The Srijan scam, named after the NGO at its centre, has drawn comparisons with the infamous fodder scam of the mid-1990s, which led to the conviction of RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and crippled his political career.
Investigations by Bihar police in the past twelve days have detected pilferage of nearly Rs1,000 crore of government funds by the NGO, Srijan Mahila Vikas Sahyog Samiti (SMVSS), between 2007 and 2014, in connivance with the NGO’s functionaries, officials of banks and the Bhagalpur district administration and several politicians.
SMVSS, based at Sabour in Bhagalpur, ostensibly worked for women’s empowerment through skill development. Its functionaries, led by founder-secretary Manorama Devi, connived with bank and government officials to embezzle the funds released by the state government to the Bhagalpur district administration for various purposes such as land acquisition and welfare schemes. The funds were transferred to the NGO’s bank accounts through forged signature of the district magistrates in connivance with bank officials.
While Manorama Devi, who died in February, masterminded the scam, her son Amit Kumar and daughter-in-law Priya Kumar played key roles in the pilferage and utilisation of funds, say investigators. The couple, who amassed huge assets such as land, shops and houses through these irregularities, is absconding. The funds were allegedly loaned to real estate developers, traders, politicians and government officials.
So far 18 people, mainly government officials of lower rank, have been arrested and 11 cases have been registered. Investigations have found the involvement of politicians such as Shiv Mandal, Bhagalpur district board member and president of the ruling JD(U)’s district youth wing, and Bipin Mishra, vice-president of the ruling BJP’s farmers’ wing. BJP suspended Sharma from the party a day after CM Nitish Kumar ordered a CBI probe following Lalu Yadav’s demands. The CBI is yet to take over the investigation.
While the Nitish Kumar government claims the embezzlement of public funds came to light after a cheque issued by the Bhagalpur district administration bounced earlier in August, the RJD has alleged that Nitish Kumar and his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi not only knew about the scam from the beginning but also encouraged it and gained from it as JD(U) and BJP ruled Bihar in alliance during the scam period. Lalu has also alleged the involvement of senior BJP leaders such as Shahanawaz Hussain, Giriraj Singh and Nishikant Dubey in the scam.