Almost three decades ago, a frail bureaucrat in Patna told Lalu Prasad Yadav, then the Chief Minister of Bihar, that he would be probed for his alleged involvement in a case involving fictitious livestock. The charges were serious, and in 1991, the case looked like the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
Yadav, then a very powerful politician with Prime Ministerial ambitions and marauding powers, cared two hoots. He did not even budge. He knew he was not meant to answer Murari Nand Tiwary, then 56 and the Chief Income Tax Commissioner of Bihar. The fodder scam, arguably Bihar’s biggest scandal, was eventually pegged at around Rs 900 crore.
Interestingly, when it first unfolded, it was an innocuous auditor’s report which traced discrepancies in expenses by the Bihar government. In the impoverished state where cash is routinely looted from the treasury and fake bills offered to settle accounts, this one also looked like one of those.
Twenty-six years later, weeks after Tiwary breathed his last in the national capital, the former Bihar Chief Minister—now in a Ranchi jail—got his second sentence in the fodder scam.
In the latest judgement, Special CBI court judge S.S. Prasad convicted Yadav for fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 33.67 crore from Chaibasa treasury in 1992-1993. Former Bihar CM Jagannath Mishra was also found guilty and awarded a five-year jail term for embezzling funds from the Chaibasa treasury. Both Yadav and Mishra were also fined Rs 5 lakh each by the Ranchi court.
The allegation is that fake allotment letters were used to withdraw Rs 33.67 crore, instead of the state sanctioned amount of Rs 7.10 lakh. Yadav was first convicted in a fodder scam case in 2013 and was awarded five years’ imprisonment. He faces another two scam cases for illegal withdrawal of Rs 3.97 crore from the Dumka Treasury and Rs 184 crore from the Doranda Treasury.
Tiwary, who was following developments unfolding in the fodder scam, said he was happy that the corrupt was brought to justice. “This is the power of an honest bureaucrat, he is meant to stop corruption and punish the corrupt,” Tiwary told his associates in Delhi days before his death on 28 December 2017.
But 26 years ago, Bihar was under the vice-like grip of Yadav and his men, both powerful and lethal. The CM and his coterie could virtually do anything. There were countless newspaper reports on how his gunslingers would kidnap people for ransom—it even triggered a Bollywood movie—and kill rivals, even shift trains to the platform of their choice because once inside a station they would not budge.
Tiwary was aware of Yadav’s power, but refused to stop the investigations into the scam. He knew Yadav was not just powerful in the state but also at the Centre. Yadav’s party was an important ally in the shaky, 14-party coalition government headed by PM Inder Kumar Gujral. Worse, Yadav, a self-styled champion of the low-castes, had twice put his name forward for PM, losing each time. Yet, he and his party played a key role in all decisions taken by the coalition government.
Considerably weak due to old-age ailments, Tiwary told his friends how he and his men, in 1992, led one of the first raids on those allegedly involved in the scam. The raids were conducted all over Bihar and other neighbouring states. “The way he (Yadav) and his men went about stealing cash from the treasury, it seemed like daylight robbery. Yadav and his men fudged vouchers to fill the books of accounts. It was bizarre, scooters were shown as trucks ferrying the fodder,” he recollected. The cash, reported to have been stolen over nearly 20 years, came from agricultural support programmes for the poor.
“Will truth in all its manifestations ever see the light of the day? How frightening it will be and what toll it will take only future will tell,” Tiwary wrote in 2004 in his book, Travails of a Civil Servant.
Tiwary and his men probed meticulously how politicians and senior state government officials in Bihar invented phantom livestock herds, then made fraudulent payments for fodder and medicine for the animals, as well as for artificial insemination equipment.
Travails of a Civil Servant detailed the pressures Tiwary endured during his stay in Bihar. The tome’s first print run was of 200 copies, but was pulled back from the printers for fear of reprisal from Yadav, who Tiwary considered “a ruthless politician”.
The book documented Tiwary’s interactions with Yadav, and his powerful Cabinet ministers. A few years after the scandal shook India, Tiwary retired from service and joined as a member of the Settlement Commission in Kolkata. He told his men to fight till last.
Tiwary lived through extremely troubled times. Every now and then, cops came to his house saying they had orders from the CM to take the Income Tax Chief Commissioner to CM’s residence for “work that was never explained”. Often, armed men in open jeeps parked themselves outside Tiwary’s home, ostensibly to instil fear in the minds of Tiwary and his family members.
Yadav, so arrogant, did not even understand the importance of the case. Once he called Tiwary to his office and told him to arrest Pappu Yadav, a gangster turned politician. Raids must happen at Pappu Yadav’s offices and home, Yadav thundered. Tiwary asked for a written order, Yadav was shocked. No one in Bihar defied Yadav. Tiwary did.
Unfortunately, nothing worked in favour of Yadav. Tiwary completed his probe of the fodder scam, even ran out of business hawala operators in the state ferrying cash in the dark of night.
“Every effort is made to subjugate any officer known for his firmness and sully the reputation of those who are honest. In fact so systematic and powerful and unsparing is the sweep of Mafia that it is a miracle we still have some honest and tough officers in the country,” wrote Tiwary.
A man of honour and pride, Tiwary was born in 1934 in Daranagar village in Bihar. After his Masters in English from the Patna University, he taught at the Ara Jain College before joining the Indian Revenue Service in 1959, where he had an exemplary career for 36 long years. His book Essential Hinduism received a commendation letter from then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Tiwary, weary of political corruption, knew investigations into scandals rarely resulted in convictions. But he believed firmly that as far as it lay within his jurisdiction, “no honest man will suffer and no dishonest man will prosper”. Once, he even wrote a strongly-worded letter to then President Shankar Dayal Sharma and resigned from the Settlement Commission in protest against the government’s reported move to curb the powers of then Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan, who was bringing about wide ranging electoral reforms. The President signed an ordinance equating the CEC with the ECs, in violation of the constitutional provisions of Article 324(3), which makes the CEC Chairman of the multi-member Election Commission.
When an infuriated Sharma wrote back why Tiwary’s pension should not be stopped, Tiwary wrote a passionate letter on 2 May 1996: “I am a very proud civil servant (even though retired). I will rather forgo my entire pension and live in abject penury than compromise on the right of the citizens to freedom of speech and expression earned for us by the martyrs and enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution. But before you impose the penalty upon me Mr President please let it be known to all serving and retired civil servants that even their pension will depend upon singing praises of the government in power.”
The pension was eventually granted to Tiwary.