Pradeep Sharma, the bureaucrat in the thick of a snooping scandal involving a young woman architect, was once Narendra Modi’s blue eyed boy. Differences with the Gujarat chief minister could have done him in.
Sharma, a 1994 batch promotee IAS officer, could do no wrong prior to his arrest from Bhavnagar on 6 January 2010 and suspension two days later. He had plum postings as collector of Bhuj and Rajkot districts before being made commissioner, Bhavnagar Municipal Corporation.
Everything changed after the Gujarat police put him and the woman under surveillance in August-September 2009 allegedly on orders from ‘Saheb’ via Amit Shah.
Sharma, 58, was charged with irregularities in the 2001 Bhuj earthquake rehabilitation scheme besides dubious land allotment, corruption and favours from private firms. These contradicted the excellent ACRs (annual confidential report) he had earlier received from Modi.
In the purported taped conversation between Shah and IPS officer GL Singhal, who supervised the surveillance, the former is heard telling the latter “to put the man in jail longer than Vanjara has been in jail”. Shah was allegedly referring to Sharma, who was meeting the woman regularly.
Senior officers said not many promotee IAS officers enjoyed the kind of proximity Sharma had with Modi. “The cases against him are bogus and an outcome of his fallout with Modi,” a retired bureaucrat said.
Those batting for Sharma point at two other IAS officers – Hareet Shukla, former Bhuj DDO and P Pannervel, former revenue secretary — probed by the state CID (crime) in the earthquake rehabilitation case. “These two officers were let off despite their involvement, which means Sharma was the only target,” a member of that probe team said.
In January 2011, Sharma wrote a letter to the Gujarat chief secretary accusing Modi of targeting him. “The cause of the chief minister’s malicious and vindictive actions against me stem from his special interest in a woman and that I had stumbled upon certain facts about his relationship with her,” Sharma wrote while seeking transfer of the cases against him to the CBI.
On Saturday, Sharma in his TV interviews to various news channels, said it was he who had introduced the woman and her family to the chief minister in 2004 during a function in Bhuj where a public garden was inaugurated by Modi and the woman had designed landscaping. The BJP’s defence that the “surveillance was at the woman’s father’s request” and that the IAS officer was harassing her and that the family had “long standing relations with Modi” find no substantiation here.
“What Sharma is saying is true,” said former BJP chief minister Suresh Mehta, who is from Kutch. This deflates BJP’s claim that the surveillance was at request of the woman’s father and that her family had long-standing relations with Modi.
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