Though the jail in Patiala has quite a line-up of VIP inmates - a former deputy commissioner, senior superintendent of police, former MLA and powerful Akali leaders, besides a top taxman - the one whose special treatment overshadows others' is Ashwani Gupta, a chartered accountant arrested by the CBI on April 3 from Jalandhar for allegedly being the middleman in a bribery deal.
Gupta has served on the board of the State Bank of Patiala, where he led the audit committee, is a member of the steel consumers' council of the union government, and is a special invitee to the direct taxes committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). But perhaps most importantly, the Doaba-based CA, in judicial custody since April 8, is a financial adviser to six current and former ministers of Punjab, two of whom are learnt to have called the jail superintendent to ensure he gets VIP treatment.
Hence, there's no limit of visitors or outside food, he gets mineral water, and the deputy superintendent visits him daily, according to a high-ranking officer who provided the information on the condition of anonymity.
Ironically, even income tax deputy commissioner TK Bhattacharya, who was arrested along with Gupta at Jalandhar for taking a bribe of Rs 6 lakh from an industrialist to hush up a tax evasion case, only has his family visiting him. At the time of arresting Gupta and the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer Bhattacharya from Gupta's house, the police had found Rs 67.5 lakh there.
So sound is Gupta's proximity to the political circle that aides of a cabinet minister reportedly visited the jail to meet him and oversee the VIP facilities, sources told HT.
Others who have met him - without making an entry in the register - include an additional director general of police (ADGP)-level officer posted at the headquarters in Chandigarh, two inspectors-general, several industrialist and politicians.
"He is the CA of almost all big industrial houses in Doaba in which politicians have invested their money directly or indirectly. They must be worried what he could have told the CBI," remarked a jail officer, who said he was surprised how he gets even better treatment and more visitors than former Patiala DC and IAS officer Vikas Garg, accused in a Rs 200-crore land scam, and former MLA and Akali leader Mangat Rai Bansal, who was recently handed seven-year jail in a fraud case.
Though jail superintendent Bhupinderjit Singh denied giving any VIP treatment to Gupta, he added, "Yes, many people come to see him, and now we have decided to curtail the limit."