A day after a team of around 150 vigilance officials started the raid on residential and other premises of 1987 batch Indian Forest Service officer Abhay Kant Pathak, senior officials said they were stunned by his unaccounted riches. Since Wednesday, the department officials have been raiding and accounting Pathak’s unaccounted wealth at several locations like Bhubaneswar, Pune, Mumbai, Khagaria and Udaipur.
It is alleged that Pathak took least 20 trips around the country with his family through chartered flights during lockdown at the cost of Rs 3 crore. A flat and farmhouse in Pune was also allegedly taken on a monthly rent of Rs 5 lakh for his son while he owned many expensive cars. A senior vigilance official described Pathak as the “biggest catch ever”.
“He would be the biggest ever catch in the history of vigilance department. Though we are yet to arrive at a final figure, the amount would cross Rs 20 crore,” said a senior vigilance official who is part of the raid.
According to officials, Pathak and family have been detained and are being interrogated. His lawyers or his family members could not be contacted despite several attempts.
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Pathak, who is working as additional PCCF of afforestation and planning in the state forest department since June 2018 was reportedly in charge of a huge budget for afforestation that included money from CAMPA fund, NREGS as well as plantation under state schemes. In 2019, Centre had released Rs 5,933 crore of CAMPA fund to Odisha, the highest among all states. However, the money seems to be either left unused or siphoned away, alleged environmental activists.
Giving details of his trips by chartered flights, officials said Pathak visited Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Patna with his family using the services of a city-based company named Kalinga Aero and Allied Services Pvt Ltd. He had last flown in a chartered flight on September 13 with his wife, son and other family members to Pune. After the September 13 visit, Pathak came under the radar of financial intelligence unit of a central agency.
Officials wondered how the IFS officer with a monthly salary of Rs 2.7 lakh could afford a lavish 8,000 square feet apartment in Bhubaneswar allegedly laid with Italian marbles and an ivory-encrusted bed worth Rs 50 lakh as well as deer horns. During the raid, Rs 50 lakh cash was recovered from his dentist nephew and Rs 20 lakh from his driver. The vigilance sleuths also seized over half kilograms of gold and Rs 10 lakh cash from his house.
Vigilance officials said cash deposits worth around Rs 9.4 crores were found to be made in the bank accounts of Pathak’s son of which about Rs 8.4 crores alone was in banks located in Bhubaneswar. The huge money deposits were mostly made through ATMs at Saheed Nagar and Nayapalli in Bhubaneswar. Expensive vehicles like Mercedes, BMW and Tata Harrier and three Yamaha FZS motorcycles were found registered in the name of his son, who also hired expensive vehicles like Mercedes on rent in Pune. In Pune, Pathak’s son had hired two Mercedes cars for Rs 25 lakh.
Besides costly household articles and gold, ornaments weighing around 800 grams were also recovered.
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More than Rs 1 crore was paid towards house rent of the luxury flats and the farmhouse at Pune. Hotel bills of more than 90 lakhs at Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, and a booking amount of Rs 20 lakhs at Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur in Rajasthan were also found during the search.
During the raid, the vigilance officials found about Pathak’s son’s impending marriage with the daughter of a senior BJD politician in a palace hotel of Udaipur next month. Since last week, the family was hosting numerous pre-wedding receptions in top-end hotels of Bhubaneswar.
Meanwhile, officials found that in May this year, Pathak’s son was accused of misrepresenting himself as the managing director of Tata Motors Passenger Car division and duped people after assuring of getting them jobs at the company. In the complaint (a copy of which has been accessed by HT) to Odisha CID, the deputy general manager(ethics) of Tata Motors accused Akash of forgery, misrepresentation and cheating as he had printed his visiting card with Tata Motors logo. The company cited Akash’s Facebook and Linkedin profiles, wherein he showed him to be working for Tata Administrative Service, as evidence of his forgery.
In its FIR, the company said that there is no person in the name of Akash Kumar Pathak who worked as the MD for Tata Motor Pune Passenger Division or CEO designate. It also cited web articles to show how Pathak donated Rs 5 lakh to chief minister’s relief fund posing as managing director (in-charge) of Tata Motors.
In the last 3 years, there have been at least 3 cases of forest officials getting caught over disproportionate assets. In 2016, divisional forest officer of Athagarh, Sudhansu Mishra was arrested for disproportionate assets worth Rs 5.5 crore worth including cash amounting to Rs 93 lakh.
In February 2017, income tax officials had raided houses and office of deputy conservator of forests Sarat Chandra Panda after it was found that he had deposited large amount in bank accounts of his family members during demonetization. The Enforcement Directorate also lodged a case against Panda.
In June 2018, vigilance officials had arrested Divisional Forest Officer Ghumusar (South), BK Acharya for allegedly amassing unaccounted assets, investments, cash and gold worth more than Rs 3.51 crore. Cash worth Rs 16.8 lakh and gold weighing over 1 kilograms were seized from his lockers.
Noted environmental activist Biswajit Mohanty alleged that he had lodged several complaints to the state forest department secretary and suggested a list of measures to prevent corruption by officials.
“Corruption is often linked with long tenures of officers/staff beyond the normal posting period of 3 years. Very often people in lucrative posts pay heavy bribes or get political influence to ensure that they are not transferred after the normal tenure of 3 years. This is one of the chief breeding grounds for corruption. It also leads to the breakdown of discipline as the Range Officers do not obey orders of the DFO due to political links. There is a dire need for utmost transparency in operations of the forest department so that corruption can be curbed with the help of citizens. I have been demanding increased disclosures to be made in the website of the PCCF, Odisha for transparency. Sadly no steps have been taken so far,” said Mohanty.