IAS Amit Khare was appointed the new secretary of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, as part of a major bureaucratic reshuffle involving 24 senior IAS officers by the Centre.
Don’t know who this brave bureaucrat is? This IAS officer rose to the limelight after unearthing a two-decade-old Rs 940 crore fodder scam. Or as it is popularly called – The ‘Chara Ghotala’ in Bihar and Jharkhand.
This is the story of how a gutsy civil servant fought political pressure, physical threats and threats against his family to serve the country.
In 1995, the undivided state of Bihar, under the reign of CM Lalu Prasad Yadav, was facing a deep financial crisis. A deeper analysis of the financial budgets and spendings of various departments, by the then finance commissioner VS Dubey, detected jarring irregularities.
He conducted wide-scale performance reviews of the various state departments in December 1995. He realised that large amounts of money were being withdrawn over and above the allocated budgets by some state departments.
On 19 January 1996, V S Dubey ordered district magistrates and deputy commissioners of all districts to investigate cases of excessive withdrawals.
IAS Amit Khare, an officer of the 1985 IAS batch, was then posted as the Deputy Commissioner of Chaibasa in undivided Bihar (it is now part of Jharkhand).
On the orders of VS Dubey, on 20 January 1996, the officer decided to investigate excessive withdrawals of money by the Animal Husbandry department from the Ranchi treasury. What was to follow would shake the country and place the state and high-profile administrators under the scrutiny of the CBI, eventually leading to the resignation of CM Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Khare, on investigation, found that the district animal husbandry department had withdrawn Rs 10 crore and Rs 9 crore twice with no details to support it.
When he sent them a notice seeking proof of what the massive funds were used for, they failed to respond. This lead to one of the biggest raids in the country, making the IAS officer an overnight hero.
He recalls the details of the raids in a piece for the FirstPost.
On 27 January 1996, Khara along with his team of officers, raided the Chaibasa Treasury. They barged into the office and farms of the animal husbandry department and took it upon themselves to verify the invoices (bills) that were raised.
The officer got a whiff of the money laundering taking place when he realised most bills stated the same amount of Rs 9.9 lakh and were raised in the name of the same supplier, which on further investigation was found to be bogus.
When he sought an explanation from the district animal husbandry officer (DAHO) and his colleagues, they did not respond.
But the officer was undeterred. He needed answers immediately. He decided to crack down on the office of the DAHO along with his magistrates.
The scene was shocking. Forged documents, wads of cash, bank drafts and numerous fake treasury bills were scattered everywhere and the officer and his subordinates had fled.
It was 12 noon. Wasting no time, Deputy Commissioner Khare asked his magistrates to start sealing the offices. He ordered the State Bank of India’s Treasury Branch to stop all outgoing payments of the animal husbandry department. He also alerted police stations across the district to ensure that records were secure and did not fall into the hands of miscreants who wanted to destroy them.
When he cross-verified the findings with the accountant general’s office and the state finance department, it was confirmed that the money withdrawn from the treasury was far more than the state’s TOTAL allocated budget for the animal husbandry department.
That was when the officer lodged the first FIR among a series to follow. It was one of the first evidences that would form the basis of the exposure of the Rs 940 crore fodder scam.
Indeed, it wasn’t just the Chaibasa treasury alone that was being looted.
“Another verdict came on Saturday in the fodder scam. I watched as TV screens flash ‘Breaking News’, reporting on the fraudulent withdrawal of government money from the Deoghar Treasury.
Reams of pages have been written about how the fraudulent bills were made by the suppliers with the collusion of state officials, how cash and bank drafts were recovered by the teams who had raided the offices and how the entire administrative and financial systems were subverted by those very people who were supposed to be its protector.
All this was done in the name of supply of fodder to animals in practically all the districts of what was then south Bihar,” he writes.
It was a massive corruption scheme by a nexus of bureaucrats, politicians, and businessmen who made up fictitious livestock, and procured ‘bogus’ fodder, medicines and animal husbandry equipment for it, was exposed by the officer.
Did it all end there? Certainly not.
“Was I not afraid for my career and the security of my family? Some even commented that the state police would implicate me in these cases. To be honest, none of these thoughts came to my mind when I began. When I was a student of IIM Ahmedabad, one of my teachers (Professor Kuchhal) used to say that “too much of analysis leads to decision paralysis”. I am glad I did not waste my time thinking about my career or my family, or of my future. Otherwise, I would not have been able to take the decision of starting the inquiry into the fodder scam,” he writes.
When the full story came out, the unabashed officer did not hog all the limelight. But decided to give credit where it was due. He continues to reiterate that the successful feat was not his own but facilitated by a huge group of equally courageous officers.
From the regional and English language press who flashed the story across the state and country to all the officers who helped him, he thanked each of them.
And while we celebrate the IAS officer, it is also important to highlight the roles of these unsung heroes who facilitated the exposure of this scam.
This includes the then additional deputy commissioner, Lal Shyama Charan Nath Sahdeo, who conducted a thorough checked of the treasury accounts, Superintendent of police, VS Deshmukh who made security arrangements to protect evidence, Sadar SDO, Fidelis Toppo, and second officer, Binod Chandra Jha, who sealed the offices and farms of the animal husbandry department and all the block development and circle officers who collected and protected the material evidence.
We hope the story of this brave officer who not just risked his own career but also his life and mobilised a host of officials to uncover the truth, will inspire a generation of civil service aspirants and servants to come.