Another day, another audiotape which can spell trouble for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool Congress. After the purported audio tape released by the BJP where Mamata can be heard requesting a BJP worker to help her win Nandigram, three audiotapes have now surfaced which claim that Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee in relation to the coal smuggling case, allegedly received cut money to the tune of Rs 35 crores every month.
At a time when the BJP, led by PM Modi and Home Minister Shah, has already put Mamata Banerjee and TMC in a tough spot after the party flagged the alleged involvement of TMC leaders in cut money racket, three purported audio tapes have now been released which can spell doom for the Trinamool Congress amidst the Bengal elections.
According to the alleged audio tapes, Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee received Rs 35 crores every month as part of cut money via a syndicate racket in relation to the coal smuggling case. The audio tape consists of a conversation allegedly between Ganesh Bagadiya, who is believed to be a close aide of one Anup Majhi (aka Lala) — an accused in the coal smuggling case — and a government official.
In the tapes, Bagadiya and the government official can be heard discussing how Abhishek was receiving the money. They allegedly also discussed a sum of Rs 35 crore which Abhishek Banerjee used to receive every month as part of cut money which was sent by the coal mafia through a certain Vinay Mishra. In fact, the audiotape claims that earlier Abhishek Banerjee used to receive a sum of Rs 15-20 crores but now receives Rs 35 crores every month.
“Such is the audacity of extortionists that in one such meeting an extortionist who is close to Abhishek Banerjee sat close to commissioner and was making illegal demands from various people who wish to invest or undertake a legal activity,” said BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia. He added that the contents of these audiotapes show how an “extortion racket” is being run in an organised manner under the tutelage of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee-led government.
The TMC’s 10-year-long tenure is marked by various scams like the Saradha Chit Fund scam and more recently, the Coal smuggling case. While Mamata and her nephew escaped without any responsibility earlier, the expected advent of a BJP ruled West Bengal would likely see the exposing of many more skeletons in the TMC’s closet.
Earlier in February, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had issued summons to Abhishek Banerjee’s wife, Rujira Banerjee in connection with coal pilferage and illegal mining. The CBI had also summoned the sister of Abhishek Banerjee’s wife Rujira, Menaka Gambhir.
The investigation has been ongoing since last year as in November 2020, the CBI’s Kolkata Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) registered a case of corruption and criminal breach concerning illegal mining and pilferage of coal from the leasehold area of Eastern Coalfields Ltd (ECL) in certain parts of West Bengal.
The CBI stated that the “evidence of extensive illegal mining in the leasehold area of ECL and its transportation was found.”
The investigative agency’s FIR reads, “The team found several machineries which were used for excavating coal from illegal mining. During these inspections, a large number of vehicles and equipment used in illegal coal mining / its transportation and illegally excavated coal have been seized. Several instances of installation of illegal weigh bridges in concrete form were also detected, which confirms illegal coal mining and transportation from ECL areas in an organized manner at a very large scale.”
While Abhishek Banerjee’s wife isn’t named in the CBI’s FIR, the investigative agency is reported to have gathered some evidence that has led to the summoning of Rujira and her sister, Menaka. On further investigation, the name of Vinay Mishra – a close aide of Abhishek Banerjee too surfaced. CBI summoned Vinay Mishra four times over the coal scam but he hasn’t been arrested yet.
Recently, the CBI while seeking custodial interrogation of former Kolkata Police Commissioner and Mamata’s man Rajiv Kumar in the Saradha Chit Fund Scam, had made some startling revelations in the Supreme Court. The CBI informed the Supreme Court that the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund was used to pay the salaries of employees of Tara which was under the scanner for being part of Saradha Group of companies. It is estimated that a total of ₹6.21 crore was paid to the Tara TV Employees Welfare Association from the Relief Fund.
For 23 months, the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund was used by Mamata Banerjee-led TMC government to pay the salaries of the employees of Tara TV, informed the CBI to the Supreme Court while filing a contempt plea in the Saradha Chit Fund Scam. Between May 2013 and April 2015, the CM Relief fund at the rate of ₹27 lakh per month was regularly paid by Mamata, stated the CBI in its application.
Even former Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Kumar Ghosh was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate who is an accused in the case revealed that Mamata and Sudipta Sen, the promoter of Saradha Group shared a very good relationship. The application also stated, “It is submitted that the same establishes that the Chief Minister used to talk to Sudipta Sen using the phone of Kunal Kumar Ghosh.”
It is pertinent to note that the CBI revealed that Sen and Ghosh who belongs to the Mamata-led TMC in a span of one year, had connected over 300 times over phone calls.
Furthermore, the CBI pointed to the examination of Safiqur Rehman, an employee of the Saradha group of companies. “It is submitted that as per the said statement (by Rehman), when the Chief Minister, West Bengal contested for MLA seat, Sudipta Sen was forced to sponsor all the Pujas of Bhawanipur, Kolkata. Rehman further stated that ‘Jangalmahal’ project was flagged off by Chief Minister, West Bengal in a ceremony held at Writers Building, Kolkata,” said the CBI in its application.
With every passing day, the alleged scams which have taken place under the rule of Mamata Banerjee are fast coming out in the public domain. Post May 2 and with the expected victory of the BJP in Bengal, the aunt-nephew duo of Mamata and Abhishek Banerjee can find themselves in deep trouble if there is any truth in the purported audio tapes or the numerous alleged scams.