Amidst the high-pitched accusations of lack of development funds for hill areas of Manipur and demands for more autonomy and power to the Autonomous District Councils (ADC) and Hill Areas Committee through the proposed ADC Bill 2021 by various hill-based organisations and members of the Hill Areas Committee of Manipur Legislative Assembly, prima facie evidence of misappropriation of development funds of more than Rupees 18 Crore by ADC officials has been found out by Manipur Lokayukta.
The Lokayukta is the Indian Parliamentary Ombudsman, executed into power, through and for, each of the State Governments of India to inquire into allegations of corruption against its public functionaries and for matters connected to corruption.
Since the Manipur Lokayukta headed by Retired Justice Tayenjam Nandakumar has found the prima facie evidence of Tamenglong District ADC funds misappropriation, Manipur Lokayukta on February 2 has directed Manipur Police to file an FIR in the ADC fund misappropriation case of Tamenglong district.
Further, Manipur Lokayukta has now utilised the service of Superintendent of Police of Kamjong District Ravi Choudhari, IPS to probe into the misappropriation of funds allegedly by at least 21 Tamenglong Autonomous District Council (ADC) officials, members and engineers.
Manipur Lokayukta has directed to complete the probe within six months from the date of the registration of the case.
In the case taken up by Manipur Lokayukta, it was alleged that the Autonomous District Council Tamenglong District had spent a sum of Rupees 18,02,30,072 for developmental works.
However, on inspection of the spots location where the works were supposedly executed, the complainants found that most of the works have not been finished and on the contrary the expenditure meant for the developmental works were reportedly released by the then CEO, ADC of Tamenglong District, Dinganglung Gangmei popularly known as Dipu Gangmei, IAS to the executing agency allegedly without verifying the correctness of the works.
Further, it has also been alleged that those involved were in connivance with the executing agency and other officials of the ADC of Tamenglong District. They had shown undue favour to the implementing agency in awarding the developmental works despite many defaults/errors in the process of awarding the same, the Manipur Lokayukta stated.
The funds released were meant to be used for Development of inter village roads; Construction of water tanks/reservoirs; Construction of public toilets; Construction of waiting sheds; Construction of pucca drainages/water storm drainages; Improvement of playgrounds; Construction of community halls and village authority offices; Extension/improvement of primary schools; and Setting up of solar street lightings etc.
It may be mentioned that Manipur Lokayukta in one of its earlier orders had stated that a preliminary inquiry report has found out that there were irregularities and offences allegedly committed by many individuals and officials. The report said that prima facie, “evidence is established of criminal conspiracy and misappropriation of sanctioned amount awarded under 14ᵗʰ FC 2017-18 by these public officials.”
After naming all those entangled into the case, Manipur Lokayukta stated that due to the “irregular actions” of the public servants, unauthorised liability is accounted for and the officials and individuals have been charged under section 5, Manipur Public Servants’ Personal Liability Act, 2006.
The Superintendent of Police Kamjong District Ravi Choudhari has been directed to investigate the case by exercising power conferred under the Manipur Lokayukta Act 2014, taking the preliminary inquiry report as the basis of registering the case at Crime Branch Police Station.
Interestingly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has nominated Dipu Gangmei as its candidate for Nungba Assembly Constituency.
Meanwhile, reacting to the direction given to an IPS officer by Manipur Lokayukta to probe into a case of developmental funds misappropriation allegedly involving Tamenglong ADC officials and members, including BJP candidate Dinganglung Gangmei, Yumkham Erabot said, “Issuing of warrant against the BJP candidate of Nungba Assembly Constituency Dinganglung Gangmei is a clear cut proof that BJP is a ‘corrupted party,”.
Yumkham Erabot contested the 2017 Manipur Legislative Assembly election from the BJP ticket; however, he lost to former Congress MLA Okram Henry. Following a judgment passed by the High Court of Manipur on April 15, 2021, Yumkham Erabot became BJP MLA of Wangkhei Assemby Constituency declaring Henry’s election as null and void.
Erabot being a BJP MLA was aspiring for the BJP ticket in the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly election scheduled to be held on February 27 and March 3, but he was denied BJP ticket and Okram Henry who joined the party in 2021 has been nominated as BJP candidate for Wangkhei Assembly Constituency.
Reports said Manipur Lokayukta has been investigating alleged misappropriation of developmental funds of the Autonomous District Councils in almost all the districts in hill areas of Manipur for quite some time and the case of Tamenglong ADC is the first to be acted upon by Lokayukta.
Notably, the case of misappropriation of developmental funds by ADCs in hill areas of Manipur first came out when the Right to Information (RTI) activists sought information in respect of development works in Senapati District.
However, unfortunately the RTI activists have been repeatedly threatened and intimidated by some cadres of the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland popularly known as NSCN (IM) Shepoumaramath Region.
On the other hand, various hill-based organisations including tribal student bodies and members of the Hill Areas Committee of Manipur Legislative Assembly alleged that the State Government allotted more developmental funds in Imphal Valley.
Consequently, the State Government constituted a Committee on the 25th August 2021 to examine the funds released to the districts of the State for the last 10 years, starting from Finance Year 2011-2012.
Manipur Government has brought out a White Paper on Budgetary Development Fund for the Hill Districts on October 28, 2021. And Manipur Hill Areas got 45.75 percent development funds in the financial year 2020-21 while the population percentage is 42.83.
Significantly, reports said that investigations in the developmental funds misappropriation in the Autonomous District Councils in the hill areas particularly Senapati District, Ukhrul District and Chandel District are already in an advanced stage and action may be taken anytime soon.
If Manipur Lokayukta can reveal more cases of misappropriation of developmental funds in hill districts with prima facie evidences and proper actions are taken up, the hill-based organisations and the tribal political leaders cannot easily mislead the general population in hill areas of Manipur on developmental funds. And Manipur Lokayukta may help check misappropriation of developmental funds in hill areas.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics