CBI, police probing defalcation of funds, smuggling of weapon parts at India’s oldest army rifle factory
Rifle Factory Ishapore (RFI), India’s oldest defence establishment that armed British and allied forces during two World Wars and Indian soldiers later on, is now witnessing the CBI and police probing charges of defalcation of funds and smuggling of weapon parts from its premises. The factory is located around 40 km to the north of Kolkata.
Six months ago the vigilance department of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) detected huge financial mismanagement by a section of officers at RFI and informed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
A case was registered at 6.30 pm on October 17 by the anti-corruption branch of CBI, Kolkata on the basis of a complaint lodged by Gautam Mandal, chief vigilance officer of OFB. Having its headquarters in Kolkata, OFB runs 41 units across India under the production and supplies wing of the Ministry of defence.
Madhu Sudan Mukhopadhyay, a cashier at RFI, has been named as the prime accused along with other “unknown persons.” Finding “prima facie” evidence the CBI has charged Mukhopadhyay with defalcation of Rs 1.70 crore. Mukhopadhyay is currently under suspension.
RFI produces the INSAS rifle and its variants used in Kargil, the 12 gauge pump-action shotgun (infamously known as the “pellet gun” in Kashmir), a pistol and some new rifles for the army and police and six types of firearms meant only for civilians. Because of its production schedule, the factory has to maintain a stock of finished and unfinished weapons as well as components.
In a disturbing development, the Special Task Force (STF) of the Kolkata Police on September 21 arrested Sambhu Bhattacharjee, a junior works manager, for allegedly smuggling out parts of the 7.62 mm SLR and 5.56 mm INSAS. These components were allegedly being sold to gunsmiths who cater to the underworld.
Deepak Shaw, who allegedly deals in illegal firearms and has links with gangs in Bihar, was arrested along with Bhattacharjee. About two dozen magazines of semi-automatic rifles and several components, including firing mechanisms and triggers, were seized by the STF.
The STF went into action after Lalu, a contractual labourer who used to work at the pistol section of RFI, was arrested in Kolkata on September 18. A 9 mm pistol, assembled with components made at the factory, was seized from him. The discovery shocked the administration.
“Vigilance inside the factory has been intensified manyfold after the smuggling was detected,” Ratneswar Varma, who took charge of RFI as general manager in April 2016, told HT. “Some people have been identified. Others are being cross-examined by the task force,” he added.
While the Kolkata Police is pursuing the smuggling racket, the CBI probe into defalcation of funds from the cash section of a Centre-run unit has raised eyebrows inside RFI. A section of officers and workers feel that none of the crimes could have been committed without the involvement of officers.
“This is not the first reported incident of smuggling. In 2015 the RFI authorities received a complaint that ammunition was being secretly shipped out of the factory. There is a shooting range inside the factory for employees. Lockers allotted to the shooters were searched. Ammunition that nobody could account for were seized from some lockers,” said an officer on condition of anonymity.
The first information report on financial corruption that Gautam Mandal, an Indian Revenue Service officer, submitted to the joint director of CBI on April 4 this year mentioned that Rs 28.56 crores were withdrawn from the bank during 2012-2016 but no entry was made in the books.
“The factory did not offer its cash books for audit for the last six years despite repeated reminder from the internal audit department. It is equally surprising that in spite of repeated reminders from OFB internal audit office to the management of the factory, including the general manager, no action was taken to remedy the situation and stop the malpractice,” the chief vigilance officer of OFB said in his report. He also sent a letter in March this year to heads of the rest of the 40 factories run by OFB, mentioning the mismanagement of funds and asking them to be vigilant.
The vigilance report which is now part of the FIR filed by CBI names seven senior officers as “main suspects” in the defalcation case. They include a former general manager, a joint general manager, a deputy general manager, an additional general manager and an assistant general manager.
“I suspended Madhu Sudan Mukhopadhyay, the cashier, after the internal investigation. I was convinced by the findings,” Ratneswar Varma told HT when asked about the CBI probe.
Interestingly, the full vigilance report (HT has a copy) mentions Arijit Mukherjee, “a young Indian Ordnance Factory Service Officer posted as cash officer of the factory”on May 11, 2015” as the “whistle blower.” He “repeatedly tried to expose the misdeeds” and brought the matter to the notice of Varma, the report says.
Set up in 1875 as a gunpowder factor and developed into a rifle-making unit in 1904, RFI armed the British Indian army with the famous Lee-Enfield rifle and Vickers machine gun and started making rifles and pistols for the armed forces, police and civilians after Independence.