The Central Bureau of Investigation on Friday filed FIR against Director of Bhagalpur-based NGO Srijan Mahila Vikas Samiti, Manorama Devi, then Director of Srijan Mahila Vikash Samiti, who died earlier this year, and multiple branch managers and officials from two Bank of Baroda branches to probe into the Rs 1,000-crore Srijan scam in Bihar.
The CBI has re-registered 10 cases in Srijan scam, in which hundreds of crores were siphoned off allegedly by the Bhagalpur-based Non Governmental Organisation in connivance with bank and government officials.
The accused have been booked under sections of criminal conspiracy, cheating, cheating by impersonation, and criminal breach of trust along with forgery of valuable security for cheating, and using as genuine forged documents under Section 120-B, 406, 409, 419, 420, 467, 468 and 471 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Last week, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar recommended the CBI to probe into Bhagalpur Srijan scam, after Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav accused him of “murdering democracy” in Bihar. Yadav had also alleged of a “foul play” behind the delay in CBI’s investigation into the Srijan scam, in addition to accusing Nitish of ‘destroying’ all the evidence.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav has been on the offensive against Mr Kumar and deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi over the Srijan scam. RJD wants the resignation of both Nitish Kumar and Sushil Kumar Modi and a CBI probe monitored by the Supreme Court.
The RJD chief, who himself was being investigated by the CBI and other central agencies has been targeting the Nitish government and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi over the Srijan scam. The RJD has repeatedly alleged that government funds were transferred to private accounts between 2005 and 2013 when current Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi was finance minister and Nitish Kumar was Chief Minister.
A CBI team from Delhi arrived in Bihar on Saturday to probe the fraudulent transfer of over Rs 1,000 crore from the state government’s bank accounts in Bhagalpur and Saharsa to a cooperative society, Srijan.
Srijan Mahila Vikas Sahyog Samiti Founded by Manorama Devi,in 1996, Srijan claimed to be working for the uplift of women in Bhagalpur and several other districts nearby.
Manorama Devi’s rise to power began after her husband Avadhesh Kumar’s death in 1991,he was a principal scientist at the erstwhile Indian Lac Research Institute in Ranchi. Although originally from Mithila Deep village in Madhubani, she, along with her three sons and two daughters, returned to Sabour in Bhagalpur, where her father had worked.
In the next 20 years, she established a formidable network of powerful friends and played with crores of government funds, illegally diverted into the account of her NGO, Srijan Mahila Vikas Sahyog Samiti
In 1996, she set up Srijan, a registered society for women in small income-generating activities such as stitching, making bindis, incense sticks, sattu etc.
The turning point in her growth to fame was when the then district magistrate of Bhagalpur, KP Ramaiah, in 2003 announced a scheme for 50% subsidy to women for the purchase of sewing machines. Srijan purchased 1000 machines from a vendor and all the women who got them became Srijan members.
“In 2003 she got over 24,000 square feet land on 30 years lease for a paltry sum of Rs 2400,” said a police official. “The land, adjacent to the block office, was marked for the office of her cooperative society and to start banking operations for her self-help groups (SHGs) in Sabour. But it was not exactly a bank as it was not affiliated to the central cooperative bank of Bhagalpur.” Srijan’s aura was such that many people in the area thought of it as a genuine bank.
KP Ramaiah supported Srijan’s various cooperative activities. He directed all the block development officers, rural development and panchayat members to put deposits with Srijan.
With government patronage, Srijan’s growth continued over the years. From an NGO that required grants to a ‘coop society bank’ offering loans to needy SHG members to having bank accounts in nationalised banks dealing with big government funds, Srijan’s fortunes rose sky-high, but no one ever questioned its meteoric rise. Especially because Srijan’s programmes and schemes were endorsed by who’s who of politics and the bureaucracy.
The scandal came to light after the Bhagalpur district administration’s cheques issued for payment to land owners in lieu of their land acquired for national highway construction, bounced on July 10, July 19, July 21 and August 4. The district administration lodged an FIR in this connection on August 7.
Apparently, it was the failure of Srijan to replenish the principal amount in the department’s account on time that may have blown the lid off the scam.
Jitendra Singh Gangwar, IG, Economic Offences Unit, who was entrusted with the initial probe, said that the whole exercise seemed to be meticulously planned with the tacit understanding of officials in the administration and banks. The idea was to embezzle the huge interest accruing from the fund transfers, while quickly transferring the funds back to the government account whenever a government cheque arrived.
There were informers in the bank who would alert Srijan when government cheques were put into the bank. This way, no cheques would bounce; no one would get suspicious.
As long as she was alive, the wily and unscrupulous Manorama Devi kept the scam going smoothly. But after her death, differences cropped up in the family, and people who had taken loans illegally from the NGO began to default in payment. The NGO began feeling the financial pinch, and had difficulties in timely replenishment of government money.
The scam has now spread beyond Bhagalpur. Fraudulent fund transfers have also been detected in Saharsa and Banka districts. FIRs have been lodged. Police sources said that more districts could come under its ambit, as irregularities had been going on for years. The money trail could lead back to government officers, bank executives, politicians.
Srijan’s supremo Priya Kumar , and her husband Amita Kumar, late Manorama’s daughter-in-law and son ,also Srijan’s adviser, are absconding. The sources said a lookout notice has been issued against them and they could not leave country. Also, a Bhagalpur court has issued arrest warrants against the duo as well as Bhagalpur’s ADM-rank officer Rajeev Ranjan who is also evading arrest.