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One more thorn in Laloo’s flesh: the CBI probes a power scam

Fictional Power
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

BIHAR seems to never tire of scams. Close on the heels of the multi-crore fodder scam came the bitumen scam, the HUDCO  scam, the education scam and the dhoti-saree scam. The latest addition to the dubious list, a power scam that allegedly involves Rs 2,000 crore, has led to another round of mutual recriminations between the ruling RJD in Bihar and the BJ P government at the Centre .

The end result: the CBI is to probe an independent finding that over 14,000 villages declared electrified by the state government had lapsed back into pre - electricity days while another 3,000-odd villages were wrongly declared electrified.

Issuing the probe order on November 3, Union power minister P.R. Kumaramang alam had harsh things to say about the role of state officials and the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC). "Such a big fraud couldn’t have taken place in the absence of a well-planned conspiracy between the REC and the Bihar State Electricity Board (BSEB) officials," he remarked.

On paper, over two-thirds of rural Bihar— or 47,000 out of 67,546 inhabited villages — were electrified by ’97. But even REC surveys show that 14,402 villages for which it had disbursed huge loans were declared "de-electrified".

The irregularities surfaced in November last year when former Samata Party MP Bashisht Narain Singh had raised the issue of rural electrification in Bihar at a consultative committee meeting of the Union power ministry. Singh, armed with a list of reportedly electrified villages, was asked to tour the state to verify the Bihar government’s claim. On his fact-finding tour, he found nothing on the ground: no poles, no wires, no connections. He listed the districts with the highest number of de-electrified villages: Sahibganj (739), Munger (706), Ranchi (632), Siwan (615), Singhbhum (559), Saran (455), Nalanda (422). These startling findings prompted the ministry to ask for a report from the REC and, subsequently, the scam was detected.

In a note sent to state Opposition leader Sushil Kumar Modi, R E C acting director V.K. Khanna has said the corporation had released over Rs 302 cro re since ’80-81 to  BSEB for implementing the rural electrification programme. Although 27,320 villages were declared electrified under the scheme, BSEB managed to connect a mere 1,650 villages to the power grid since ’90, the REC note said. REC stopped further loans to BSEB in the wake of the latter’s inability to meet its Rs 386-crore current liability to the corporation. Its report also lists the number of villages electrified by the Bihar government in the past five years— 59 in ’94-95, 43 in ’95-96, 27 in ’96-97, 5 in ’97-98 and 8 in ’98-99.

To add to the state government’s embarrassment, BSEB chairman Vijay Shankar Dubey has written to state energy secretary stating that out of the 47,000 villages declared electrified, 18,000 villages have plunged into darkness once again. Dubey’s letter, dated October 13, says even a mere " rehabilitation" of these villages would require something like Rs 540 cro re while BSEB had received only Rs 135 crore from the state government. He says another Rs 1,000 crore is required to electrify 21,000 villages. "Without increasing power availability, the rural electrification programme in Bihar would be a colossal waste of money," he says.

Meanwhile, in a show of defiance to the CBI inquiry, Bihar power minister Ravindra Charan Yadav has challenged Kumaramangalam and Modi to prove the allegations levelled against his government. "I have no objection to getting the matter investigated by the CBI. If proven wrong, however, both should either resign from their posts or apologise to the state government," says Yadav. He turns the whole issue around, claiming that during the RJD rule since ’90, the Centre did not grant enough financial assistance to Bihar for rural electrification.

Opposition leader Modi is quick to rebut Yadav. "Only the CBI probe will bring out the truth and then Ravindra Yadav should not forget his challenge. We shouldn’t forget that initially even Laloo Prasad  Yadav loudly proclaimed innocence in the fodder scam," says the BJP leader. According to him, the amount involved in the power scam is over Rs 2,000 crore.

The eventual outcome of the CBI investigation notwithstanding, the allegations are strong enough to further shake the confidence of the beleaguered, scam-tainted RJD dispensation in Bihar. What’s worse for the party is that rural electrification was one of Laloo Yadav’s populist moves, given the fact that the economically weaker sections constitute his core support group. Therefore, its failure to deliver power could well be the reason for the RJD losing power in Bihar.

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