The Enforcement Directorate (ED) faced violent resistance from the supporters of Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Sheikh Sajahan when they raided his residence in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district on Friday. The ED officers were assaulted and their vehicles were damaged by the mob, who tried to prevent them from conducting the search operation in connection with the ration distribution scam.
What is the ration distribution scam?
The ration distribution scam is an alleged multi-crore fraud involving the diversion and misappropriation of subsidized food grains meant for the poor and needy people under the public distribution system (PDS) in West Bengal. The scam is said to have taken place between 2011 and 2021, when Jyotipriyo Mallick, a senior TMC leader and a close aide of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, was the Food Supplies Minister in the state.
The ED registered a money laundering case against Mallick and others in October 2023, based on a complaint filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 2019. The CBI had alleged that Mallick and his associates had received huge kickbacks from the ration dealers and suppliers, who had siphoned off the food grains and sold them in the open market at higher prices. The CBI had also claimed that Mallick had set up several shell companies to launder the ill-gotten money.
How did the ED raid turn violent?
The ED had issued summons to Sheikh Sajahan, a TMC leader and a former chairman of the Bongaon Municipality, to appear before them on Friday in relation to the ration scam case. However, Sajahan did not comply with the summons and instead sent his lawyer to the ED office.
The ED then decided to raid Sajahan’s residence at Bongaon, where they suspected that he had hidden some incriminating documents and evidence. However, as soon as the ED team reached the spot, they were confronted by a large crowd of Sajahan’s supporters, who shouted slogans against the central agency and the BJP-led government at the Centre. The mob allegedly pelted stones, bricks, and bottles at the ED vehicles, breaking their windows and denting their bodies. They also physically assaulted the ED officers, injuring some of them. The ED team had to call for police reinforcement to disperse the crowd and carry out the raid.
What did the ED find in the raid?
According to the ED sources, the raid at Sajahan’s residence yielded some important documents and electronic devices, which could prove his involvement in the ration scam. The ED also seized some cash and jewellery from his house. The ED sources said that Sajahan was one of the key links in the scam, as he had allegedly facilitated the supply of food grains to the ration dealers and received commissions from them. The ED sources also said that Sajahan was in touch with Mallick and had shared some of the money with him.
The ED has also been probing the role of Abhijit Das, a former aide and chartered accountant of Mallick, who had set up his own travel company in 2016 and became a director of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2023. The ED suspects that Das had used his company to launder some of the money from the scam, as he had connections with many organisations in India and abroad. The ED had summoned Das and searched his house in Howrah on October 26, but he had denied any wrongdoing and claimed that he had severed ties with Mallick in 2014.
What is the reaction of the TMC and the BJP?
The TMC has condemned the ED raid and accused the BJP of using the central agencies to harass and intimidate its leaders and workers ahead of the assembly elections in the state. The TMC has also alleged that the ED and the CBI are acting on the instructions of the BJP, which is trying to topple the Mamata Banerjee government by engineering defections and creating false cases. The TMC has also questioned the timing and the motive of the raid, saying that it was a political vendetta and a diversionary tactic to divert the attention from the farmers’ protest and the economic crisis in the country.
The BJP, on the other hand, has welcomed the ED raid and said that it was a step towards exposing the corruption and the loot of the public money by the TMC leaders and ministers. The BJP has also said that the ED and the CBI are doing their job independently and professionally, and that the TMC is trying to evade the law and obstruct the investigation by resorting to violence and hooliganism. The BJP has also said that the people of West Bengal are fed up with the misrule and the mismanagement of the TMC government, and that they will vote for a change and a development-oriented government in the upcoming elections.