New Delhi: Union Minister Kiren Rijiju was in the eye of a political storm today over an alleged Rs 450 crore scam in a power project in Arunachal Pradesh after he wrote a letter to the Power Ministry to clear the bills of contractors, provoking opposition demand for his ouster but he denied any wrongdoing.
The controversy erupted over news reports that the Chief Vigilance Officer of North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) Satish Verma, an IPS officer of Gujarat cadre who probed the Ishrat Jahan encounter case as part of the Special Investigation Team, had sent a report to the CBI, CVC and the Power Ministry highlighting alleged corruption in construction of two dams as part of the 600 mw Kameng Hydel project.
In his report, Verma was said to have named Kiren Rijiju and Goboi Rijiju, who he claimed was the minister’s cousin, while alleging an “elaborate conspiracy” involving contractors, NEEPCO officials and the West Kameng district administration to defraud the state-run company and the government of funds that “may extend up to Rs 450 crore”.
Alleging that it was a Rs 450-crore scam committed by using false and inflated transportation bills, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala released an audio tape of a purported conversation of the minister’s claimed cousin with Verma, and Rijiju’s letter recommending that held up payments be released.
“Kiren Rijiju has no right to stay in office. He should either be dismissed by the Prime Minister or asked to resign till an independent probe is complete,” he said.
The opposition party also targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying his “tall claims” of bringing transparency have “fallen flat” as had happened with several other scandals in the past including Vyapam, Lalitgate and the Vijay Mallya issue.
“Mr Modi’s claims of transparency and honesty is now under question. People of India are looking at what action he takes on this issue,” Surjewala said.
Rejecting Congress’ charge of his complicity in the alleged scam, Rijiju said he had only forwarded a memorandum received from “petty contractors” from his village to Power Minister Piyush Goyal on November 4, 2015 to get their petition considered on a priority.
“I have written the letter to the Power Minister after I received representations from some people in my constituency in Arunachal West regarding pending bills. I have done no wrong and there is no corruption.”
Peeved at the allegations, the Minister said, “Those who planted the story will be beaten up with shoes when they will come to our area.”
He also denied that Goboi Rijiju was related to him, saying, “Among tribals in a village, everybody is a cousin. He is not related to me by blood. I have no brothers. Both my elder and younger brothers have expired.”
“Small pending bills, pending since 2012, 2013, 2014 before we came to power, the contracts were awarded when we were not in the government, the payments were paid when we were not in the government. Only I was told that some 20-30 per cent of payments were remaining which NEEPCO is not releasing. So I wrote a letter to the Power Minister that just look into the matter, that’s it,” Rijiju said.
He also insisted that the pending dues of individual small-time contractors ran into a few thousands of rupees.
The hydel project is being constructed by NEEPC, which comes under the Union Power Ministry.
Rijiju said Power Minister Piyush Goyal wrote back to him saying the delay in clearing the dues of the contractors was on account of “incomplete submission of bills”. “The matter ended there,” Rijiju said.
Surjewala also played out a purported audio conversation between Goboi and Verma, claiming it had a mention of the goings on that led to the pulling down of the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh.
He claimed Rijiju’s relative was clearly attempting to influence the CVO in the 28-minute tape and was using his Minister’s name to seek his help in getting the bills cleared and was also enticing him with a promotion.
“There seems to be a connection with making of these payments and were some of these payments used to buy and sell legislators is a matter that needs to be seriously probed,” he said.
Alleging that “inflated” bills were put up for bringing boulders for the dam construction, he said some of the huge boulders were shown to be carried on scooters, motorcyles and cars by a single driver at the same time.
BJP, meanwhile, sprang to Rijiju’s defence, calling the charge against him as reflective of Congress’ “political desperation”.
It also trained its guns on Satish Verma, calling him a “political fixer for Congress”.
Verma, who was also associated with the CBI team which probed the Ishrat Jahan case and had reportedly called it a “cold blooded murder”, was shifted out as NEEPCO’s Chief Vigilance Officer earlier this year on charge of “unauthorised absence”. He was shifted to CRPF in Tripura, an order which he has reportedly challenged in the Central Administrative Tribunal.
BJP spokesman G V L Narasimha Rao claimed Verma was transferred from NEEPCO on the direction of the Central Vigilance Commission over “misdemeanours and derelection of duty”.
“Congress party is incriminating itself by referring to any irregularities in these projects. Under Rahul Gandhi, it and its media department have scored many self goals and this is one of such instances,” Rao said in a statement.
“The MP forwarded the petition received from the affected villagers to the Ministry of Power for getting the matter examined. As a public representative, Kiren Rijiju intervened as a local MP to redress people’s grievances purely on merit,” Rao said.
“The allegations made by the CVO against Kiren Rijiju are baseless, malafide and reinforce his shady past. For the Congress party to make allegations based on such flimsy reports reflects its political pusillanimity and desperation. BJP categorically rejects these motivated allegations with the contempt they deserve,” Rao said.
BJP National Secretary Shrikant Sharma also insisted that the contractor, who is at the centre of allegations, is not Rijiju’s cousin as alleged.
“It is a completely baseless charge. Congress and its friends have hatched a conspiracy to target BJP as they have not been able to find a single case of corruption against our government,” he said.
In his report, Verma said though the CBI conducted two “surprise” inspections, it did not file any FIR in connection with the alleged scam.
Targeting the CBI, Surjewala alleged that the premier investigation agency has become a “puppet” in the hands of the Modi government and has not even registered an FIR in the matter despite the report by the vigilance officer.
“If PM has courage of conviction, he must either sack Kiren Rijiju or ask him to resign and conduct a fair and free probe so that truth comes out…Till then, Rijiju should be divested of his post.”
“The Prime in the run up to elections used to say that he will neither do or allow corruption to happen. But there have been a series of charges of corruption that came to light in the Modi government,” he said.
Payments to the main contractor Patel Engineering was stopped on the recommendation from Verma.
Aam Aadmi Party also demanded Rijiju’s sacking for “trying to sweep under the carpet”, the alleged Rs 450-crore power scam.
Addressing a press conference, party leader Ashish Khetan said the Minister of State for Home Affairs not only wrote a letter to Power Minister Piyush Goyal to release funds of contractors in state-run NEEPCO, but also “hid the fact that his brother was a sub-contractor in it”.