ED moves SC, seeks retrial in Chhattisgarh ‘PDS scam’

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The Enforcement Directorate on Friday moved the Supreme Court on the alleged Nagrik Apurti Nigam (NAN) scam, seeking a re-trial outside Chhattisgarh and asking for the case be handed over to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The Supreme Court has issued notices in the fresh writ petition to 20 respondents, including the CBI, the state government and the two main accused – IAS officer Anil Kumar Tuteja and retired IAS officer Alok Shukla, both of whom hold key positions in the state government — asking them to respond in 10 days.

Moving the petition under Article 32 – remedies for enforcement of rights – for the case to be handed over to the CBI and for a retrial to be held, the ED claimed that the evidence “clearly reveals the nature of the misuse of power in the State of Chhattisgarh, the tampering of evidence and influencing the witnesses going on and a potential conspiracy involving constitutional functionary also”.

The alleged NAN scam had emerged in 2015, during the previous BJP government in Chhattisgarh, when civil society and the Opposition had raised allegations of corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS), which until then had been hailed as a model for other states.

In 2015, the then BJP government faced allegations that kickbacks were paid by rice millers and agents to officials to allow substandard rice to be distributed through the state’s PDS. NAN is the agency in charge of distribution and procurement of grains.

The government had then started a probe by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and Economic Offences Wing (EOW). The ACB raided NAN offices and claimed to have recovered cash and documents, before charging several officials, including senior IAS officers Shukla and Tuteja. While Shukla was then chairman of the Nagrik Apurti Nigam, Tuteja was its Managing Director.

In its campaign before the Assembly elections, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Bhupesh Baghel had raised the alleged scam, and demanded an investigation by the ED and CBI. Within days of taking over as CM in December 2018, Bhupesh Baghel announced the formation of an SIT.

The two IAS officers, who were absconding after the chargesheet was filed, applied for anticipatory bail and were appointed in the government. In August 2020, the Chhattisgarh High Court granted them bail, which the ED has now challenged in the SC.

The ED’s petition in the Supreme Court lays emphasis on the two officials, stating, “Both these prime accused persons wield substantial political and administrative power and are very close to the Hon’ble Chief Minister, State of Chhattisgarh.”

While Tuteja is now Joint Secretary, Commerce and Industries; Shukla, a retired IAS officer, has been appointed Principal Secretary and heads multiple departments, including Health and Education.

In September, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had handed over ‘evidence’ in a sealed envelope to the Supreme Court, which has been made the basis of this writ.

In its petition, the ED alleged several irregularities in the distribution of PDS grains “…which, inter alia, included a well lubricated system of illegal collection of money by the State officials for procuring lakhs of quintals of poor quality rice from rice millers”.

Senior judicial officials of the state and state government officials were made aware of the petition late last week, sources said. “The State is aware of the developments in the case. These are conjured out of incorrect facts and the state will defend it properly,” said a source in the government.

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