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17 November 2009

Koda's Can Of Worms

The alleged scam to the tune of Rs 4,000 crore involving former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda is a teaser. It sounds like the political equivalent of the Jessica Lall murder case, hearing which a judge had famously quipped, "It's known she was killed, but no one murdered her!" The BJP, apprehensive of the possibility that Jharkhand being under President's Rule would have the Centre influence the investigating agencies to protect the ‘guilty’ alliance partners of UPA, has asked for the total revelation of the contents of Koda's diary that reportedly lists the beneficiaries. On its part, the Congress pooh-poohs the demand, referring to the diary as an inconsequential bit of the kind that the Jain of Hawala infamy carried about two decades ago.

In the meantime, officials from several related departments are scurrying for cover even as Income Tax sleuths question Union Bank of India chairman and managing director over his bank reportedly accepting deposits of over Rs 991 crore from Manoj Punamia, a Mumbai-based hawala dealer — purportedly, the promoter of a certain Balaji Bullion group of companies — and alleged frontman of Koda. The dealer had 'disclosed' this in a letter, dated 15 September 2009, written to the Delhi Police commissioner informing him about how he was duped by MS Khan, who had promised him nomination in the Rajya Sabha with the help of two prominent Congress leaders. Of course, this could be the tout's ploy — quite a predictable one at that, if true — to overwhelm the raiding officers with the mention of his political reach. The sundry dramatis personae being under the cloud are a blackmailer Devendra Mukhiya, a businessman Bhim Singh, a section officer in the state mines and geology department Basant Bhattacharya, and Koda’s personal secretary while he was chief minister — Arun Srivastava. Then there are aliases — one Goyalji, an Atul Bhai, a Hemant Lokh, a Lalu, a Vinayak, a Kripashankar, and a Singh Kanpur among many others, each of whom find an entry or more in Koda’s diary, which also mentions a former journalist, who is now an MP, as a beneficiary. The I-T department investigators have interrogated officials of several banks other than the one named above.

Interestingly, the much-maligned politician at the centre of the scandal seems to believe in sharing a fair bit of his loot not only with corruptible peers and relevant department heads, but also with a parallel government comprised of henchmen, aka Maoists. The Enforcement Directorate's grilling four associates of Koda including his personal assistant Harinder Singh has yielded that the ex-Jharkhand CM had issued about 200 prospective mining leases for exploration of minerals in the state and a further 40 for mining purposes. According to Harinder Singh, "the political establishment received Rs 10 lakh per acre at the time of issue of such a licence (total area extends to over hundreds of acres) while the Naxalites got 20% to 30% on each truck of resources taken out of such a mine. The bureaucrats who were supposed to check any illegal activity received 10% to 15% of the share of the minerals and the remainder about 50% was the businessmen's share in the loot."

Now, the story has been a disappointment for all observers who would have every controversy viewed through the prism of a BJP-versus-Congress tussle. The dismay that is bigger is ours. All the money plundered was of the people; but the media, divided in its loyalty to these two political camps, wouldn’t quite tell who the bigger fries were, as it tosses about the names of some petty intermediaries. This is the second major failure of the Fourth Estate in the recent past after the fraud in Satyam. If we are to know of massive misappropriation of public money only when a law enforcement agency raids the robber, state-dictated news bulletins of Doordarshan and AIR suffice. Why have a hundred ‘news breakers’ torturing the eardrums and straining the retina with palaver and twaddle? News presenters have for some time been wondering aloud on TV as to why police cannot grab the Naxalite by his collar if scribes can so easily reach him. It’s time to ask the ‘professionals’ what took them so long, given that every commoner on Jharkhand’s streets has known for several years that the state’s resources were being subjected to terrible pillage by Koda’s likes. There’s got to be more to investigative journalism than visiting police headquarters every morning to know which neighbourhood girl eloped with which boy-next-door, editors and crime reporters must note.

Finally in the theatre of the absurd, Koda still grabs the Kodak moment. Flashing a smile, he says he will spill every remaining bean if cornered further. Doesn’t this explain why the hoot of every whistleblower has reduced to a toot?

Second-guess his sustenance: The certificate of Limca Book of World Records being given to then Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda for creating a record as the first Independent CM to continue in office for six months at a function in February 2007

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.