West Bengal: ED says PDS 'scam' huge, accuses police of pressing lighter charges in Sandeshkhali FIR
Agency claims three of its officials were 'grievously' injured and their mobile phones, laptops, cash, wallets, etc were looted in the incident
The row over the attacks on an ED (Enforcement Directorate) team in West Bengal's Sandeshkhali escalated on Monday, with the federal agency saying the state police had registered an FIR only under bailable sections in the 5 January incident, while no details were given to it in the Bongaon assault case.
The ED also claimed that the magnitude of the PDS "scam" which it was investigating was "enormous", and proceeds of crime transferred by a suspect amount to Rs 9,000-10,000 crore, of which Rs 2,000 crore are "suspected to be transferred to Dubai either directly or through Bangladesh".
The money laundering investigation of the agency pertains to alleged irregularities in the public distribution system (PDS), including bogus procurement of paddy in West Bengal, where the ED last year arrested minister and TMC (Trinamool Congress) leader Jyotipriya Mallick and his aide Bakibur Rahaman.
Fresh raids were launched on 5 January in this case as part of which an ED team, along with an armed CRPF security escort, reached Sandeshkhali to search the premises of Shahjahan Sheikh, convenor of the TMC's local unit. The other team raided premises linked to TMC leader Shankar Adhya in the Simultala area of Bongaon. Both locations are in the North 24 Parganas district.
In a statement, the agency said three of its officials were "grievously" injured and their mobile phones, laptop, cash, wallets, etc were looted in the first incident in Sandeshkhali. It added that a complaint was lodged at Nazat police station for the registration of an FIR in the Sandeshkhali case under as many as 19 sections of the IPC.
These included 307 (attempt to murder), 333 (voluntarily causing hurt on provocation), 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant), 392 (punishment for robbery) and 395 (punishment for dacoity).
The ED had also registered a case for offences under sections 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 186 (voluntarily obstructing any public servant), 189 (threat of injury to public servant) and 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence commit ted in prosecution of common object).
The other sections enumerated by the ED for registration of the FIR were 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance), 440 (mischief committed after preparation made for causing death or hurt), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement) read with section 120B (criminal conspiracy), 109 (punishment of abetment ) and 115 (abetment of offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life if offence not committed).
The police, the ED said, registered this FIR under IPC sections 148, 149, 341, 186 and 353 of the 19 sections sought by the agency.
The other IPC sections included in the FIR were 147 (punishment for rioting), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees), 379 (punishment for theft), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention)
All these sections are "mostly bailable and non-scheduled offences", the agency said, and claimed a copy of this FIR "has not been shared with this Directorate (ED)".
The ED said a "similar incident" again happened with its team on the night of 5 January as a crowd attacked investigators of the agency while they were arresting Adhya in Bongaon, despite the local police being informed. An FIR has been filed in this incident, too, but a copy is awaited, it said in a statement.
Giving an account of the second incident, the agency said it had informed the police about the searches against Adhya. "All the ED team members as well as CRPF personnel were threatened and assaulted by the crowd and obstructed the officials of the ED in performing their official duty at around 11:30 pm.
"In this case, Bongaon police was informed through email at 8:46 am and thereafter SP Bongaon was contacted on mobile at around 4 pm with the request to provide sufficient security to the ED team," it said.
Despite this request, the agency said, the crowd was allowed to gather near the premises being searched and they pelted stones and attacked the ED team at around 11.30 pm.
While no physical injury was noticed to any official, the crowd, however, "damaged" an ED vehicle, it said.
Adhya, it said, "owned and controlled" many FFMC (full-fledged money changer) companies. A special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court sent him to 14 days of ED custody on 5 January.
Meanwhile, TMC supremo and chief minister Mamata Banerjee dismissed criticism by state opposition parties on the law and order situation in the state and alleged that they were trying to malign the state.
"So many rumours are spread throughout the day. If there is one isolated incident in the morning, it is dissected and discussed all day long, while positive news receives little attention. If Bengal is portrayed negatively, I will not accept it without a fight," the CM said at an event, without referring to any specific incident.
Earlier, the ED had said there are three major modus operandi undertaken by the accused in perpetrating the PDS and paddy procurement scam.
Various rice mills allegedly siphoned off the PDS wheat flour in collusion with distributors and dealers, causing huge gain to themselves and corresponding loss to government funds. About 25.55 per cent of wheat flour was siphoned off, it claimed.
The rice mills brought back the atta (wheat flour) delivered to various dealers through various middlemen/agents and mixed the same with fresh PDS atta. This modus operandi not only generated proceeds of crime but also affected the quality of atta, the ED alleged.
It was found that paddy procurement was being done in the name of "fake" farmers and millers were "hand-in-glove" with many cooperative societies, and by using the names of their employees and relatives, they received payments at MSP (minimum support price) in the bank accounts of their employees and relatives, the agency said.
A charge sheet against Mallick, Rahaman and a company called NPG Rice Mill was filed by the agency before a Kolkata court in December 2023.