EXCLUSIVE: West Bengal police questions CBI officer — how a Kolkata-based businessman linked to the Bihar fodder scam mysteriously escaped from his “custody” near Kolkata

A Kolkata-based businessman against whom the CBI lodged a first information report (FIR) in Ranchi in a graft case mysteriously vanished recently by apparently tricking an officer of the central investigating agency. The businessman is accused turned approver in the multi-crore Bihar fodder scam.

Sub-Inspector of CBI, Sunil Meena, lodged an FIR in Howrah on August 18 against the businessman, Dipesh Chandak, alleging that the latter had feigned illness and fled from Howrah’s Grand Foreshore Road on the night of August 17. The case is now being investigated by West Bengal police.

The incident has not only raised eyebrows among senior officers in Bengal, but also worried a section of the CBI officers who are now looking into the reasons and circumstances of the mysterious disappearance.

Sources said Meena has been questioned by officers in Bengal twice and officers investigating the case in West Bengal say that “evidences” collected so far indicate that the account given by Meena “may not be true”.

In fact, police has asked two witnesses in the case to record their statements before a magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC as their version of the “escape” incident is totally different from the CBI officer’s narrative. These statements were recorded before a magistrate on Saturday.

What makes the case all the more curious is that there is a buzz among officers in Bengal and in the CBI that Chandak may have resorted to namedropping which helped him escape. Sources said he may have mentioned his connection with a senior officer he is known to be close to since the investigation of the fodder scam. In fact, there are talks that it is due to Chandak’s close ties with officers in the CBI, that he could turn an approver from an accused in the fodder scam. His role as a witness in the case has even been questioned in a special CBI court recently.

Are there then connections between accused persons and officers of the investigating agency which raises doubts and questions – and at least leads to speculations – about how the system of justice is often attempted to be subverted.

Who is Dipesh Chandak and what’s the significance of his mysterious disappearance?

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.

In March this year, the court of Special CBI judge Shiv Pal Singh had asked the investigating agency 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.

Chandak 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”. “The CBI use Dipesh Chandak and provide umbrella of protection from prosecution. The court surprising (sic), how prosecution agency save veteran criminal person who knowingly and intentionally involved in this fodder scam from beginning to end. In the ends (sic) of Justice, it is necessary to pass order against such type of criminal person as Dipesh Chandak,” the judgment reads.

It was in this same judgment that Bihar’s present chief secretary Anjani Kumar Singh, former Bihar DGP DP Ojha, retired chief secretary of Bihar and Jharkhand, Vijay Shankar Dubey, SP of CBI, AK Jha as well as a supplier Shiv Kumar Patwari, and the then senior officer of the Legislative Assembly of Bihar Phool Jha were also ordered to be summoned.

As Singh and Jha are currently in government service, the court asked relevant permission to be taken before asking them to be present in court. Subsequently, the matter has moved to a higher court.

What is the current case in which FIR was filed against Chandak by the CBI?

The CBI booked Chandak in a corruption case related to bribery for extending the lease of a Food Corporation of India (FCI) godown last month. Other than Chandak, Ranchi-based FCI assistant general manager A Sikandar and Chandak’s employee Ranjay Chitlangia were booked (and subsequently arrested) in the case.

Chandak owns a warehouse in Ranchi which he had leased out to the FCI and the lease period was supposed to end. According to the CBI’s FIR, Chitlangia had approached Sikandar under Chandak’s instruction for extension of the lease and enhancement of the lease rate. Chitlangia paid Rs 2 lakh on July 30 and another instalment was likely to be paid on August 17 to Sikandar and other officials according to the CBI source information. Allegedly, no field study was conducted and favourable report was prepared on the basis of forged documents submitted by Chitlangia. An agreement was apparently reached on increasing the rate and documents were to be prepared for M/s Bina Textiles Limited.

The CBI filed the FIR on August 16 against the three under Sections 120 B of the Indian Penal Code of Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act, 2018.

What happened next?

What happened after that is a complete mystery. In his complaint with Howrah Police (in an FIR lodged on August 18), CBI’s Sub-Inspector Sunil Meena wrote that he was officially deputed to search the factory of Dipesh Chandak at Jalan Industrial Complex, in Junglepur, Howrah.

After completing the work, he was to go to Howrah station to board a train to Ranchi. According to Meena, Dipesh Chandak offered him lift in his car, which he took. However, on the way to Howrah station, Chandak feigned illness. At this point, Meena sent the constable accompanying him, to buy some water, while he himself went looking for a medicine store. When they were back, neither Chandak nor his driver could be found, and they had vanished with all his official documents (original search list, original search warrant of the same case and notice to Dipesh Chandak in the same case) and his clothes.

In the FIR – which Meena has filed with Howrah police – the incident is said to have taken place at 9.45 pm on August 17, while the complaint was lodged at 6.45 pm the following day.

What is mysterious about the escape narrative

Those probing the case said that they found gaping holes in the narrative mentioned in the FIR lodged in Howrah. It is not clear why Meena himself went looking for medicine and sent a sub-inspector to look for water when one person could have done both, and why he didn’t send Chandak’s driver to do it knowing that Chandak may have taken the opportunity to flee.

Sources said Meena first visited Chandak’s house in Kolkata’s Earle Street and visited the factory on learning he may be there. In that case, when an FIR was lodged against Chandak the day before by the CBI authorities, Meena suggesting he took a “lift” from Chandak (because he was going to the same area) makes the narrative hollow, said an officer. “The delay in lodging the FIR in Howrah police station is also being investigated into,” an officer said.

Officers further said that Meena ought to have taken his own vehicle and should not have required lift from a person against whom the CBI had filed an FIR the day before.

What next

Now that the witnesses have submitted their version of Chandak’s escape before a magistrate on Saturday, it would be interesting to see what the West Bengal Police’s next step would be.

When The Bengal Story called Sunil Meena, he said, “I don’t want to tell you anything about the events of that day. I am not authorised to talk. Please don’t call me again.”

Howrah Police commissioner Tanmay Roychowdhury said he doesn’t speak over phone with those he hasn’t seen in the press conferences he addresses.

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