Explainer: What is the Telangana sheep distribution ‘scam’? Why are BRS leaders on the radar?

CAG had said it found that those involved in the scam had stated in records that they had taken 126 sheep in a single trip on a two wheeler.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Jun 17, 2024 | 11:00 AM Updated Jun 17, 2024 | 11:07 AM

A shepherd in Bhongir in conversation with South First on the sheet distribution scheme.

Enforcement Directorate’s recent letter to the Telangana government asking for details of the sheep distribution scheme, in which an alleged scam took place, has sent shock waves across the department and its former political bosses.

The sword of Damocles has been hanging on the biggies in the erstwhile BRS government ever since the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) began its probe into the scam estimated to be to the tune of whopping 700 crore.

The ACB began its inquiry six months ago after the change of the government in the state. At that time, the ACB was under the impression that the size of the scam was only about 2.1 crore. However, as the investigation continued, the ACB sleuths reportedly found that it had wider ramifications.

Meanwhile the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) indicted the state government on the scam in its report in February, 2024. It had put the size of the scam at 253 crore in seven districts. The CAG had pointed out several interesting and farcical dimensions of the scam.

Absurd dimensions of the scam

CAG said that while auditing the documents, it found that in Khammam, one ambulance was used to ferry 84 sheep in a single trip.

Those involved in the scam had stated in the government records that they had taken 126 sheep in a single trip on a two wheeler. Then came another farcical revelation – in Mahbubnagar district, 168 sheep were allegedly transported in a cab in single trip. In Nalgonda, an auto was used to take 126 sheep.

The CAG in its report said that the size of the scam could be 253 crore in seven districts in the state, leaving scope that the size of the scam might further increase, which eventually happened as the ACB officials now suspect that it could be more than 700 crore.

The CAG said that the 253 crore fraud included payments made on manipulated transport invoices for transportation of sheep and fake invoices for vehicles for transporting the sheep and invoices about vehicles which transported sheep more than their capacity.

Apart from the ACB inquiry that is already on, the ED has written to the Managing Director of Telangana State Sheep and Goat Development Cooperative Federation Ltd (TSSGDCFL), seeking information on the Sheep Rearing Development Scheme (SRDC) in Telangana.

The ED said that it required the information as, under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, it was probing alleged fraud in the scheme’s implementation. The agency said it was seeking information from the federation as it was the implementing agency of the scheme and sought all information since the scheme was implemented till date.

Enforcement Directorate’s deputy director Magimai Arockaraj A, in his letter to the federation on 11 June, said that he wanted the details of the beneficiaries of the scheme – name of the person, address, contact numbers, bank account numbers and names of the bank branches.

The ED deputy director also sought details of the sellers from whom the sheep were purchased, the bank accounts from which the funds were disbursed by the federation to the district authorities and further to the bank accounts of beneficiaries.

The ED sought information about the funds received from the beneficiaries as their contribution to the scheme along with details of the bank accounts in which said funds were received, and the transport agencies selected to move sheep to respective beneficiaries. The central investigation agency also wanted the details of the payments made to the transport agencies along with details of vehicles used by the said transport agencies for the transport of sheep in respective districts.

It also wanted details of the sheep feed procured and its subsequent supply to the beneficiaries, the details of the payments made for the procurement of the sheep feed along with a list of vendors and their bank account numbers, and names of bank branches and a copy of the internal report prepared in respect to the alleged fraud committed in the implementation of the scheme.

Related: After ACB, ED to probe sheep distribution scam in Telangana: Tough days ahead for BRS leaders

What has transpired so far?

Already, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) sleuths have arrested the Telangana Live Stock Development Agency Chief Executive Officer Sabavath Ramchandar and G Kalyan who was the officer on special duty for former Animal Husbandry Minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav.

Earlier, Ramachander was the Managing Director of the Telangana State Sheep and Goat Development Cooperative Federation. Though the ACB had already arrested six persons in the case, what came as a surprise to the officials is the size of the scam in the distribution of sheep to the beneficiaries. The ACB has so far listed 10 persons as accused in the case, with eight persons behind bars so far.

In an official release, the ACB had said that Livestock Agency CEO Ramachander and OSD to former Animal Husbandry Minister G Kalyan violated all the instructions issued for the procurement of sheep and deliberately involved private persons and brokers in the procurement process.

With a malafide intention, both had reportedly given instructions to all district joint directors and other officials of Animal Husbandry department to facilitate misappropriation of government money by private persons. The two officials and private persons illegally obtained undue advantage and caused wrongful loss to the government exchequer by performing their official duties “improperly and dishonestly” to obtain undue advantag, causing huge revenue loss to the government.

The ACB, after arresting the two officers, produced them before the First Additional Special Judge for ACB cases in Hyderabad. They were sent to judicial remand for 14 days. The ACB initially began investigating the case after receiving a complaint about six months ago soon after the advent of the Congress government that there was a misappropriation of ₹2.1 crore.

Also Read: ‘Irrelevant, biased’: How BRS chief KCR described Commission probing irregularities in power sector

The modus operandi

After the BRS came to power in 2015, it launched the sheep distribution scheme and under first phase, it had said it provided sheep to 4.5 lakh beneficiaries. The budget allocation for both the phases was 6,000 crore. The second phase of the scheme was suspended a few days after it was started due to paucity of funds.

According to the officials, one middle-man – Mohiuddin, who made friends with officials in the Animal Husbandry department – allegedly operated the scheme.

The rules lay down that the officials and the beneficiaries should go together to the seller and make the purchase. After purchasing the sheep, the officials should credit the money into the accounts of the sellers. In this case, what happened was that the middleman was shown as the one who had supplied the sheep to the beneficiaries. Then 2.1 crore was credited into the bank accounts of the middleman, his son’s and several other Benami accounts.

Those whose supplied the sheep to the contractor for selling them to the beneficiaries began asking for money but he kept saying that the money was not yet received from the government.

The ACB officials had come to the conclusion that Mohiuddin could not have pulled off the operation without the involvement of the four senior officials of the department. The officials received pay offs from the contractor for including his, his son’s and several benami Bank account numbers in the data sheet as those belong to the sellers of the sheep.

(Edited by Neena)

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