New Delhi: Central agencies have conducted multiple raids in West Bengal in connection with coal and cattle smuggling. Sources in these agencies say that the raids are likely to bring out the names of several heavyweight politicians and police personnel from the state—people who are involved in supporting these illegal activities.
Officials who were part of the raids conducted at 22 locations in Kolkata and other parts of Bengal earlier this month told this correspondent that they have got incriminating documents to prove that huge amounts of money were being transferred from the accounts of a coal mafia, Anup Majhi, alias Lala, allegedly into the bank account of a relative of a senior leader in West Bengal.
The raids were conducted by the Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate on several properties of Anup Majhi in Kolkata and Asansol in connection with a huge network of illegal coal mining in areas in Shilpanchal, Asansol, Purba Burdwan and in Purulia. Such activities have been going on for years.
Sources aware of these raids said that these have unearthed several documents, laptops, computers and pen drives, among other things, which point towards the alleged involvement of many top-ranking officers of the West Bengal government, as well as politicians.
An Income Tax officer aware of the raids told this correspondent: “During the searches at different locations in the houses and offices of Anup Majhi, alias Lala, the documents and computers seized point towards a lot of people who were getting huge amounts of money—running into hundreds of crores— every month. This money is likely a part of the cut which they used to get for supporting these illegal businesses. We are also trying to get information about the officials and leaders who were getting these huge amounts every month. Many details about shell companies and hawala transactions are also coming to the fore. It has also come to our notice that almost every month, crores of rupees were being transferred into a particular account which has a Singapore connection. The Enforcement Directorate too is looking into these transactions.”
The officer also said that the extent of the illegal coal mining activities runs into thousands of crores and the accused were also involved in businesses that would turn this black money into white, apart from acquiring multiple properties across the country.
An official statement from the Income Tax Department also said, “The Income Tax Department has carried out searches in the case of one prominent coal trader of West Bengal having premises in Raniganj, Asansol, Purulia and Kolkata. The searches were based on intelligence gathered, which indicated that large scale unaccounted cash was being generated and used for various purposes. The searches have led to seizure of documents indicating that companies of the assessee group held bogus investments in unquoted equity shares of paper concerns to the magnitude of around Rs 150 crore, out of which investments of around Rs 145 crore have been sold. These sale transactions were found to be sham transactions and have been admitted by the assessee in the statement recorded during the search. The searches have also led to seizure of a substantial number of incriminating documents showing cash generation in coal and sand trading, sponge iron sales etc. Documents have also been seized indicating huge unaccounted expenses for facilitation of coal transport and various trading activities.”
The Sunday Guardian also spoke to several people from the Asansol and Raniganj region to understand the extent of illegal coal mining in the area.
One Asansol resident, who did not wish to be identified, said that these illegal activities have been going on for years and the police have just turned a blind eye to them.
“In the coal belt of Asansol and Raniganj, hundreds of pits are dug overnight, coal is mined illegally and transported overnight to different parts of the state. The pits are as deep as 100 feet; at night, we often don’t get to sleep because of the huge blasts that are carried out to dig pits and bring up the coal. Many houses in the area have developed cracks. We have reported to the coal authorities here as well as the police, but no one listens to us,” the Asansol resident said.
Another resident from the coal mining area who was also involved with this activity earlier told this correspondent that Anup Majhi, alias Lala, is a very “big” person, and that “no one can touch him. He has the blessings of the higher-ups in politics”.
“It is very difficult to touch Anup Majhi. Everyone has taken a cut from him. If he spills names, many leaders will be behind bars. He has thousands and thousands of people working under him and he is, in fact, the last word when it comes to coal mining in the area,” the person said.
The investigating authorities have also found linkages between illegal coal mining and cattle smuggling in West Bengal. Sources in the investigating agencies said that illegally mined coal used to be transported in the vehicles of cattle smugglers.
The CBI has arrested one of the biggest cattle smugglers in Bengal, Enamul, and according to his statements and other documents found in multiple raids, a connection has been established between cattle and coal smuggling. According to sources in the CBI and Income Tax, huge deals were struck between Anup Majhi and Enamul to transport coal from South Bengal to North Bengal in trucks used to carry cattle. Crores of rupees were paid for this.
Sources in the CBI said that cattle smuggling into Bangladesh through the porous India-Bangladesh border in Bengal were being carried out with the “blessings” of several important political leaders of the state apart from the police as well as BSF officials posted at the border.
A CBI official investigating the case told this newspaper: “Cattle smuggling was rampant in Bengal and was carried out right under the nose of the Bengal police and the state administration. The names of several police officers are coming to the fore, who allowed this illegal smuggling to flourish. We have already arrested a few BSF personnel in connection with this case. More arrests will be made in the coming days.”
Earlier in the week, the CBI arrested a BSF commandant posted along the India-Bangladesh border in Bengal in connection with cattle smuggling. The CBI also made multiple arrests over the last few months from several areas of Basirhat and other adjoining areas along the border for their involvement in the illegal cattle smuggling.
On Thursday, the Enforcement Directorate was given directions to look into cattle smuggling cases, as thousands of crores of rupees were being routed through hawala channels.