Why was RK Singh reluctant to clean up his department?

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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Former Union home secretary RK Singh recently remarked that Sushilkumar Shinde is not fit to be the country’s home minister. The quip was in response to a question on whether Shinde should resign for his alleged interference in transfers and postings in the Delhi Police and giving wrong information about the US helping India to bring back underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.

Ironically, new revelations have come to light, which show that Singh has some skeletons in his closet. Why did he back off from ordering a CBI inquiry into his own department despite three home ministry officials recommending an investigation into allegations of corruption in purchases made for the CRPF. Copies of these documents are in TEHELKA’s possession.

The year 2010 was one of the lowest periods for the paramilitary force, which was engaged with the armed militia of the CPI (Maoist) in central India. That was the year of the infamous Dantewada massacre in which 75 jawans were killed in Chhattisgarh. The media went to town about how the jawans didn’t have good camps and equipment. They did not even have proper toilets and attending to nature’s call in the morning was fraught with risk.

Soon, a file made its way to the CRPF headquarters with a proposal to build bamboo structures for the jawans. Since bamboo was not an authorised material, the force required the home department’s special clearance.

On 18 November 2011, the CRPF applied for the home ministry’s nod to place an order for 110 bamboo structures at a cost of Rs 4.8 crore.

Additional secretary (home) SC Panda, one of the three officials who later scrutinised these files and recommended a CBI probe, noted in his report of December 2012 that the “reasonability of the product had not been established” before placing the order. His note also showed that an advance payment of Rs 1.9 crore was made despite there being no such clause.

The order was given to a government agency called the National Mission for Bamboo Applications (NMBA). Between February and May 2011, the NMBA wrote four letters to the government changing specifications of the structures with a Rs 10 lakh spike in the price estimate.

Following this, the CRPF ordered another 131 structures for Rs 7.9 crore and after authorisation, Panda notes, there was another unwarranted advance payment of Rs 3.1 crore, bringing the total of advance payments to Rs 5.1 crore. Again, there was a revision of the size and a resultant price increase of Rs 41 lakh.

In March 2012, a home ministry official stumbled upon suspicious payments made to the NMBA’s account with a nationalised bank. A further investigation led the official to suspect embezzlement through this account.

Detailed studies into the supply order and prices quoted to other offices showed that the NMBA was charging the CRPF an unreasonable price. In fact, it was charging the CRPF between 11 to 17 times of what the suppliers had quoted for the bamboo structures at other centres.

The CRPF’s accounts department conducted a sample audit and found a violation of CVC guidelines, default in supplies and suspicious modes of payments. The chief controller of accounts suggested that it could be the tip of the iceberg and recommended handing over the case to an “appropriate agency for probe”. In November 2012, the home ministry’s vigilance cell endorsed the finding and recommended a CBI investigation. The file landed on Panda’s table and he forwarded it to RK Singh.

Singh shot off a few price-related questions for the NMBA but did not refer to the recommendation for a CBI probe. Instead, he asked for further internal audits.

Meanwhile, last March, a retired government official named EV Satyamurthy wrote to the home department and the CVC claiming that bureaucrats in the home department were allegedly given undue promotions along with pay and benefits just before retirement so that they would get higher pension. The internal oversight cell took notice of these and wanted to probe further. If exposed, it could reveal decades of manipulating transfer postings and thus, crores of rupees of taxpayers’ money paid out in undeserving pensions. But Singh refused to order an investigation.

After his retirement last June, Singh joined the BJP and there is speculation that he will contest the Lok Sabha polls from his native Supaul district in Bihar.

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