While you queued up, they stacked up

  • Zero to Rs 5.7 crore in new notes in 21 days – it would have taken you 11 years

K.M. Rakesh

A part of the cash found in Bangalore. (PTI)

Bangalore, Dec. 2: Ease of doing business may just have found the perfect mascots: four Bangaloreans who apparently accomplished in 21 days something that takes a law-abiding Indian more than 11 years to achieve under the demonetisation regime.

A day after spreading out Rs 4.7 crore in new notes on a mattress after a search and seizure operation in Bangalore, the income tax department updated the figure: “Out of the cash found, Rs 5.7 crore is in new currency of Rs 2,000 notes.”

Without naming anyone, the department said the cash was found after a search on November 30 on the premises of two state government engineers and two contractors.

The Rs 2,000 note was officially launched only on November 10, two days after the demonetisation was announced. Since then, no Indian can withdraw in a week more than Rs 24,000 in hard cash from any bank.

If the four honest Indians stand in queues and withdraw Rs 24,000 a week and pool their money, it will take them at least 594 weeks or 11 years and five months to reach the “found” amount of Rs 5.7 crore in the new currency.

Of course, the Union government has been considerate enough to grant some relief to wedding-bound families, allowing withdrawals up to Rs 2.5 lakh. In the event of all four celebrating a wedding each in their family, they would have been able to shave only a little over two months from the 11-plus-year waiting period.

In case the four have current accounts, which allow withdrawals up to Rs 50,000 a week, it will still take them at least 285 weeks or more than five years to amass Rs 5.7 crore in the new notes.

Yet, in 21 days flat, Rs 5.7 crore in the new currency was allegedly found on premises associated with them elsewhere in Karnataka.

Some income tax officials are known to leak information off the record, leaving the door ajar for future disclaimers. But the department rarely issues a formal statement with specific figures unless they are sure of the information.

Minus the identity of those searched, the statement today was brimming with figures: “In these searches, cash in excess of Rs 6 crore, bullion of 7kg approximately and jewellery about 9kg were found from the residences (gold and jewellery is valued at approximately Rs 5 crore)…. About Rs 90 lakh has been found in the old demonetised currency.”

The tax department’s statement concluded with a nugget and an eye-popping piece of statistic: “It was also noticed that these persons are in possession of high-end luxury cars. Total admission of unaccounted income in the group stands at Rs 152 crore.”

Sources later identified the cars as a Porsche and a Lamborghini.

Two superbikes, an MV Augusta and a Ducati 749, are also on the seizure list, they added. The combined value of the two cars would be nearly Rs 5 crore and that of the two superbikes at least Rs 22 lakh.

New notes with a value of Rs 5.7 crore – which will mean 28,500 notes of Rs 2,000 – could not have reached the four people without the help of some bank officials. The sources said the money trail pointed to four banks in Erode in neighbouring Tamil Nadu and the banks’ managers have been summoned for questioning.

Which brings up the Rs 5.7-crore question: who on earth are the four gents who have done what many Indians could not even if they have a higher amount in the bank?

One clue came when the Karnataka government suspended two senior officials, S.C. Jayachandra and T.N. Chikkarayappa.

Jayachandra is the chief project officer of the Karnataka State Highway Development Project while Chikkarayappa is the managing director of the Cauvery Neeravari Nigam, a state-run organisation for Cauvery water management.

Tax officials passed on the names to the state government. Both are now said to be in the custody of the tax department.

Today, tax officials named a civil contractor, Ramalingam, and a tube well contractor, Sibi Chakravarthy. Sources said the four – the engineers and the contractors – worked as a team. “They have been working together for quite some time,” said a source.

Jayachandra, 51, had earlier been accused of corruption. Government sources said Jayachandra was the chief engineer of the Karnataka Public Works Department when he was booked in 2008. The Lokayukta had filed a chargesheet in 2012, but the state government is yet to sanction his prosecution.

“We have so far sent four reminders seeking the mandatory prosecution sanction order since prosecuting any government official requires the government’s clearance,” a source said.

The first letter seeking the sanction had been sent in 2012, when the BJP was in power. The last reminder to the government – now headed by the Congress – was sent on October 29 this year. “We are still waiting for a response,” the source added.

The Lokayukta had charged Jayachandra with amassing wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income.

When the tax officials reached Jayachandra’s house in RMV Extension, north Bangalore, his son Trijesh had refused to open the door. He budged only after the search team brought a carpenter to force open the door, tax officials said. Trijesh could not be contacted for comment.

Sources said Chikkarayappa, who comes from the same shepherd community (Kuruba) as chief minister Siddaramaiah, worked in the BBMP – the city corporation – as the chief engineer in 2012.

That was the year the BBMP was rocked by a controversial practice that came to be called “midnight tenders”.

A group of officials are said to have allotted roadwork tenders to favoured contractors by opening the bids late in the night when other staff wouldn’t be present.

Chikkarayappa was later posted in the Bangalore Development Authority – the agency responsible for the city’s development – as an engineering member.

Around two years ago, under the Congress government, Chikkarayappa was appointed principal secretary to the public works department. “He was the first non-IAS official to hold that position,” said S. Harish, former deputy mayor and a BJP councillor.

In September last year, Chikkarayappa took over as the head of the Cauvery Neeravari Nigam.

Chief minister Siddaramaiah brushed aside allegations that the two officials were close to him.

“Officials are just officials. If they have illegally made money, the income tax department will take action against them. Nobody will tolerate the corrupt,” the chief minister said.