Jharkhand Mining Secretary Pooja Singhal has been apprehended by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday in connection with a money laundering case involving the alleged diversion of MGNREGA funds to the tune of Rs 18.06 crore during her tenure as deputy commissioner in Khunti in 2009-2010.
According to officials, the funds had been earmarked for the execution of government projects under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) in Khunti district.
Singhal was produced before a special court, which sent her to ED custody for five days.
The probe is linked to 16 FIRs registered against a former government junior engineer in 2010-2011. The action comes at a time when Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren is under the scanner for allegedly allotting a mining lease in his favour and a plot of land to his wife. Last week, Soren’s brother and Dumka MLA Basant Soren was issued a notice by the Election Commission on the mining lease issue. The EC had earlier sent a notice to the CM, seeking his stand on the charges.
Following Singhal’s arrest, the CM said the state government would initiate “legal action”.
On speculation that the ED action may be linked to allegations that he had misused his post to get the mining lease, he said: “Chor machaye shor. Ab to BJP ko yeh bolna chahiye ki 20 saalon tak jo unki sarkar rahi, uski poori jaanch honi chahiye (Now the BJP should say that there should be a full investigation into their 20 years of rule in the state).” He pointed out that the alleged irregularities had occurred during the BJP’s tenure, and Singhal had been given a clean chit then.
The ED had last week arrested Suman Kumar, a chartered accountant (CA), who was allegedly linked to Singhal. The arrest came a day after it conducted raids at 18 locations across four states on May 6, including premises linked to the IAS officer. Over Rs 19 crore in cash was reported to have been recovered from the CA’s premises.
Raids were also conducted at premises linked to Singhal’s husband, Abhishek Jha, including his hospital. Jha is the managing director of Pulse Sanjeevani Healthcare Private Hospital, which runs Pulse hospital in Ranchi and Pulse diagnostics centre.
Singhal was questioned on Tuesday and Wednesday, before she was arrested in the afternoon.
Singhal was the deputy commissioner of Khunti, in 2009-2010. ED sources said there were many charges of irregularities against her during 2007-2013. “The (bank) accounts of Pooja Singhal and Abhishek Jha have huge cash deposits to the tune of Rs 1.43 crore during the period. The cash deposited in different financial years were over and above the salary,” the ED had told the court earlier.
The ED had said that it was also pursuing alleged MGNREGA irregularities in Chatra district and illegal allotment of Khatulia mines in Palamu district. Singhal was deputy commissioner of both these districts.
A 2000-batch Jharkhand-cadre IAS officer, Singhal has held several top positions, from agriculture secretary in the previous BJP government to tourism and industries secretary in the current JMM-led government.