The untold story of the twists and turns in the fodder scam, as seen by Outlook deputy editor Uttam Sengupta, who had a close-range view of things as Patna resident editor, The Times of India
Curiously, in hindsight, not a whiff of scandal touched Laloo Prasad Yadav’s five-year tenure as Union railway minister, from 2004 to 2009. For a politician whose name had become synonymous with the chara ghotala (or fodder scam), his tenure at the Centre remains remarkably spotless. The man himself had told me, possibly tongue-in-cheek, “I have told the prime minister he should get the IB and the CBI to keep an eye on me. There are many who are waiting to trip me up, but I am not going to oblige them.” At the same meeting, I asked him why he was so successful at the Centre but failed so abysmally in the state. His disarming reply: “When I got the time to do something, I was put in jail. What could I have done?”
Laloo’s conviction this week in the fodder scam has brought the curtains down on a politician endowed with remarkable political sense, rustic wit and an uncanny ability to connect with people. It was a career pregnant with promise. The irony is that he stands convicted for something many other chief ministers are probably guilty of. The scam itself, worth Rs 1,200 crore, the bulk of it siphoned off after 1990, but some of it dating back to the time when Dr Jagannath Mishra was the chief minister in the early 1980s, is piffling compared to the scams which have surfaced since. But Laloo has paid the price for being both naive and brazen. He has also been done in by some dogged investigation, fortuitous journalism and computerisation of records. This is the untold story of the unmaking of a man who could have been prime minister.
Rise of Chandragupta, March 1990
Two hours had passed since 6.30 pm, when Laloo was elected leader of the Janata Dal Legislature Party after a three-way contest. The announcement, however, was greeted with deathly silence at the Brajkishore Hall, on the banks of the Ganga. Most MLAs quietly trooped out and left. Yes, dozens of his supporters did also rush inside and hug him, but the mood among legislators was sombre. At the Patna Veterinary College, two hours later, however, there were hundreds of cars and a large, boisterous crowd waiting with garlands for the man of the moment. A small canopy had been hurriedly put up next to the cowshed but there was no sign of the CM-elect. It was well past midnight when he finally turned up. Most of the crowd had melted away but 50-odd die-hard loyalists had stayed back. Laloo Yadav agreed to give an interview even at that hour to me and journalist colleague Anirudh Mukherjee, alias Jhampan, but not before he had seen off each of the supporters.
We sat below the canopy and chatted. The newly elected chief minister had grown up in the peon’s quarters at the veterinary college and claimed he’d continue to live there. Of course, he moved to the sprawling official residence. The most memorable of his replies was to this question: Any misgivings for not having been a minister before? “Let those who want to be Chanakya act like Chanakya,” he said, “All I know is that, in Pataliputra, I’ll emerge as Chandragupta.”
Laloo was at his charming best at the meeting. He told cartoonist Laxman, “Bihar rich, very rich. But peepul poor.”
Two years later, I visited the chief minister with cartoonist R.K. Laxman, Times of India editor-in-chief Dileep Padgaonkar and Arvind Narayan Das. The meeting went very well, but as I held the car door open for Laxman, he said something rather strange: “I’ve seen through the man...this man is an angelic demon.” Laloo had been his charming self at the meeting. “Bihar rich, very rich,” he’d told Laxman. “But peepul poor.” Dileep tried his best to suppress a smile while Arvind Narayan Das earnestly quizzed the chief minister. Laxman had said little, only smiled and nodded back at Laloo. I was curious to know what made Laxman say what he did, but he had a hectic schedule. Laxman and Dileep were mobbed at the Patna Book Fair and fans in celebrity-starved Patna never left them alone.
What made Laxman’s statement curious was the timing. Laloo was at the peak of his popularity. The media ate out of his hands and he would imperiously declare that he would rule over the state for the next 20 years and reduce his detractors to dust. His honeymoon with Delhi had just begun and the national media had finally stopped calling him ‘Lalloo’, implying simpleton. And his firm handling of the communal situation after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and arrest of L.K. Advani in Bihar, where his rath yatra was stalled, had given him a halo. “He’s home minister material,” Arvind Narayan Das said, and I believe both Padgaonkar and Harish Khare, a senior editor at Times of India then and media advisor to prime minister Manmohan Singh later, agreed with that assessment.
It was at Ranchi airport that the first whiff of the animal husbandry department scam surfaced, as early as 1992. The scene was tailored for TV. An Indian Airlines plane bound for Delhi was easing away from the parking bay for take-off when a posse of income-tax officials rushed to the tarmac and asked officials to direct the pilots to stop the aircraft. They had information that a group of animal husbandry officials and their family members were on board and carrying unaccounted-for cash and jewellery. They also had warrants to detain them. The plane was stopped and the group ordered to disembark. Eyewitness accounts claimed that several members of the group took out cash and jewellery from their handbags and briefcases and dropped them as they were led back to the terminal. This sensational report was picked up by local newspapers but never followed up by others. Even the income-tax department soon buried the case and maintained a studied silence.
Disillusionment with Laloo had grown by 1993. His inability to keep his flock under control, lawlessness, corruption, cronyism and his manipulation of the media had given rise to dissatisfaction and a wide range of jokes, which vied with original Lalooisms. As he completed three years in office, I wrote a piece describing him as the clowning glory of Bihar. Within days, someone shot at me in front of the Times of India office but missed. The .315 bullet fired from a countrymade pistol went through the body of the car and got embedded in the front seat. The same night, Laloo arrived at the ToI office and asked if it could have anything to do with property or an administrative action. Well past midnight, when I reached home, Rajesh Pilot, the then minister of state for internal security, called up from Delhi (I had never met him) to inquire if I suspected the involvement of the chief minister. He was audibly disappointed when I replied in the negative. My suspicion was that the attempt was carried out at the behest of a nominated Rajya Sabha MP. But I had no evidence, so I did not air my suspicion.
The PM-in-waiting and the AHD
The general election was barely five months away and a coalition government appeared inevitable in 1996. The buzz was that Laloo could head the next government. He had won a comfortable majority in the assembly election in 1995, defying critics and predictions, had made his first trip abroad as chief minister and had hosted a convention inviting nris to invest in the state. He certainly appeared destined for bigger things when I sought an interview with him. Was there a realistic chance of him becoming prime minister, I asked. He looked at me as if I were retarded and said, “Dada, the next election is going to produce a hodge-podge result. Have I been bitten by a dog that I’d agree to head an unstable coalition? No, it will be the election after the next that I have set my eyes on. That’s when I’ll sweep to power and become the PM.” He mischievously smiled and added, “I’ll then take you to Delhi.”
It was during this Ranchi visit, I learnt later, when he was first informed of the fodder scam. Amit Khare, an IAS officer posted as deputy commissioner of Chaibasa, had unearthed fraudulent withdrawals by animal husbandry officials from the treasury. The treasury officer, it was found, had opened the treasury at night on several occasions and issued treasury cheques worth crores of rupees. The complicity of senior officials in both Patna and Ranchi, not to speak of Chaibasa, was evident. What should the DC do? Laloo was possibly too euphoric at the time to care; or the celebrations in Delhi were so heady that they clouded his reason. Instead of waiting, he gave the go-ahead to arrest whoever was found guilty.
The first whiff of the fodder scam came at Ranchi airport in 1992. An I-T team found AHD officials carrying suspect cash.
The arrests had a cascading effect. Reports from other districts started trickling in about similar over-withdrawals by the animal husbandry department. And soon a PIL was filed in the Patna High Court seeking a CBI inquiry into the scam. While the animal husbandry department lacked glamour and a big budget (the budget for the entire state had never exceeded Rs 48 crore till 1996), somehow its officials always seemed to be rolling in money. It was a lucrative department, people agreed. While their salaries were nothing to write home about, with even a regional director taking home around Rs 12,000, the weddings in families of officials were lavish affairs, with each expensive gifts for guests and starlets flown in from Calcutta and Bombay for item numbers. The regional director at Ranchi, Shyam Bihari Sinha, and his deputies seemed to be generous souls, distributing astonishing sums of money to whoever needed it. The late Dr Ram Dayal Munda, a former vice-chancellor of Ranchi University and later a member of both the Rajya Sabha and the National Advisory Committee, told me he had once requested Sinha for a loan of Rs 10,000 before a trip to the US and was embarrassed when Sinha sent Rs 50,000 in cash back with the messenger. BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha confided that the young son of K.M. Prasad, Sinha’s deputy, had offered to buy four flats in Mumbai, each of them costing Rs 2 crore then, on condition that the filmstar’s real estate firm accepted the money in cash. But there was no clue initially on how they made their money. Even if they were busy making payments for stuff that was never supplied, how much could they possibly make, with the budget being so small? It was partly in desperation, therefore, that at the Times of India we decided to focus on the fancy houses some officials had built in their villages. Every day we carried a photograph with the innocuous caption inviting readers to guess the cost of building the house. The location of the house, the name of the village and the villagers’ submission about the owner and the department were alluded to. The houses were completely out of place. Mansions in the middle of nowhere. Some of the houses had driveways going up to the roof. The campaign led to the unexpected consequence of information about more houses, and also about the scam and scamsters pouring in from anonymous sources.
A week after the campaign was launched, the income-tax commissioner called with an unusual request. Could we publish the photograph of a house under construction in the state capital? His information was that the house belonged to the chief minister or his brothers-in-law but his officials had been assaulted when they went to inquire. They also received threatening calls that their wives and children would be abducted if they persisted with their inquiry. The publication of the photograph, the commissioner said, would make it easier for him to requisition a special team from Kanpur to conduct the inquiry. Times of India photographer Krishna Mohan Prasad was assigned the job with instructions that he should take a top shot from under-construction houses at a distance. The same evening, I received a call from the resident editor of Hindustan Times, Tirthankar Ghosh (TG to friends), who wanted to know what kind of photograph we were planning to carry! The chief minister’s office had got in touch with him with the request that he should not publish any photograph of a house without talking first to the chief minister. Not having a clue what it was all about, he stalled for time and called me to find out if we were up to something. I feigned ignorance and told him that we had several photographs from districts but none from the capital. A few hours later, he called again to ask the same question. This time, a minister had been dispatched to him with the earlier request. Krishna Mohan’s brother Krishna Murari was the photographer for Hindustan Times and someone had obviously mixed up their identities. We had to publish the photograph the same day, which we did with the caption innocently stating that the income-tax department was unable to trace the owner of the house and would welcome information. Several months later, a housewife from Nawadah claimed it belonged to her and that she had built the house with agricultural income left behind by her late father.
|Amit Khare An IAS officer, he exposed he full extent of the scam as the deputy commissioner of Chaibasa||U.N. Biswas Investigated the scam as joint director, CBI. Was instrumental in arresting Laloo, whom he once admired.|
|Ranjit Sinha The present CBI chief. A DIG then, he was persuaded by then CBI chief to submit a parallel report.||D.P. Wadhwa As chief justice of the Patna High Court, he monitored the initial probe into the fodder scam.|
An anonymous caller tipped us off about a house being built opposite the Patna museum. Neither the guards nor the caretaker would say who owned the shimmering white, five-bedroom wonder. The architect and the contractor, when they were finally tracked down, fled without answering the question. Records with the revenue department suggested the land had been leased before independence to a Bengali gentleman who had migrated to Calcutta and was dead and gone. But the White House was all marble and red stone, with large bathrooms with fancy mirrors, concealed lighting and bathtubs. The day we tried to contact the architect, I received a dinner invitation from Sudhir Jain, who was the Times of India printer at Patna. He introduced me to the architect and left us alone. The architect said he would have to leave the city if his name was mentioned in any report. But while it was obvious that his client was powerful and under a cloud, he would not name the client. The report and the photograph of the White House eventually led to the High Court taking over the house and converting it into a record room. A few animal husbandry officials later turned up in the court and filed an affidavit claiming that it belonged to a housing cooperative with 81 members! All of them, not surprisingly, turned out to be either animal husbandry department staffers or suppliers.
Blackmail by Narasimha Rao
The clamour for a CBI inquiry was growing when I received a call from Laloo, inquiring if I could meet him at 9 am the next day. A notoriously late riser and a night bird, 9 am was far too early for the chief minister to meet anyone. I twice repeated the time to make sure that I had got it right. The next morning I was ushered into the chief minister’s first-floor bedroom. Also present were D.P. Ojha, who headed the vigilance bureau, and Jabir Hussain, chairman of the Bihar legislative council. Laloo seemed irritable and accused me of turning Times of India into a BJP mouthpiece. When I protested, he complained that while the newspaper carried propaganda for the BJP, his own versions were blanked out. I retorted he would find it difficult to cite even a single such instance. Our exchange of words was cut short by the other two, who were clearly anxious to get on with the job at hand. Following a nod from the chief minister, Ojha fished out a document from a file. “This is the truth about the fodder scam; let us see if you can publish this,” the chief minister said sarcastically. I glanced at the document. It was a letter dated some time in 1993, addressed to the chief minister by the then chairman of the public accounts committee, Jagdish Sharma. It pleaded with the chief minister to stall any inquiry by the vigilance or the police into the animal husbandry department. The pac had seized files and documents from the department and since it was already investigating, Sharma wrote, no parallel inquiry should take place. The chief minister had signed and forwarded it to the director-general of police for necessary action. I read through the document and agreed to publish it. But I could not resist the temptation of telling the group that the document actually established that the chief minister was aware of the scam as far back as in 1993.
Somehow it did not seem to have occurred to them. At the same meeting, I asked Laloo why he was resisting a CBI inquiry. I actually told him he should take moral responsibility and resign. “People are suckers for such sacrifice and I am sure you will get back with a thumping majority and become the PM,” I joked. The CM’s reply was revealing. “Why should I allow Narasimha Rao to blackmail me after the election?” he asked. Weeks after this conversation, the Patna High Court ordered a CBI inquiry into the fodder-scam to be completed in four months.
I went away for almost a month on leave and when I returned I found to my dismay that the animal husbandry scam had receded from newspapers. CBI officials were filing progress reports in sealed cover to the chief justice in his chamber, I was told. In short, nobody knew what was happening. The chief justice’s bungalow was at walking distance from the ToI office, and during an impulsive moment, I sought an appointment with Justice D.P. Wadhwa. I pleaded with him for some arrangement to brief the media. Couldn’t he direct a judge, a registrar or a lawyer to brief the media about the contents of the progress report, I asked. Under what law, he inquired with a smile hovering on his lips. The chief justice gave me a patient hearing, asked pointed questions but said there was no provision in the law for such briefing. I left disappointed, after a discussion on the poor quality of court reporting.
I was invited for a dinner at which the architect who built the mysterious White House said he’d have to leave town if he was named in any report.
Several weeks later, when the CBI prayed for an extension of time, the chief justice constituted a division bench to hear the prayer and thereby made the hearings open. I had neither called nor met Justice Wadhwa to thank him. Months later, he was elevated to the Supreme Court and was due to leave Patna on a Sunday. Out of the blue came a call from his office saying that the outgoing chief justice wanted to speak. He gently asked why I had not maintained any contact, and as I stammered and struggled for a reply, he invited me over for a cup of coffee. Over coffee, he casually mentioned how a notorious DIG in the CBI’s Ranchi office had met him to say that while Justice Wadhwa’s name was up for elevation, there was a “hitch” in the IB report but the DIG could set it right. The DIG was known to be close to animal husbandry officials, and as I heard the story, I spilled my coffee. “Surely, you could have sent him to jail,” I exclaimed. Justice Wadhwa shrugged and said that IB clearance was necessary while appointing a high court judge and the DIG was bluffing. We discussed the progress in the investigation, when he suddenly said, “You know, you should not expect too much from this investigation.” He laughed at the look on my face and joked that he had seen the chief minister having ‘Blue Label Scotch’ at the residence of some Supreme Court judges in Delhi and felt that he would succeed in manipulating the system.
The joint director of the CBI at Calcutta was a Buddhist who loved his Shakespeare. A member of the Asiatic Society, Dr U.N. Biswas loved reciting poetry, writing poetry, and not surprisingly, was considered an unlikely police officer. A scholar by temperament, we discovered that he was more at home with books. Also, he professed to be an admirer of Laloo. At our first meeting, he gushed about Laloo’s contribution in empowering the backward classes. My meeting with him actually followed a tongue-lashing he had received from the high court, which had ordered that the joint director would not supervise the investigation. My sources in the police and the CBI, both in Patna and Calcutta, were outraged and felt the court had been unfair. They flooded me with information, leads, contacts and vouched for the officer’s integrity. A report in the Times of India questioning the high court’s conduct led to Dr Biswas seeking me out on his next visit, after the court modified its order. He had rarely found newspapers saying anything positive about officials or standing up to the court.
Several weeks later, on one of my rare visits to Ranchi, a friend working with Indian Airlines joked that humble reporters in Ranchi flew more often than resident editors from Patna. To my raised eyebrow, he winked and said, “Animal husbandry.” I pressed him for more and he informed that an animal husbandry department staffer from Ranchi was also running a travel agency in his wife’s name and this agency purchased all the tickets required by not only animal husbandry department officials but also of local newsmen, officials and the children of the chief minister, who were studying at Bishop Westcott, a residential school on the outskirts of Ranchi. “And he always pays in cash, whatever the amount,” this friend added.
When I reached the Times of India office in the city, I called one of my colleagues at Patna, Sacchidanand Jha, and requested him to convey the details to the CBI joint director, who I knew was camping in Patna. Journalists would not be able to get proof, I felt, and hoped that the CBI might be of some help. There were no mobile phones yet and I had left the number of a friend at whose house I was having dinner that night. Around 9 pm, I received a call from Biswas, who said he had got a garbled account of some travel agency in Ranchi and asked for details. I repeated the information and without saying a word beyond a “thank you”, Biswas put down the phone. The next morning, when I reached the office at Ranchi’s Sainik Bhawan complex, the place was swarming with policemen. An income-tax raid was going on at a travel agency, I was informed.
I was taken to a deserted PWD guesthouse where the Laloo was waiting for me. He came straight to the deal he wanted.
Several months later, some time in the middle of 1997, I had gone to the CBI camp office to meet Dr Biswas. By now I was a familiar figure and the personal assistant welcomed me with a smile and requested that I wait in his room as the boss was holding a meeting, which would end soon. I noticed that the personal assitant was busy photocopying a document. A hundred or more copies were stacked on the table and the personal assistant said it was the statement of one of the accused. I smiled and turned the pages of a magazine. I had this irresistible urge to read the document but felt it would not be proper to ask the personal assistant to allow me a peek. Biswas, I knew, would not entertain any such request either. A few minutes later though, the personal assistant was called in and before I realised what I was doing, I picked up one of the copies and shoved it in my pocket. When I met the joint director, I found it difficult to converse and excused myself within a few minutes. I locked myself in at the office and read the document. It was a copy of the interrogation of the travel agency owner by IT officials. It was an explosive confession and there was no point sitting over it. We splashed it the next day and all hell broke loose. An upset Biswas called me to ask how I had got a copy. “They are blaming me for leaking it to you,” he said. I lied to the best of my ability and reminded him that sources are sacred. I owed him an apology, but I did not have the courage to confess all these years.
Forget and forgive
Not surprisingly, my interactions with the chief minister had become limited. When we met in public, he would feign to have forgotten my name. Or sometimes he would seek to embarrass me by loudly asking if I had called him at midnight. At political rallies, he would launch a scathing attack on English newspapers in general and the ToI in particular, accusing them of spreading falsehood. So much so that on the eve of one of his largest rallies in Patna, which he called a “railla’, the director general of police suggested that we shut down the Times of India office. “There is a threat and if a mob attacks your office, there will be nothing we will be able to do,” he explained. My advice to the management was to lodge an FIR and inform police that we anticipated trouble and expected protection. I also took the precaution of calling up the governor and informing him of what the dgp had said. The same night, I received a call from the chief minister. His voice was hoarse and he merely said, “Forget and forgive.” The rally passed off peacefully.
One of the last meetings I had with the chief minister, before he was arrested and sent to jail in 1997, was when he sought a meeting after flying back from Delhi. He insisted on sending Abdul Bari Siddiqui, till recently the leader of the opposition in the Bihar assembly, to pick me up. Siddiqui sahab was ill at ease and I too felt uneasy as the car sped by the chief minister’s residence and took a turn towards the airport. We left even the airport behind and stopped at the PWD guesthouse beyond it. The guesthouse looked deserted and there was not a single car, or for that matter a single soul, to be seen. I thanked myself for having the presence of mind to ask one of our photographers to follow us from a discreet distance. Siddiqui would not even climb the stairs. He pointed to a room at the farthest corner and indicated that I should proceed there. It was unusual to see Laloo alone. He liked to be surrounded by people. But there he was, pensive and reclining on a chair. He straightened up as I entered the room and greeted him. He complained that I had never invited him home even though I knew how fond he was of fish. Surely you have not called me to discuss fish, I said, in an effort to steer the conversation. He came straight to the point.
“I know you and U.N. Biswas are friendly. I would like you to request him so that he looks after my interests. In return, I promise to look after him,” he told me. I protested I had only a professional acquaintance with the CBI official and was in no position to convey any such request. Laloo suggested I could convey the request over the telephone. I refused. When he persisted, I said I could not commit but I would broach it with Biswas if an opportunity arose. But I was even more curious to know how he would help Biswas. The chief minister smiled and said, “There are complaints against him too at the CBI headquarters. Tell him I would sort them out for him.”
Biswas never parted with any information related to the investigation to me, except once. On the contrary, he was the recipient of a lot of information from us. Indeed, once when TV crews pestered him for soundbites, he offered to recite lines from Hamlet. And TV channels went to town. He was served with a showcause notice and an internal inquiry was ordered. The then joint director (south), one Mr Mukherjee, came down to Patna to inquire and I was requested to meet him and answer his questions. The only time when Biswas, to my knowledge, shared his views and evidence was when he called me one morning to his office. When I reached there, he disclosed that he had just finished correcting a draft chargesheet and he wanted me to react to it. Even as we discussed the draft, his personal assistant came in to say that the CBI director, Joginder Singh, was on the line. I stood up to leave but Biswas waved me down. Over the next minute or so, I was privy to a most fascinating but one-sided conversation. The joint director was chirpy at the beginning but grew progressively grim. Starting with a cheerful, “Good morning, sir, all’s well, sir,” the conversation meandered to “No, sir...I’m sorry, sir... I cannot do it, sir...I will not do it, sir....” By the time he put down the receiver, his face had become stony and he was clearly making an effort to maintain his composure. After several seconds, I ventured to ask, “Is anything wrong?”—prompting an explosion from Biswas. He banged his fist on the table and hissed, “What is right? Nothing is right.” When he calmed down, he revealed that the CBI director had asked him not to submit his progress report to the high court. Joginder Singh instead had cleared a parallel report prepared by Ranjit Sinha, the then DIG, CBI, at Patna (and the present CBI director), and ordered Biswas to present it as the official CBI report to the court.
The CBI director was asking Biswas to table a parallel report in court, one written by Ranjit Sinha. Biswas exploded.
A grim and sullen Biswas was brooding as I left, struggling to decide how best to use the information. Publishing a report would be of no use because both Biswas and Joginder Singh could deny it. In any case, I had no clue about the discrepancies in the two reports or, for that matter, what the reports contained. I shared the information with the special team of reporters investigating the fodder scam. And they came up with the idea that we should alert the judges. They were due to attend a high-profile wedding the same evening, we found out, and that is where the information was passed on to them. At the next hearing, the judges pointedly asked Biswas why his report was so markedly different from his previous report. “It doesn’t seem to have been prepared by you, Mr Biswas,” one of the judges asked. The CBI joint director stood up and said, “It is not my report, Lordship.”
Nobody believed Laloo would ever get convicted. Chief ministers leave neither a paper trail nor direct evidence to link them with scams. He did benefit from the scam and, wittingly or unwittingly, could do nothing to control the greed of people around him. When the scam started in the 1980s, the scamsters would overdraw a few crores of rupees and nobody seemed to pay any attention. During Laloo’s term, the fraudulent over-withdrawals skyrocketed to Rs 100 crore in one year and Rs 150 crore in another.
The Ins And Outs
Laloo turned adversity into advantage always. But even his Houdini-like skills at extracting propaganda from crises may fall flat this time.
The Mechanics Of The Scam
- A fake allotment letter would be generated indicating a much higher allocation than the budgeted amount.
- Fake allotments would be sent to concerned treasuries and field offices from the Patna
- Field offices would generate orders for fodder, medicine, equipment far in excess of requirement
- Fake challans were produced for supplies never made. Numbers of scooters used in place of trucks.
- Field offices would issue fake receipts, acknowledging deliveries not made and cook up false inventories
- Based on fake delivery receipts, fake payment orders were issued but actual payments made by treasuries
Anatomy Of An Official Tour
A crucial piece of evidence came the CBI’s way vide the tour record of a clerk posted at the secretariat in Patna in the Animal Husbandry Department.
Boards a night bus for Ranchi Arrives at Ranchi in the morning and boards the afternoon flight for Delhi. Lands at Delhi late in the afternoon and boards the Magadh Express bound for Patna. This cycle would repeat itself every two months or so. There was no variation whatsoever. Computerisation of accounts enabled the Accountant General to detect the pattern. The input was passed on to the CBI, which interrogated the man, who spilled the beans. His job was to collect treasury cheques from Ranchi and deliver them to suppliers at Delhi.
Budgets presented by Laloo Yadav as finance minister truthfully reflected the figures. But no questions were raised by legislators, bureaucrats or the media. The oddity, however, stared out of the budget documents related to the animal husbandry department. An illustrative example :
- Rs 45 crore Last year’s budget estimate
- Rs 42 crore Last year’s revised estimate
- Rs 200 crore Last year’s actual expenditure
- Rs 48 crore Next year’s budget estimate
Curiously, the glaringly high expenditure, much beyond the expenditure approved by the assembly, escaped attention of even economists and budget pundits.