11/7/09

Jharkhand - Story Of A Big Loot

. 11/7/09

Koda & Co made Rs 3.6 crore a day!

An unlikely threesome has spawned one of India's biggest political scams - a daily wage labourer turned-window grille-fixer-turned-Chief Minister and his two buddies, one who started off selling milk door-to-door and the other selling chewing tobacco. Following is a story of how a Rs 4,000-crore empire was built on loot from Jharkhand's ore-rich mines in just three years....

If you divide the money allegedly made by Jharkhand leader Madhu Koda (39) and his two buddies, Binod Sinha (39) and Sanjay Choudhary (41) by the number of days Koda was in office as chief minister and as minister of mines in the BJP-led Arjun Munda government, it comes to a jaw-dropping Rs 3.6 crore a day. And this isn't a figure being trotted out by Koda's rivals. This is the official estimate of probe agencies on the basis of the riches they have been able to uncover so far to draw the contours of a massive political scam.

In a land where public money is looted routinely by politicians and swindles are a dime a dozen, the Madhu Koda drama unfolding in one of India's most backward, even if mineral-rich, states should not have generated more than cursory interest. However, the sheer scale of it all has left even the most cynical gaping. Five money-counting machines found in Koda's house worked at a breathless pace to sift through bundles of currency notes with which the gang of three bought hotels in Thailand, mines in Liberia, companies in Dubai, and much else in Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia.

In all, the scam is said to be worth Rs 4,000 crore. In a stunning disclosure, a senior income-tax official told Crest that over Rs 1,450 crore was sent out to Dubai through hawala (the earlier figure was placed at Rs 500-600 crore). When asked about this, CBI director (investigations) Ujjwal Chaudhary didn't deny the amount: "It does seem to be around that figure. But a number of things have to be verified. We still have to question a number of people. Some are cooperating but others are not."

Within days of taking office as CM in September 2006, Koda renegotiated and signed mining MoUs worth Rs 1,98, 362 crore (or nearly two lakh crore rupees!) with as many as 44 firms. Soon, his associates were buying up real estate and property in Jharkhand, Delhi and abroad, transferring hundreds of crores overseas by hawala, spawning as many as 25 companies in less than two years to give a new meaning to "India Shining!" and create an empire that could match some of India's biggest business houses.

There are some who still regard Koda & Co as "poor simple boys" who went astray after learning the ropes from political wheeler-dealers of parties like the BJP, the RJD and the JMM with whom Koda had cohabited at some time or the other. The three were - so to say - boys in a candy shop, stuffing their mouths in fear of the goodies suddenly disappearing. "Koda is basically a simple rustic gone awry," says Saryu Rai, the BJP's "Chanakya" in Jharkhand, at whose feet Koda is said to have learnt the art and craft of politics.

This somewhat sympathetic view doesn't quite do justice to Koda's cunning, his extreme care while signing on files, his "inclusive" political style (like giving video cameras to all ruling party MLAs and cash "rewards" of Rs 20,000-40 ,000 to them every month), his exclusive lifestyle (wearing designer jeans, shopping in Gurgaon malls, holidaying in Thailand), or the sheer sophistication of his entire operation that involved not just his cronies, Sinha and Chaudhary , but hawala operators in Mumbai, fixers in Thailand, con men in Liberia and financiers in Dubai, and possibly political gurus from other parties.

The Koda saga has its origins in a very unlikely setting - a small village, Patahatu, tucked away in the extreme southern corner of Jharkhand where mineral riches abound, as do pervasive ignorance and extreme poverty. Koda's father, Rasik, was a labourer in Gua, attached to his one-acre land and the local brew haria. He wanted son Madhu to become a daroga (police sub-inspector), but the son had other ideas. He was interested in politics, studied in Zila School, Chaibasa, did his graduation by correspondence, joined the RSS and then the All Jharkhand Students Union, worked his way up under the kind gaze of BJP stalwart Babulal Marandi, won two elections (one even after the BJP denied him a ticket) to emerge as destiny's own political child of Jharkhand.

With the help of three other independents - Kamlesh Singh, Enos Ekka and Harinarayan Rai - he made and broke governments. In 2000, he won the Jaganathpur assembly seat and joined the Marandi government as panchayati raj minister. In 2005, he won the same seat as an independent and when the BJP fell short of a majority, he supported the Arjun Munda government for a price - the mines portfolio. There he found his real calling. Coming from the ore-rich region, Koda knew the business inside out. It's said he sometimes challenged the district mines officers on the size of reserves in each mine.

In September 2006, Koda and the three independents withdrew support from Arjun Munda to topple his government . And then before you could spell "political uncertainty", Madhu Koda had emerged as a consensus candidate to head the next government with the help of the Congress, the JMM, the RJD, the Forward Bloc and another tiny group. All this happened within days, showing that even while he was Munda's mines minister, Koda was playing footsie with all others - the trademark of his "inclusive" political style that kept tongues sealed while he allegedly made money hand over fist.

Koda's friendship with Binod Sinha and Sanjay Chaudhary also blossomed around this time. Sinha was a dudhwalla , selling milk door to door in Chaibasa. And Chaudhary sold chewing tobacco (khaini). Both, of course, grew out of their humble origins to write remarkable rags-to-riches stories by diversifying into tractors (Sinha is involved in a Rs 3 crore tractors scam too), sewing machines, cement, and goods to below-poverty-line families. In Koda's company, they swelled to become jet-setting magnates , fixing mining deals, buying and selling property, and running hotels.

In fact, so thick were the three that Ranchi buzzed with chatter about their friendship. It was said that after the last official left chief minister Koda's residence at night, Sinha and Chaudhary would drop by and stay well after midnight. The "unholy nexus" grew was raised in the assembly in 2007. Koda didn't bat an eyelid, admitting, "Yes, they are my friends." It's a friendship he doesn't disown even now. From Ranchi's Apollo hospital, where Koda has been admitted, he told Crest: "I was friends with Sinha and Chaudhary and have been to foreign countries with them, but I don't know about their investments or money laundering." The duo are now absconding.

The CBI, of course, doesn't believe him. Nor do people like Vinod Singh, the CPI(ML) MLA, who have seen Koda more closely. "His rise both in politics and in terms of financial gains has been phenomenal," he said. "And he didn't have to struggle much to amass this huge wealth after he was shown the way by his political gurus in the BJP, the JMM and the RJD."

Still, Koda's money-grubbing ways didn't raise any special outrage in Jharkhand, partly because of the generosity with which he shared the spoils, and partly because of his understated personality, which only once in a while erupted in outrageous flamboyance. Like when he went down on his knees to get back his childhood flame and wife, Gita, in 2006 after she had eloped with an engineer four months after their marriage in January 2004. Gita melted, Ranchi cheered and somewhere Koda got humanized as a loving, even if somewhat shady, young man.

Things might have carried on swimmingly well for Koda & Co but for a PIL that triggered the larger investigation now on.

Koda's father, Rasik, however, still maintains that his boy is a "simple man" like him and he will eventually emerge clean. Journalists who covered Madhu's wedding recall Rasik selling haria to the guests. When asked why he was charging money from wedding guests, he said, "Well, it's mine. This haria has made Madhu a minister. It has wonderful qualities." Recent pictures show Rasik in a short dhoti carrying twigs on his head, not quite the person who would realize that his brew alone wouldn't give son Madhu the requisite high.

It might, though, if it came wrapped in wads of notes.
Source: TOI





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