Monday, Jul 04, 2022

And The Footprints Lead To...

HC orders police to register an FIR against Congress's Mumbai chief, leading to his resignation, vindicating Outlook's expose...

Kripa Shankar Singh, resourceful and supremely well-connected to the Congress high command, finally had to step down from his position as party's Mumbai chief on February 22, 2012. He claimed he had resigned to own up responsibility for the party's debacle in the recently-held election to the prestigious Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Characteristically, Singh was economical with the truth.

The truth is that the Bombay high court, after two years of painstakingly hearing a PIL against Singh's disproportionate assets, ordered that Mumbai police commissioner register an FIR against Singh for "criminal misconduct" under the Prevention of Corruption Act, and attach moveable and immoveable properties in his and his family members' names. The PIL had alleged that Singh, who started life in Mumabi as a vegetable vendor and pharma company factory-hand, had amassed property and wealth worth nearly Rs 300 crore. Singh was minister of state (home) in Vilasrao Deshmukh's cabinet of 2004 and was appointed Mumbai chief of Congress in 2008.

Outlook had first carried an expose on Singh and his unexplained wealth, bank transactions worth crores in accounts held by his wife and son though the two did not have known sources of income, property deals in upmarket areas of the city, him possessing two PAN cards and so on in the story The Charcoal Footprints (Mar 1, 2010).

Singh had sent us a defamation notice, but that story had set the ball rolling.

Within a couple of weeks, RTI activist Sanjay Tiwari filed the PIL, the contents of which closely follow our story. Additionally, Tiwari made allegations of a greater amount of unexplained wealth and demanded that the authorities examine Singh's case. The HC stated that the PIL be treated as the FIR against Singh and his family members, wife Malti Devi, son Narendra Mohan, daughter-in-law Ankita, daughter Sunita and son-in-law Vijay Pratap Singh.

Singh's lawyers had initially told the court: "It's not a genuine PIL and must be dismissed. The allegations are not true". However, under the HC watch, the Income Tax department and state Anti-Corruption Bureau conducted their probes— though in a tardy manner initially— and submitted reports in sealed envelopes that reportedly nailed Singh establishing his and the family's assets disproportionate to their known sources of income. The reports also nailed Singh's cosy relationships with a handful of high-profile builders in the city (Outlook had referred to but not identified the builders) to an extent where one of them had even arranged for his son's wedding reception at the prestigious Turf Club lawns.

What happened to the defamation notice sent our way? As our story was driven only by facts and we had the documentary evidence to back the claims made in the story, we challenged Singh. He did not pursue it. A week later, the Bombay HC was seized of the contents of that story.

The real question to ask is why did the Congress back Singh for two years and prefer to have a compromised chief leading a crucial civic election?