The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audit report on general and social sector in Kerala has pointed out that after a joint verification in the Special Armed Police Battalion (SAPB) at Thiruvananthapuram, it was revealed that there were 25 INSAS rifles and 12,061 live cartridges missing. The department is headed by DGP Lokanath Behera, who had also investigated the Haren Pandya and the Ishrat Jahan cases. The report also accuses Behera for diverting Rs 2.81 crore meant for the construction of staff quarters for upper subordinate staff to build villas for himself and assistant DGPs.
The report on General and Social sector for the year ending March 31, 2018, was tabled earlier this week in the Kerala Assembly. The audit observed that the Police Department under Beherawas aware of the shortage in ammunition and attempted to cover up the shortfall instead of identifying and taking action against the culprits responsible for the loss of ammunition.
There were cartridge shortages in various kinds of rifles, in case of 5.56 mm cartridge for INSAS, it was 1,835; 1,578 cartridges in case of AK-47 and 250 9mm drill cartridges. Shockingly, there were 8,398 bullets missing from self-loading rifles.
To cover-up the shortfall of 250 9mm drill cartridges, the department attempted to replace 250 of them with dummy cartridges. Additionally, there was no document on record to show how these dummy cartridges came into the possession of the SAPB and how these were taken into stock. The SAPB Commandant offered no explanation either on how the 250 unauthorised dummy cartridges came into their possession.
In an elaborate attempt to conceal, the Kerala government under CM Pinarayi Vijayan, in March 2019, informed CAG that the 25 missing rifles reported by Audit were issued to Armed Reserve (AR) Camp, Thiruvananthapuram, in February 2011, under proper acknowledgement and that the errors shown in maintenance of records were found and sorted out. Vijayan is also in charge of the Home Affairs ministry, along with Vigilance and IT.
However, when the Auditor decided to cross-check by scrutinising records at the police camp in Thiruvananthapuram, it was found that the 25 rifles stated to have been issued by the SAPB were neither entered as receipts in the Stock Register nor in the records maintained by the Armoury Inspector at the AR Camp. Audit also noticed further discrepancies in the verification report of the DIG (APB).
When the Kerala government realised that they had been caught, they admitted to negligence in the proper maintenance of records and stated that it has been decided to conduct a full scale audit of the arms and ammunitions across the state in all units, to be completed in the next four to six months. The CAG report stated that it has implications on state security, and it needs to be addressed.
But, this is not all. The report also accuses Behera for diverting Rs 2.81 crore meant for the construction of staff quarters for upper subordinate staff to build villas for himself and assistant DGPs. Behera, a 1985-batch IPS officer, is the state police chief and Kerala DGP, and is due for retirement in 2021.
Instead of addressing the shortfall of vehicles in police stations, 15 per cent of the 269 light motor vehicles (LMVs) procured by the police department were luxury cars, which were deployed for use of high-level officers and non-operational units like Crime Branch-CID (CBCID).
The government had allotted Rs 1.26 crore during 2016-17 for the purchase of two bulletproof vehicles. Even before the government sanction was obtained, the company was given 30 per cent of the amount and the decision to purchase the bulletproof vehicles was taken in violation of the guidelines set in the purchase manual.
The police department under Behera violated the Modernisation of Police Forces (MOPF) scheme guidelines during 2013-18 which prohibited procurement of cars. According to reports, Chief Secretary Tom Jose has been using a luxury car purchased in the name of DGP Loknath Behera. It is also alleged that the car for Chief Secretary was purchased by illegally spending from the Police Renovation Fund.
Documents of Motor Vehicle Department underscore that the official vehicle (Jeep Compass) used by the Chief Secretary and having the number KL-1 CL 9663 has been registered in the name of the DGP. The vehicle was registered in 2019 and it costs above Rs 15 lakh. According to rules, chief secretary is supposed to use vehicles owned by the tourism department and should not be using the vehicle of the police department as the official vehicle.
Taking a defensive stance, Jose attacked accountant general S Sunilraj of motive and also criticised the practice of putting a few officials in the dock based on the remarks in the audit report.
Kerala CM-DGP Behera nexus
All of this has raised the heckles of the Opposition in Kerala because most local leaders allege collusion between Pinarayi Vijayan, Lokanath Behera and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Opposition has been demanding the resignation of both CM Vijayan and Behera, after which a probe should be conducted.
“This cannot have happened without the consent of the Chief Minister who is also the Home minister in Kerala. All of these cases are linked. Lokanath Behera slapped UAPA cases on two students simply for the holding Maoist literature and now they are in prison. If rifles and AK-47 cartridges are missing, is that also not a scare for national security? If that is the case, shouldn’t Behera also be investigated under UAPA,” questions NK Premachandran, Lok Sabha MP from Kerala.
“All the transactions must be thoroughly probed. This government under Pinarayi Vijayan is protecting the quarry mafia, real estate mafia and there is mafia-type rule in the state. All these activities are happening with the political patronage of the Chief Minister. Behera was brought in to mediate the SNC Lavalin corruption case, which has named Pinarayi Vijayan as one of the suspects. Just after the case was heard at the Kochi High court, Behera met Vijayan’s lawyer Harish Salve in Kochi for an hour,” asserted Premachandran.
Behera, who was with CBI had then investigated the Haren Pandya case. According to various news reports, Harenbhai Pandya had testified before an independent fact-finding panel, which was probing the 2002 Gujarat riots and was led by Justice VR Krishna Iyer. Pandya had allegedly revealed the meeting at the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi’s residence on the night of the riots. Modi had reportedly said that there would be justice for Godhra and had ordered the police to not stand in the way of the triggered ‘backlash’. The Gujarat police and the CBI announced that Pandya had been assassinated in a combined operation between Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, Lashkar-e-Toiba, and the Dubai-based don Dawood Ibrahim
Behera’s shadow looms over the Ishrat Jahan encounter case too. Ishrat Jahan and three others were killed in an encounter by Crime Branch of Ahmedabad Police in June 2004. The police alleged they were LeT operatives, had terror links and plotted to kill the then state Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Behera is one of the three NIA officers who recorded the statement of 26/11 suspect David Coleman Headley in the US in 2010. Interestingly, NIA is learnt to have told the home ministry that Headley did not name Ishrat in his interrogation report, but an unsigned report was circulated stating that Headley had admitted to the failed operation linking Ishrat Jahan.
This has been alleged by KPCC president Mullappally Ramachrandran too. He had earlier claimed that Behera was appointed in June 2017 immediately after CM Vijayan had met PM Modi in Delhi. “We want a probe to be conducted by a central agency into the matter and it must be conducted under judicial supervision,” underscored Premachandran.
Earlier, when some of these charges were raised in the Kerala Assembly, Vijayan had defended Behera and had slammed the Opposition.
This case assumes importance because in 1994, an allegation of corruption in the import of palmolein from a Singapore-based firm against then Chief Minister K Karunakaran and civil supplies minister TH Mustafa in a CAG report had led to the resignation of Mustafa. It had marred the political careers of both the politicians. Later, when the Left government came to power in 1996, it had filed a vigilance case against them and a few other bureaucrats.