Rajasthan police arrested for corruption a senior bureaucrat considered close to chief minister Vasundhara Raje on Thursday, blowing the lid off a massive corruption scandal in the state’s mines department.
Photographs shared with the media showed officials stacking wads of cash amounting to several crores apart from the gold and silver found in a series of searches organised against principal secretary (mines) Ashok Singhvi and seven others who were also arrested. While an Udaipur court remanded them in police custody for five days, the state government suspended Singhvi and two of his department colleagues.
The incident comes as another blow for the state’s BJP-led government weeks after Raje faced a barrage of protests from opposition parties for her alleged links with controversial former IPL chief Lalit Modi.
“We must appreciate the efforts of the ACB (anti-corruption bureau) team which unearthed the corruption case after several days of hard work,” Rajasthan home minister and BJP leader Gulab Chand Kataria told the media. “The team got inputs about graft in the department and the deal following which raids were conducted.”
The action followed a tip-off that a middleman took Rs 2.5 crore from a chartered accountant in Udaipur on behalf of state officials to allow a mining baron to resume operations at six quarries in Chittorgarh area that were recently shut down for environmental violations.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg. The Government of India notified on January 12 this year that all mines would be auctioned. But less than a fortnight before that notification came, the Rajasthan government gave away 650 mines on first-come, first-served basis. This scam has resulted in at least a Rs 3,000-crore loss to the exchequer,” said state Congress president Sachin Pilot.
“But it can’t just be the principal secretary or some mid-ranking officials who are involved in the scam. There is certainly a larger conspiracy at the highest level. The role of the political masters should be probed. I have little faith in the Rajasthan government’s probe. The PM must take action.”
Sources say ACB officials held a flurry of meetings and called in statisticians and IT experts to build a watertight case, keeping in mind their poor record of proving the guilt of civil servants involved in corruption.
“We are aware of the route (through which) money travelled from engineers to the directorate officials and to Singhvi in Jaipur,” inspector general of police Dinesh MN of the ACB told Hindustan Times. “We will reveal more as the investigation progresses.”
Singhvi, who turned 56 last week, escaped unscathed earlier this year when the Raje government came under opposition fire for allotment of hundreds of mines without auction.
After getting a nod from the chief minister, who also heads the anti-corruption department, a team of police personnel reached the bureaucrat’s office and brought him to his residence to begin a marathon search that ended early on Thursday morning.
“It would not be easy to nail Singhvi in the case as the money was exchanged between private persons, alleged to be touts in the cartel, and there is no direct link to Singhvi,” said a former bureau official. “The investigators will have to establish Singhvi’s link through files of mines department.”
(With inputs from Saubhadra Chatterji in New Delhi)