WHEN SIKHS in various parts of the country were taking out protest rallies on October 31 demanding justice to victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, there was no such outpouring of emotion in Bokaro, the famed Steel City which had witnessed one of the worst carnages of Sikhs outside Delhi in the aftermath of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Reduced now to one-third of its pre-1984 population but still sizeable in this part of Jharkhand, the Sikh community in Bokaro and the nearby towns of Chas and Gomia had just a few months back received compensation cheques from the government.
What seems like just redressal has, in fact, emerged as a travesty. Many of those who received the compensation in April and August this year had fraudulently magnified their claims before the district administration. Of the Rs 1.5 crore disbursed to 25 Sikh families in Bokaro, Chas and Gomia, a significant part was obtained by submitting fake documents. The district administration has now registered three FIRs after an official probe into allegations of fraud.
The deceit comes across as even more shocking because thousands of Sikh families affected in the 1984 riots are still awaiting compensation. Details of the raud in Bokaro reveal that district administration officials and doctors assessing claims of injury were equally complicit. When the irregularities came to light, the district administration issued notices to the 25 Sikhs that the compensation amount be returned. FIRs were lodged after the notices evoked no response. Following this, 13 Sikhs in Bokaro and Chas, who had received Rs 1.25 lakh each for physical injuries suffered during the riots, handed the money back to the government. The district administration’s probe had found that the claimants had submitted fake medical certificates and medicine bills.
Sarbjeet Singh Kalsi, who used to head the peace committee negotiating with the administration on behalf of the riot-affected Sikhs, is accused of having swindled the largest sum. Kalsi earlier used to run a loss-making scrap metal industry as an ancillary unit of the Bokaro Steel Plant. He is absconding after receiving Rs 71 lakh in April on the basis of an FIR lodged by his late father, Sardul Singh Kalsi, for loss of property that the administration now estimates to be worth no more than Rs 2.29 lakh. Kalsi is also accused by many riotaffected Sikhs to have made almost Rs 2 lakh in bribes taken for including names in the list of those seeking compensation.
In his FIR (112/84) lodged at Balidih police station in November 1984, Kalsi’s late father had said that his property destroyed in the riots included “35 tolas of gold worth about Rs 70,000; cash of Rs 19,000 kept in a box; clothes, bed, utensils etc worth Rs 40,000; and steel-made material worth Rs 1 lakh”. But neither he nor Sarbjeet ever got these claims verified by a government official. The Kalsis were not even paid the ex-gratia that was given to hundreds of riot-affected Sikhs days after the bloodshed in Bokaro. The report of a probe team headed by Bokaro District Rural development Agency (DRDA) Director, Christina Hansda, says: “In such circumstances, if Kalsi’s FIR is taken as true, there is no proof of his losses exceeding Rs 2.29 lakh. While SarbjeetRs 16.30 lakh on the basis of this FIR.“ Kalsi also received Rs 55 lakh in April on the FIR lodged by his father. Both the payments were made to him by Chas Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) Xavier Herenz, who is presently posted as an under secretary at the secretariat in Ranchi. The Bokaro district administration’s probe has found that these payments were made in total violation of rules laid down by the Union home ministry for distribution of compensation money to the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and their kin.
TARSHEM SINGH, president of the gurdwara at Chas, told TEHELKA: “It is a shame on our community that people like Kalsi and my predecessor at the gurdwara, Harbhajan Singh, turned their social responsibility into a business. When I was elected the gurdwara president a year and a half back, I found that photocopies of compensation claim forms were being sold even at the gurdwara for prices ranging between Rs 300 and Rs 500. I immediately stopped this practice, but much harm had been done by then to the honesty of the Sikhs in Bokaro and Chas.”
Singh, who is likely to face charges for identifying the wrong beneficiaries who received compensation money, says he identified them merely by their faces without knowing about
the nature of their claims. “I think both government officials and members of the local Sikh community have been responsible for such large-scale fraud. A CBI inquiry would lead to the real culprits,” says Singh. The former gurdwara chief, Harbhajan Singh, who runs a popular dhaba on the Bokaro-Dhanbad National Highway and owns a fleet of trucks, refused to comment.
Manjit Singh Kalsi, the son of Sarbjeet, has found himself facing the ire of the Sikh community in the absence of his absconding father. He may also be interrogated by the police.
Manjit says his father is innocent and is being targeted by the corrupt Bokaro deputy commissioner (DC). “My parents are presently visiting our relatives in the UK. The entire set of allegations against my father is baseless and has resulted from my father’s refusal to pay the Bokaro deputy commissioner a percentage of the compensation money. We will expose the DC’s gameplan soon after my father secures bail,” Manjit told TEHELKA over phone.
Bokaro DC Pravin Kumar Toppo dubbed Manjit’s allegations as a “desperate man’s easy and last excuse” to appear innocent till he is punished. “Our discoveries of the fraud are only the tip of the iceberg, and our probe is still on. It is unfortunate that we received allegations of fraud only after distributing the cheques to the beneficiaries of the relief package,” he said. Toppo took charge as Bokaro DC in the first week of August and handed over many compensation cheques on August 15. “I just had no idea that I was distributing cheques to people who had forged their documents to seek compensation,” Toppo says.
Balwinder Singh, a young Sikh who runs a departmental store near the Chas gurdwara, is one of the 13 Sikhs whose families had to return the Rs 1.25 lakh compensation. Balwinder’s father Harcharan Singh had submitted medical records for an “internal injury”. But these records, like those of the 12 other “internally injured” Sikhs, were found to be forged. Ask Balwinder about it and he only speaks of atrocities against Sikhs in Chas and Bokaro in 1984 led by Congress leaders. Like all the Sikhs named in the FIRs, Balwinder remains completely tight-lipped about the affair.
Reports of the probe say that medical records of the claimants were found to have been extensively doctored and that the prescriptions of medicine were incompatible with the injuries cited. The probe report, a copy of which is in possession of TEHELKA, has therefore questioned the integrity of doctors who examined the claimants.
In Gomia, a town 55 km off Bokaro and known for the Indian Explosives Limited’s (IEL)manufacturing facility, six Sikhs have been charged in another FIR for swindling compensation funds. Harjinder Singh, owner of an auto store, received Rs 8.07 lakh as compensation in April from the sdo of Bermo (Tenughat) for damage to his shop during the riots. As per the rules laid down by the Union Home Ministry, he was entitled to receive only Rs 3.82 lakh. Worse, the probe report says Harjinder, son of Bachchan Singh, was paid the amount even though the compensation was released in the name of Harjinder Singh, son of Jasbir Singh. Similarly, Bhajan Singh, proprietor of Arora Motors at Gomia, received Rs 14.5 lakh for damage to his shop even though he was entitled to receive only Rs 4.5 lakh. Inderjit Singh, owner of a shoe store and an employee with the IEL, received Rs 5.7 lakh when he could receive only Rs 2.7 lakh. Toppo says there is a possibility that names of genuine claimants may have been impersonated after such families shifted out of the state years ago.
OFFICIAL FIGURES say 78 Sikhs were killed in three days of rioting in and around Bokaro in November 1984. The Bokaro riots did not figure in the Nanavati Commission’s probe. The men who orchestrated the murder of Sikhs here were prominent local Congress leaders like PN Tripathy and Krishna Singh, who were never arrested. Of the nearly 8,000 Sikh families living in these areas in 1984, only about 2,500 remain. The rest have migrated mostly to Punjab over the years.
Former Jharkhand Assembly Speaker and noted Sikh scholar Inder Singh Namdhari says,“When the compensation money was announced by the UPA government, I asked the Sikhs of Bokaro to refuse it as a protest against the injustice. Now, after this scam, I would demand that the guilty Sikhs be excommunicated. Nothing can be more shameful for the Sikh Panth than what the Bokaro Sikhs have done.” Sewa Singh, president of the Jharkhand Sikh Welfare Society, has also demanded a CBI probe.