodgrain scam, which stretches over a period of more than a decade, could run up to a staggering Rs 2 lakh crore. To support his claims, the witness has produced a sensational diary in which entries of illicit money received were meticulously maintained. And — in an act of utter brazenness — each illegal entry, the entire illegal book-keeping has allegedly been countersigned by Raja Bhaiya’s wife. This is a story that shows how the idea of electoral democracy is corrupted and subverted. This story is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with our representative democracy — the abuse of power and authority, criminalisation of electoral politics and the nexus of mass leaders with murderers and gangsters. This is how the story unfolds.
Sometime in December 2011, Rajiv Yadav, 38, who was the public relations officer (PRO) of Kunwar Raghuraj Pratap Singh, notorious by the name of Raja Bhaiya, walked into the CBI office at Hazratganj, Lucknow, and handed over a copy of a diary. It was the diary that Yadav and Ashok Kumar, another senior officer of the Secretariat Administration cadre, had maintained between 2006 and ’07 while they were part of the official staff of Raja Bhaiya, who was the food minister.
Some of this money was invested in properties and luxury cars. Yadav has provided the details of two such properties of which he has personal knowledge: bungalows in Green Park, New Delhi, and MG Road, Lucknow. “In 2004-05, a trust by the name of Ramjanki Trust was registered at Allahabad in which Raja Bhaiya and his family members were trustees. Some money was transferred to the trust with which a bungalow was leased at 214, MG Marg, Lucknow. In 2007, a bungalow at 7-B, Green Park Extension in Delhi was purchased in the name of Raja Bhaiya’s wife,” Yadav said in his affidavit.
For almost four years, Yadav and, in his absence, Kumar, had meticulously kept records and made diary entries of the cash received from the sale of stolen foodgrain and kerosene, which fair price shops (FPS) were allocated at subsidised rates under the Public Distribution System (PDS). Yadav has submitted one such diary pertaining to the period of 2006-07 to the CBI. As minister, Raja Bhaiya’s core responsibility was to oversee the functioning of the PDS and ensure that the subsidised foodgrain was efficiently and honestly distributed to the rural and urban poor, a majority of them living below the poverty line. “These stolen articles were either smuggled to countries like Bangladesh and Nepal or sold in the black market of other states,” Yadav told the CBI in a sworn affidavit.
According to Yadav, the money was collected by Raja Bhaiya’s four important aides: Akshay Pratap Singh alias Gopal Singh (who was at the time a Samajwadi Party MP from Pratapgarh), Yashvant Singh (the then Member of Legislative Council), Jayesh Prasad (who was then a Samajwadi MLC and at present a BSP MLC) and Rohit Singh (Raja Bhaiya’s driver). The money was handed over to Yadav, who used to stay at Raja Bhaiya’s personal bungalow at Shahnajaf Road in Lucknow. During his entire tenure as a minister, Raja Bhaiya used this address as his official residence.
“Soon after being sworn in as the food and civil supplies minister in 2004, my minister told me that in the first week of every month, the above four would hand over the cash collected from the PDS mafia and state employees, which I, in turn, was supposed to hand over to the minister’s wife Bhanvi Kumari,” Yadav told the CBI.
But before handing the cash to Kumari, Yadav made entries of all the cash inflow in a diary maintained by him. “For the sake of record-keeping and clarity, in case there was any dispute with regard to money collected, Bhanvi Kumari used to countersign all the entries,” Yadav told CBI Superintendent of Police Sanjay Ratan at his Lucknow office last December. Three months later, Yadav retold this chilling story to TEHELKA in Delhi.
The diary shows that in a period of less than 15 months between 2006 and ’07, Raja Bhaiya had earned roughly Rs 40 crore in cash coming in from the smuggling of PDS foodgrain and kerosene, from the monthly fixed amount received from the Weights and Measures wing and transfers and postings of departmental officials. Raja Bhaiya was minister for around 40 months. Yadav told TEHELKA that he had personally received over Rs 100 crore from the stealing of foodgrain meant for the poor during this period. “The entire money was handed over to his wife,” said Yadav.
According to Yadav, as soon as he received the money, it was sorted and handed over to Kumari. TEHELKA asked Yadav why the money was not directly handed over to Kumari instead of Yadav acting as a go-between. He replied that in Raja Bhaiya’s family, the women avoid interacting with men who were not part of the family and that’s why he was appointed as a buffer. “Also it would have perhaps been embarrassing for mantriji to expose his wife to the daily collection of money,” said Yadav.
RAJA BHAIYA had allegedly also devised an innovative modus operandi of converting some of this black money into white. Yadav has disclosed in his affidavit that bogus insurance policies and bank accounts were opened in the name of the teachers and others employed at the private schools owned by Raja Bhaiya’s family. “More than Rs 7.5 crore was deposited over a period of four years in these insurance policies, which on maturity was handed back to Raja Bhaiya’s family. One such policy was also opened in my name,” Yadav had said. He has given the CBI the name of the insurance company and the agent code under which the policies were opened.
This affidavit has now been produced before the Supreme Court in an ongoing petition demanding a court-monitored CBI probe into the scam. In the same affidavit, Yadav has affirmed that luxury SUVs, such as Lexus, Ford Endeavour, Toyota Fortuner and Mitsubishi Pajero, were bought with this money. “Most of the cars were registered in benami names,” he said.
A copy of the sensational diary has reached the apex court. TEHELKA perused this diary and found that detailed entries of money received from different divisions and districts were maintained date-wise. Some entries also carry subheads under which the money was categorised.
For instance, one of the pages is divided into four columns under the subheading PDS. This page has entries of the alleged money received from Lucknow, Moradabad, Kanpur and Bareilly divisions. It shows that around Rs 58 lakh was received from the pilferage of PDS foodgrain in January-July 2006 from Lucknow, Moradabad and Kanpur. The same page shows that a total of Rs 13.6 lakh was received from Bareilly district in February-July 2006. The next page records a receipt of Rs 13.5 lakh from the smuggling of foodgrain from Meerut, Saharanpur, Allahabad and Varanasi divisions in February-July 2006. The following page carries the entries of Rs 40.70 lakh collected from Goraphkur, Basti and Devipatan divisions.
Another page shows the monthly receipt of Rs 4 lakh from the Weights and Measures wing in May-December 2006. “There was not much money to be made from weights and measures, so the wing was told to give us a fixed amount of Rs 4 lakh every month,” Yadav told TEHELKA. Yet another page has entries of monthly money received from the Regional Marketing Officer (RMO), Lucknow.
The RMO’s job is to supervise the procurement of rice and wheat by the state government at the minimum support price (MSP). The scheme’s objective is to support marginal farmers with small landholdings by procuring their produce at the MSP. The money received from the government helps these farmers to buy seeds and fertilisers for the next harvest.
But Yadav told TEHELKA that during Raja Bhaiya’s tenure, most of the procurement of farmers’ produce happened only on paper. “The modus operandi was simple. The mill owners, who were supposed to procure the produce from the farmers, would make bogus entries of procurement. Sometimes, the foodgrain stolen from PDS was shown as being procured from the farmers. And then cheques were disbursed to the mill owners and a cut was given to the minister,” Yadav told TEHELKA.
SP spokesman Rajendra Chowdhary adds, “CM Akhilesh Yadav has already said that all the cases against Raja Bhaiya were registered during the two previous regimes of Mayawati out of political vendetta and there is no substances in those cases.”
Yadav, who hails from Gotani village in Pratapgarh district, which is 6 km away from Raja Bhaiya’s native Benti village, told TEHELKA he had been associated with Raja Bhaiya since 1993. TEHELKA tried to corroborate his claims and found that police records show Yadav has been an active member of Raja Bhaiya’s gang since 1993, the year Bhaiya was first elected as an MLA.
Yadav has also been booked in many criminal cases lodged against Raja Bhaiya’s gang, including cases registered under the Gangster Act and attempt to murder. TEHELKA’s investigation also revealed that Yadav was officially appointed as Raja Bhaiya’s PRO in 2004 when Raja was sworn in as Cabinet minister after his release from jail and continued in the post till May 2007.
Yadav regularly drew a monthly salary from the state treasury (TEHELKA has accessed information of Yadav’s SBI savings account at the Civil Secretariat Branch in Lucknow, which has details of the salary being credited by the Secretariat Administrative Department every month). TEHELKA has also accessed a copy of the diary, a copy of which is in CBI custody.
It is not clear when and why Yadav fell out with Raja Bhaiya and why he has chosen to blow the whistle now, many years after the alleged illicit money was generated. However, Yadav told TEHELKA that he had decided to expose the minister because his conscience could no longer bear the burden of being a party to an illegal empire built on the misfortune of the poor and downtrodden.
EVERY YEAR, the Centre spends thousands of crores of rupees of public money on foodgrain subsidy. The amount of food subsidy increased to Rs 68,198 crore in 2010-11 from Rs 31,260 crore in 2007-08. In the current fiscal, the Centre has allocated Rs 75,000 crore for eliminating hunger. Uttar Pradesh, which is the most populous state and thus has the largest number of intended beneficiaries, has received around 1 lakh crore of subsidy in 2001-12. Under PDS, subsidised foodgrain is provided under schemes such as Antyodya, Mid-Day Meal, Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Above Poverty Line (APL) programmes.
Under the BPL scheme in UP, each family living below the poverty line gets 23 kg of wheat and 12 kg of rice every month at the rate of Rs 4.65 and Rs 6.15 per kg respectively. However, in eight divisions of UP where people consume more rice than wheat, each BPL family is allocated 15 kg of wheat and 20 kg of rice. Besides, sugar and kerosene are also provided at a fraction of the market price. At present, the Central government is providing subsidy for 74.37 lakh BPL families in the state.
Under the Antyodya scheme, the subsidy on foodgrain is even higher. The beneficiary families earmarked for this scheme get wheat at the rate of Rs 2 per kg, rice at Rs 3 per kg and sugar at Rs 13.50 per kg. Each family gets 35 kg of foodgrain and 700 grams of sugar per month. Since 2001, 32.42 lakh families have been shown on paper as the beneficiaries of this scheme in UP. Similarly, under the APL scheme, ration card-holders are given wheat and rice at Rs 6.60 and Rs 8.45 per kg respectively.
Until 2008, under the Sampoorn Gramin Rozgar Yojna (SGRY, which was later renamed MGNREGA), labourers were given Rs 33 in cash and 5 kg wheat or alternatively Rs 23 in cash and 5 kg rice. (Now, under MGNREGA, the daily wages are disbursed through cheques only).
Except for the SGRY and food-for-cash schemes, the rest of the schemes are directly controlled and monitored by the food and civil supplies ministry.
For all these schemes, it’s the Centre that provides 100 percent subsidy. Every year, the UP government sends bills and utilisation certificates claiming the allocation of foodgrain, kerosene and sugar to the poor after which the Centre gives 100 percent reimbursement to the state government. Since 2001, the UP government has been claiming full allocation to all the intended beneficiaries.