Last month a band of junior Union ministers met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with their grievances —improper work allocation by their respective cabinet ministers — and got a patient hearing.
But Jamshed Ashraf, Bihar’s Minister of State for Excise was not so lucky with his boss. His efforts to meet Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for the past six months failed. A frustrated Ashraf recently alleged there was a scam in his department and that officials working with the CM were also involved. He had written a letter to Kumar, alleging that the scam would cost the state a loss of revenue of at least Rs 500 crore. The allegations have been dismissed by the CM.
Ashraf spoke to Hindustan Times on the phone from Chennai, where he is undergoing treatment for an eye ailment. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
Why have you created a storm at this juncture?
It is a major scandal. The Bihar State Beverage Corporation Limited has given a large margin — 6 per cent — to Indian Made Foreign Liquor manufacturers. This margin is way too high and is draining the exchequer. Even a month after writing a letter to the chief minister, there has been no probe. I had asked for removal of the excise commissioner and suspension of the joint commissioner. No action was taken
Why didn’t you raise the matter with the CM directly?
I raised several objections in the files on extension of country liquor contracts. I was against contracts to outside companies and to firms that had defaulted on tax payments. I was overruled by the principal secretary, excise, Amir Subhani and the Chief Secretary and assent was taken from the CM. I feel frustrated and humiliated. Often, I was given to understand by my bureaucrats that the CM wanted this or that. I felt like a dummy as for everything the orders came from above.
You tried to meet the chief minister personally…
Can you imagine a minister seeking an appointment again and again for the past six months? I never got an audience. But now that my letter has been made public, I will definitely meet him and express my displeasure. It is not I alone who is feeling humiliated. Many ministers feel the same way.
You have alleged that some officials in the CM’s secretariat were involved in the scam…
Yes, 100 per cent
Do you know that the opposition has demanded a CBI probe into the matter?
No. There is nothing wrong in that. I had demanded a probe by the Revenue Board member S.P. Keshav. At least the Vigilance Department can look into it.
What do you plan to do after this?
What next? I think I am ready to reveal more. Let the time come.