In a development which may further increase the political heat in West Bengal where Assembly polls are slated early next year, the CBI in a contempt plea in the Saradha chit fund scam has informed the Supreme Court that the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund of West Bengal regularly paid for a period of 23 months, purportedly towards the salaries of employees of Tara TV which was under investigation for being part of Saradha Group of companies.
In an application, the CBI said that the CM Relief fund has regularly paid the amounts — at the rate of Rs 27 lakh per month — for a period of 23 months from May 2013 to April 2015.
“It is submitted that the said amounts were purportedly given towards salary payments of the employees of the said media company that was under investigation being part of group companies of Saradha Group of Companies,” said the application.
A total of Rs 6.21 crore was paid to the Tara TV Employees Welfare Association from the Chief Minister Relief Fund of West Bengal.
The CBI said in order to further look into the gravely suspicious payments to a private media entity, a letter dated October 16, 2018 was written to the chief secretary, West Bengal to provide information about the constitution and functioning of the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.
Despite repeated efforts, the state government has parted with incomplete and evasive replies, said the CBI.
The CBI cited the High Court order which ordered that the “salary of the employees should be paid from the available funds” and it nowhere states that employees of a private TV channel can be paid out of state funds collected in the name of Chief Minister’s relief work.
“The Court order expressly states that the employees are to be paid out of the funds of the company. The payments from CM Relief Fund, ex-facie point towards a larger conspiracy and nexus,” said the application.
Pointing the needle of suspicion at Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the scam, the CBI said: “Communication between the CBI and State Authorities will show that there has been a concerted effort to evade, avoid and to escape the process of law and a conscious effort on part of the authorities to scuttle the investigation.”
The CBI pointed at the examination of former Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Kumar Ghosh, one of the accused in the case, by Enforcement Directorate during October 2013 revealed that the Chief Minister and promoter of Saradha Group – Sudipta Sen, had very good relationship.
“It is submitted that the same establishes that the Chief Minister used to talk to Sudipta Sen using phone of Kunal Kumar Ghosh,” said the application.
The investigating agency said the call detail record of two numbers of Sen spanning for one year reveals that he and Ghosh had contacted 298 times on one number and 9 times on another number.
Seeking custodial interrogation of former Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, the CBI said investigation has also revealed that evidence, which connected the ruling dispensation of West Bengal, financially and otherwise with Saradha group of companies was concealed by the Bidhannagar police under stewardship of Kumar, in order to shield and save everyone concerned.
Ghosh’s examination as witness by the Enforcement Directorate, during October 2013, revealed that respondent Kumar was in active contact with officers of ED during the course of examination of arrested accused persons, Sudipta Sen, Debjani Mukherjee or of witnesses Ghosh and others carried out by the Enforcement Directorate during September to November 2013. “It was ensured by the officials that grave facts narrated by these accused persons or witnesses must not be taken on record as part of investigation with a purpose to shield the influential persons,” said the CBI.
The CBI said more evidence has emerged substantiating further the active connivance of Kumar, the then Commissioner of Police, Bidhannagar, in shielding and protecting the influential co-accused persons who had promoted the illegal business activities of the group of Ponzi companies and benefited from the illegally collected funds.
The CBI also cited examination of Safiqur Rehman, an employee of Saradha group of companies. “It is submitted that as per the said statement (by Rehman), when the Chief Minister, West Bengal contested for MLA seat, Sudipta Sen was forced to sponsor all the Pujas of Bhawanipur, Kolkata. Rehman further stated that ‘Jangalmahal’ project was flagged off by Chief Minister, West Bengal in a ceremony held at Writers Building, Kolkata,” said the application.
In 2013, during Kumar’s tenure as the Bidhannagar police commissioner, the scam was unearthed. Kumar was part of the SIT set up by state government to probe the scam, before the top court handed over the investigation to CBI in 2014.
The top court, in November last year, had sought the response of the IPS officer on the CBI’s appeal against the anticipatory bail granted to Kumar in the case by the Calcutta High Court.