The Central Bureau of Investigation’s “flip-flops” on the multi-crore “sleeper scam” is set to haunt Janata Dal United president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, with the issue about to go to the Supreme Court. Three different responses from the CBI, the Lok Sabha Secretariat and the Ministry of Railways on whether or not the investigating agency conducted an inquiry into the matter have muddied the waters, with a petitioner deciding to move the Supreme Court to “reopen” the case.
The alleged scam, which a petition to the Delhi High Court had put to be in the tune of Rs 320 crore, took place when Nitish Kumar was Railway Minister between March 2001 and May 2004. The petition was filed by Mithilesh Singh in October 2013 and was dismissed by the Delhi High Court in July 2014. In January-February 2016, while replying to an RTI query by another activist, Gopal Prasad, the Lok Sabha Secretariat, quoting CBI, said that the agency did not investigate the case. However, while replying to the same question, Ministry of Railways said that the CBI conducted an inquiry but no criminal offence was established. The Lok Sabha Secretariat wrote, “CBI had categorically mentioned that they have not conducted any open enquiry/investigation in the matter. The first hand information with regard to the above-said CBI verification note is with the Ministry of Railways.”
These three different responses from the CBI, the Secretariat and Railways have confused the two petitioners. And now Mithilesh Singh is all set to move the Supreme Court by filing a Special Leave Petition (SLP) questioning the contradictions in the responses.
In fact, in his petition to the Delhi High Court Mithilesh Singh had claimed that the CBI, in 2006, had told the Railway Board it would not disclose any information pertaining to the case as it would endanger the lives of those who provided the information.
The case pertains to alleged irregularities in the purchase of concrete sleepers that are used between railway tracks. As per allegations, Kumar, as Railway Minister, awarded a contract for manufacturing 160 lakh concrete sleepers to M/S Daya Engineering Works, Gaya, of late Dayanand Sahay and Dhirendra Agarwal, in which the carriage cost was also added. This cost Railways an additional Rs 1,000 crore. “Carriage cost” is the cost of transporting the sleepers from the place of their manufacturing to the sites where they are to be used.
What is intriguing the petitioners is the response from the Ministry of Railways, which has said that the case was investigated, but “criminality” could not be established. “It is intimated that the complaint regarding alleged irregularities in the tenders for procurement of Concrete Sleepers in the year 2002 has been investigated by the CBI wherein no ‘criminal offence’ was established,” said the ministry’s reply to Gopal Prasad.
Following these latest developments, Mithilesh Singh is set to file a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court, raising questions about the contradictory statements coming from different departments.
In his SLP, Mithilesh Singh has alleged that the statements coming from different departments/ministries are misleading. He has also asked whether the CBI should register a PE (preliminary enquiry) or an RC (registered case) after the agency was asked to conduct an enquiry into the case.
The case originated in 2004, when the 14th Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways took it up after several complaints from different people including then MPs such as B.N. Mandal and Raghunath Jha among others. The Standing Committee expressed its desire that the losses incurred on this account should be enquired into by an independent agency. Following this, the UPA government submitted an Action Taken Report to Parliament in May 2005, which said: “…the matter has been taken up by the CBI for investigation. Views of the Standing Committee have been communicated with a request to look into the observations of the Standing Committee.”
When Mithilesh Singh had taken the case to the Delhi High Court, the court said in 2014 that the CBI had “indeed conducted” an inquiry and shown the court “the records…in confidence”. It had added that the CBI report had been placed before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways. “The Counsel for the respondent Railways has again shown the records to us in confidence and which disclose that a CBI enquiry was indeed conducted and the report of the CBI was placed before the Standing Committee of the Railways,” the court had stated.
Repeated attempts to get Nitish Kumar’s version on the issue proved futile. An email sent to him and secretaries in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) remained unanswered. The CBI also did not respond to the query mailed by The Sunday Guardian.