The abrupt transfer on Monday of a senior police officer who was investigating cases related to a hawala scam estimated to be worth Rs 500 crore in Katni, a business hub in Madhya Pradesh, has led to allegations from the Opposition and members of the public that the state government was trying to protect its leaders, including an influential minister.
Gaurav Tiwari was barely six months into his tenure as Superintendent of Police in Katni, 400 km east of Bhopal, when the Bharatiya Janata Party government transferred him to Chhindwara.
The move sparked protests in the town, which shut down for two days following the transfer order. Citizens came onto the streets to demand the revocation of the order, people have posted messages of solidarity on the officer’s Facebook wall, and government employees in the district have threatened to go on strike from February 3.
The massive popular anger in Katni is mainly directed against Sanjay Pathak, the minister of state for Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises, who is seen as the man who prevailed upon the chief minister to shift Tiwari out of the district.
Pathak, a legislator from Vijayraghavgarh Assembly constituency in Katni district, is a mining magnate and billionaire who also owns a chain of heritage hotels in national parks and tourist spots in Madhya Pradesh. He was previously with the Congress but switched to the BJP in 2014, and joined the state cabinet the following year.
Opposition cries foul
The Congress has alleged that Tiwari was transferred at the behest of Pathak to protect himself and other BJP leaders who are close to brothers Satish and Manish Saraogi – coal and mining traders who are accused in the hawala scam, and absconding at the moment.
It said that state BJP president Nand Kumar Singh Chouhan and its Madhya Pradesh in-charge Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, a party vice-president, used to camp at the Saraogis’ farmhouse in Badwara, a town in Katni district, during the campaign for the byelection to the Shahdol parliamentary seat last November.
State Congress spokesperson KK Mishra was quoted in the Times of India as saying that, “State BJP president Nand Kumar Singh Chouhan’s son Harsh is a partner in the legal and illegal businesses of Sanjay Pathak”.
However, despite the protests and criticism, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has refused to withdraw what he termed a “routine administrative order”.
Chouhan’s defence notwithstanding, the BJP leadership in Delhi has sought a report on the circumstances leading to Tiwari’s transfer. Party insiders said that Sahasrabuddhe will prepare the report.
Last year, the Hindustan Times reported that the Income-Tax Department was investigating a multi-crore hawala racket in Katni in which several accounts had been opened in the name of bogus firms, below poverty line card holders and other fictitious entities, which big businessmen in the area were allegedly using to convert black money into white. The scam is believed to have been going on since 2009.
As Superintendent of Police in Katni, Tiwari led investigations that identified 32 such bogus accounts. The police registered criminal cases in the matter and started a further investigation.
Last week, the Katni police arrested Sandeep Burman followed by Sandeep Tiwari – both employees of the Saraogi brothers – in connection with the hawala scam. The duo are believed to have told the police that Pathak had also opened fictitious accounts in the name of his employees.
The police officer was transferred a few days later. He proceeded to Hyderabad on training after handing over to his successor.
‘It’s a conspiracy’
When protests erupted in Katni over the transfer, BJP leaders were busy with the party’s state executive meeting in Sagar, where the protest was widely discussed. The leadership then decided to justify the transfer as a routine administrative exercise.
Chief Minister Chouhan told reporters on Thursday in Bhopal that the investigation into the hawala scam was beyond the jurisdiction of the police.
“I would urge the Enforcement Directorate to take up the case for further investigation,” he said, adding that the Opposition was creating unnecessary confusion over Tiwari’s transfer.
Pathak clarified his stand to party leaders at the Sagar meeting. He later told journalists that he was being dragged into the controversy as part of a conspiracy against him.
“I am clean and am ready to face any investigation,” said Pathak. “I would rather demand a high-level inquiry so that culprits of the scam are arrested.”
Defending Pathak, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Bhupendra Singh said that there was no evidence of the minister’s involvement in the alleged scam, and that he could not be blamed on the basis of mere allegations.