Imagine this. Tight wads of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 wrapped in plastic packets and stashed in toilet cisterns, buried under floor tiles, hidden inside an overhead water tank and cabinets in sofas and beds and even walled up inside the washroom.
On the eve of Independence Day, this cash stash tumbled out of almost every nook and cranny of 140 Nashkarpara Lane in a Howrah neighbourhood.
Officers of the anti-corruption branch of West Bengal recovered Rs 20.075 crore from the residence of Pranab Adhikari, a sub-assistant engineer who was in charge of approving building plans.
The volume of ill-gotten wealth is much more than the Rs 10 crore seized last November from Noida engineer Yadav Singh, who was chief engineer and senior in rank to the introvert Howrah resident.
Considering the 45-year-old Adhikari’s monthly pay of about Rs 45,000, the bribe money he collected equals to 371 years of salary.
Wads of cash recovered from the residence of Pranab Adhikari in Ghusuri after ACB conducted raid for nearly 24 hours. (HT Photo/Udham Jyoti)
The quantity of hidden cash shocked even officers of the anti-corruption branch, who needed machines to help their tired fingers count the money that crept out of “every brick in the house”, said a member of the raid team.
"We kept counting through the night,” said Ramphal Pawar, additional director general of the anti-corruption branch.
The money points to a huge nexus comprising politicians, municipality officers, land sharks and developers that has been running for years. Adhikari is suspected to be the custodian of the graft money, which was to be distributed to the other members of the racket.
The opportunity to make quick money was available in the form of closed factory sites and old houses, which became prime land for developers. “Working since 1995, Adhikari formed the nexus and made good of the building boom in Howrah, Kolkata’s twin city,” an official said.
Be it illegally-grabbed land of closed factories and old buildings or filled-up water bodies, Adhikari was the man to go to for a sanctioned building plan, he said.
But Adhikari was busted and subsequently arrested when a deal with a local developer went sour. “We met him while we were developing 13 cottahs of land in Liluah jointly with the owners. He asked for Rs 1.5 Lakh per cottah. We begged him to reconsider. He did not and we had to spill the beans,” said Atma Prakash Singh, a developer who lodged a complaint with police.
Scene of Pranab Adhikari's residence after the ACB raid. (HT Photo/Ubham Jyoti)
Anti-corruption branch officials said gold jewellery and biscuits weighing 2kg were also found in Adhikari’s home. He also has five lockers in public-sector banks and documents suggest the engineer own several apartments in Howrah and a hotel in Tarapith, a pilgrimage centre in the state.
Despite owning such a formidable pile, Adhikari was always a spendthrift. “My son has been thrifty since childhood. He would rarely put his hand in his pocket and come up with a rupee,” mother Kalpana Adhikari told HT on Monday.
In his two-storey house in a crowded area of Howrah, wife Krishna said her husband has been framed.
The house has suddenly turned into a “tourist” attraction now. “People are pouring in even from Kolkata to have a look at the house where one of the largest cash hauls in recent times was discovered. Overnight, it has become a landmark,” said a neighbour.
Watch |Rs 24 cr cash, diamonds seized from engineer’s house in Kolkata