Days after a former Gujarat-cadre IAS officer was arrested in Dahod district for allegedly running six fake government offices that received grants worth Rs 18.6 crore for implementing “irrigation-related projects”, more details have been revealed in the FIR linked to the matter. Police have said teams will be sent to the sites of 100 projects commissioned through fake offices to siphon off around Rs 18.60 crore from the grants under the “tribal sub-plan” in the Dahod district.
Racketeers, who had set up the six fake offices, could include more government officers, as per the officials.
They allegedly received Rs 11.74 crore for the alleged fraud in the financial year 2020-2021 when 52 projects were approved under three fake offices.
The Dahod district police, which is investigating the alleged multi-crore fraud by conman Sandeep Rajput and his accomplices Abu Bakr Saiyyad and Ankit Suthar to siphon off grants under the tribal sub-plan in the district will now begin physical verification of the 100 bogus projects. On Tuesday, a local court in Dahod remanded former IAS officer B D Ninama to six days in police custody until December 4, a day after his arrest.
Dahod Superintendent of Police Rajdeepsinh Zala told The Indian Express, “We are beginning the physical verification of the 100 projects to see how many were really executed… We will keep a team of forensic experts with us. The accused have mainly diverted grans from the tribal sub-plan by using loopholes in the system. We are also investigating the original offices under which the bogus offices would fall to ascertain if more government officers are involved in running this racket.”
Zala added that the grants were given as e-payments into the bogus bank accounts set up by Ankit Suthar, but the investigation is yet to ascertain how much money was siphoned. “We are in the preliminary stage but we will be investigating the proceeds of crime. If any of the grant received was actually used for any project on the ground, who was the contract awarded to and if the proceeds of crime were used to construct any other properties that should be destroyed,” he said.
Investigators said that once Ninama retired in March (from his post as District Development Officer, Porbandar), the project approvals also ceased. However, between 2018 and 2023, the racketeers had a “change of fortune”.
Police say that Suthar, for instance, turned into a ‘businessman’ from a worker in a photocopy shop in Vadodara city after coming in touch with the co-accused through Saiyyad’s brother Ejaz.
A resident of Manjalpur in Vadodara, Suthar allegedly “typed the forged government documents” in the office of Saiyyad and was instrumental in opening the bank accounts of the accused and also forwarding the proposals to the office of the Project Administrator after having Rajput sign the documents as “Executive Engineer”. Suthar had also helped forge the government identity card that Rajput used to pose as a government Executive Engineer.
As per the FIR in the matter, while one such office – ‘Deputy executive engineer of Narmada Water Resources, water supply department’ — was set up to siphon grants between 2018-2020, the racketeers siphoned funds in 2020-2021 under the fake offices running with titles — ‘Executive Engineer of Narmada irrigation canal Division, Dabhoi’, and ‘Executive Engineer of Irrigation Project Division 2, Jhalod’. Another bogus office running with the title of ‘Executive Engineer, Irrigation Project Division’ remained functional between 2020 and March this year, siphoning off Rs 1.45 crore under 21 projects.
The fake office of the ‘Executive Engineer of the Irrigation project division Jhalod Road’ was set up in 2021-2022 while the office of the ‘Executive Engineer of Pipeline’ was set up in 2022-23 to siphon off Rs 2.5 crore for seven projects, as per the FIR.
Of the 100 projects, the FIR states, 52 were sanctioned in the financial year 2020-2021, during the pandemic. Out of these, police said, one bogus office by the title of ‘Executive Engineer Narmada Irrigation Canal Department, Dabhoi’ received a grant of Rs 10.63 crore — the highest of the total — for 46 projects that were approved by the then Project Director (Ninama).
Investigators say that they are baffled that a total of 52 projects were approved in 2020-2021 with a total grant of Rs 11.74 crores received by three fake offices. In 2019-20, the bogus office by the name of ‘Deputy Executive Engineer of Minor Irrigation Sub-Division of Narmada Water Resources’ received a sanction of Rs 78 lakh for 12 projects while a total of 18 projects were approved for two bogus offices in 2022-2023 for a total sum of 2.78 crore.
The Dahod police, which currently has the custody of Suthar as well as retired IAS officer Ninama, has formed a team of seven officers to jointly probe the fraud.
Investigators state that the arrest of Saiyyad is crucial for the case as he seems to have been instrumental in setting up the racket, although the mastermind is yet to be known. “We are yet to determine who is the mastermind in the case. We have begun the probe based on the complaint filed by the Project Administrator of the district and so far, we have not received inputs from the Chhota Udepur district police, where the racketeers were first busted… But we do know that they had initiated the racket in Dahod district and were also involved in a bigger scam in Dahod before also setting up the bogus office in Chhota Udepur,” Zala told this newspaper.
As per the investigators, Saiyyad, who has been admitted to a hospital for a heart ailment during his judicial custody in the Chhota Udepur fraud government office case, could have been in touch with Ninama from his posting in Chhota Udepur earlier in 2016.
“It was Saiyyad, who was a government contractor and along with Rajput, he was involved in small-time redevelopment works before landing with some government contracts. Due to his contacts with some district-level officers, he likely proposed the idea of bogus project proposals, which was approved by the officers… We are likely to see more arrests in the case in the days to come,” an officer said.
The Dahod police has Ninama in custody until December 4 while Suthar was remanded to a total of 11 days in custody on Saturday.
The Dahod police have booked the accused under sections 170 (pretending to hold any particular office as a public servant and act in such assumed character), 419 (cheating by personation), 465 (forgery), 467 (forgery of valuable security), 468 (committing forgery for the purpose of cheating), 471 (fraudulently or dishonestly using a forged document as genuine), 472 (Making or possessing counterfeit seal with intent to commit forgery), 474 (possession of forged documents shown as genuine) and 120(B) (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code, similar to the charges invoked in the Chhota Udepur case.