Union Minister of State, Home, Kiren Rijiju has been accused by Congress of being involved in a 450 crore hydro-projects scam in Arunachal Pradesh. This is the first time a Union Minister in the Modi Government has been connected to an alleged scam. Following is a recap of the entire controversy:
How it all began:
The Chief Vigilance Officer of North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO), Satish Verma had written a 129 page report alleging an “elaborate conspiracy” involving contractors, NEEPCO officials and the West Kameng district administration to defraud NEEPCO and the government of funds that “may extend” up to Rs 450 crore (estimated total budget of transportation of boulders and sands).
This report was sent to the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the CBI, and the Power Ministry in July 2016. Verma alleged corruption in the construction of two dams for the 600 MW Kameng Hydro Electric Project, wherein he claimed that several inflated bills under the pretext of transporting boulders to the dam site were presented and that the main contractor for the dam, Patel Engineering (PEL) provided many fake transportation chalans.
PEL was awarded the dam construction project in 2004, while they were awarded the work of transportation of boulders and sands in 2012. They had been getting their bills cleared from time to time, before Verma came up with his report.
As a result, clearance of bills, primarily between the period of May and July 2015, of PEL was stopped by NEEPCO after Verma sent an advisory to the Head of Project flagging the alleged irregularities. CBI is reportedly in the process of collecting all documents and related papers and they have made two “surprise checks”, but they have not come up with any report yet.
What is Kiren Rijiju connection?
The hydro-electric project falls under Kiren Rijiju’s constituency. As payments to PEL for the transportation costs were stopped, PEL in turn didn’t pay various sub-contractors employed it. One of the sub-contractors was Mr, Goboi Rijiju, who is being claimed as a cousin of Kiren Rijiju.
There is an audio recording where Goboi Rijiju is heard invoking Kiren Rijiju’s name in a meeting with CVO Satish Verma for clearing all the pending payments. This recording is part of the report prepared by Verma, who in all probability recorded the conversation himself to back up his allegations of corruption.
While these are indirect connections, what made Rijiju’s connection somewhat direct is a letter to the Power Ministry he wrote on 4th Nov 2015, requesting the Ministry to consider releasing the payments that were blocked after Verma’s report.
Congress now claims that this letter proves that Kiren Rijiju is directly involved in the scam and thus he should resign.
Kiren Rijiju’s defence:
Kiran Rijiju denies that Goboi Rijiju is his relative. He claimed that the concerned person belongs to his village and comes from the same clan, and that’s why some media persons are referring to him as his cousin, but there is no blood relation.
He defended his letter to the Power Ministry by claiming that he was just helping out his constituency residents (the sub contractors) who approached him with their problem (of payments being blocked by NEEPCO). He further pointed out that if there was any scam, it was under the Congress regime as the contracts were awarded before the current government took charge.
Rijiju also questioned the amount of 450 crore rupees being thrown around, claiming that 400 crore rupees was spent on transportation since 2004 and 90% of the work was completed so on what basis media was flashing it as 450 crore rupees scam?
The government also came out in support of Kiren Rijuju, pointing out that the payments were released not after the MoS, Home wrote the letter to the Power Minister, but because Satish Verma himself authorised in October 2015 – a month before Rijuju wrote the letter – to release 60% of the billed amount. Government blamed Verma of creating this whole controversy by making baseless allegations.
Who is the Satish Verma?
An IPS officer from the Gujarat cadre, he was one of the three members of the Gujarat High Court appointed SIT to probe the Ishrat Jahan encounter case. He differed from the other members and believed that the encounter was fake. He is accused of torturing RVS Mani, former under secretary in the Home Ministry, to file a second affidavit in the Ishrat Jahan case which implicated his seniors and wherein the references to the alleged links of Ishrat Jahan with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) were removed.
Verma is also alleged as being a crazy conspiracy theorist who believes that both 26/11 (Mumbai terror attacks) and 2001 Parliament attacks were orchestrated by the Government of India.
In July this year, Verma was removed as CVO NEEPCO, since he was charge-sheeted in May for continued violation of CVC instructions and for not performing his duties with due diligence and care. Government claims that Verma is now trying to get even for the disciplinary action taken against him.