EXCLUSIVE: Kolkata Police arrests Bihar fodder scam accused-turned-approver Dipesh Chandak who had mysteriously vanished from CBI “custody”
In a major breakthrough, Kolkata-based businessman Dipesh Chandak – who had mysteriously vanished from Howrah in August this year by apparently tricking an officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – has been arrested by Kolkata Police. Chandak is accused turned approver in the multi-crore Bihar fodder scam.
A first information report (FIR) was lodged by the central investigating agency against him in a graft case and in March, the court of a Special CBI judge had asked the CBI to issue summon against him to appear in court and face trial in one of the fodder scam cases.
Chandak’s arrest is thus extremely significant not only in a number of cases, but also on a number of grounds.
Kolkata Police has charged him with allegedly duping hundreds of poor farmers of West Bengal by falsely procuring paddy in their names through a bogus cooperative society and siphoning off their cash. Chandak is owner of rice mills in Bengal and Jharkhand.
Dipesh Chandak’s arrest is being seen as a major breakthrough in a number sensitive cases, and is all the more significant in the context of the current scenario in the CBI headquarters where its top bosses Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana have been benched after the two levelled charges of corruption against each other.
The Centre has even told the Supreme Court that the two were fighting like cats and the decision to ask the two officers to go on leave was to ensure “institutional integrity” of the central investigating agency.
Chandak’s slipping away from the apparent “custody” of a CBI officer has in fact, raised questions of the same “institutional integrity”, according to some officers. Under this backdrop, this arrest is extremely significant because it means the central investigating agency is now expected to conduct the pending probes against him. But there is more to it than just conducting probes against Chandak.
In September, the CBI had said that Asthana’s role in the alleged corruption in six cases was being investigated and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had been informed about this. One of these six cases in which Asthana’s role is being probed is the one in which Chandak managed to escape near Howrah in August this year.
Sources said that Chandak had allegedly resorted to namedropping and he named an officer he has been reportedly close to for many years, and that helped him get away in August from Howrah. This is also being investigated.
According to sources, in the present case being probed by Kolkata Police, Chandak’s company had set up a bogus cooperative society – which allegedly existed only in paper – to coordinate between the government and farmers for rice procurement. As per government rules, the payment is sent directly by the government to the farmers’ bank accounts. Sources say that the bogus cooperative society allegedly opened accounts in the name of farmers in Bengal but took away their ATM cards.
When the government paid the farmers directly in their accounts, the money was withdrawn through the ATM cards. The government also paid the farmers for removing husk from paddy – a process done in rice mills – and this was billed, though no such work was actually done. According to sources, there are documents from the rice mill – electricity bills that “prove” that this was not done around the time as claimed.
Also, when it came to supplying rice to different government programmes – either through the public distribution system shops or for mid-day meal schemes, the rice supplied was of a very poor quality – these were broken grains purchased at very low price from Nepal and Odisha.
There are also documents showing purchase of this rice too, an officer said, adding that all this is now being probed. Chandak’s office and residence are both in Kolkata.
Once close to Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad, Dipesh Chandak was accused of being involved in defalcation of about Rs 450 crore of public money in the over Rs 900 crore fodder scam in Bihar and Jharkhand before the CBI made him approver in most of the 55 cases in the scam.
However, in March, the court of Special CBI judge Shiv Pal Singh had asked the CBI to issue summon against Chandak to appear in court and face trial in one of the fodder scam cases related to the withdrawal of funds from the Dumka treasury. He was a witness in the case and had told the court that he had received “several crores of rupees without supplying materials to the AHD department”.
Later, the CBI booked Chandak in a corruption case related to bribery for extending the lease of a Food Corporation of India (FCI) godown. Two others – Ranchi-based FCI assistant general manager A Sikandar and Chandak’s employee Ranjay Chitlangia were booked (and subsequently arrested) in the case.
Chandak could not be traced since he slipped away in August from CBI “custody” in a place close to Kolkata. In November 5, his lawyers had moved the Jharkhand High Court seeking anticipatory bail, which was however rejected.