Why Mamata Banerjee’s Dismissal Of Vaccine Scam By Fake IAS Officer As ‘Isolated Incident’ Raises Suspicions

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Jul 1, 2021 10:37 AM
Why Mamata Banerjee’s Dismissal Of Vaccine Scam By Fake IAS Officer As ‘Isolated Incident’ Raises SuspicionsDeb speaking at an event. (Twitter)
Snapshot
  • This sort of obfuscation by the Chief Minister and attempts by other Trinamool leaders to explain away the entire scam as a one-man operation raises suspicion that it is far from an ‘isolated incident’.

For seven long years, 28-year-old Debanjan Deb hobnobbed with ministers, bureaucrats and police officers, among many others, posing as an IAS officer.

Not one of them, including Kolkata’s former mayor and senior Trinamool minister Firhad Hakim, suspected his bona fides even though he introduced himself as the joint commissioner of Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) that Hakim headed.

He attended government events and even organised a few himself where he invited senior IAS and IPS officers. He handed out lucrative contracts to people, issued appointment letters on forged letterheads of government functionaries and took money (bribes and kickbacks) from government contractors and suppliers.

Deb, who had even lied to his parents about his clearing the civil services exams in 2014 and becoming an IAS officer (of the 2015 batch), had his comeuppance last week when an alert actor-turned-politician reported him to the police after she was administered a fake Covid vaccine shot at a vaccination camp organised by Deb.

Deb had been organising vaccination camps and invited Trinamool Lok Sabha MP Mimi Chakraborty to one such camp last week at Kasba in south Kolkata. Chakraborty, a leading Bengali actor, took her first dose of a Covid vaccine at the camp, but grew suspicious when she did not receive an SMS confirming her vaccination status.

She reported the matter to the police, who launched a quick investigation and arrested Deb. The arrest led to the opening of a pandora’s box —recovery of fake letterheads of top government functionaries along with their fake seals and forged signatures and his association with various powerful people.

Deb had opened accounts in banks in the names of various entities, including the KMC and other government bodies. He carried out transactions amounting to at least Rs 2 crore through these accounts over the past one year.

The fake bureaucrat also led raids on businesses, and a prominent Bengali daily carried photos of Deb ‘unearthing’ a racket involving theft of petrol and diesel from KMC vehicles. The police even arrested the racketeers based on a complaint filed by ‘KMC joint commissioner’ Debanjan Deb!

Deb, a rotund, nondescript young man who dressed like a typical bureaucrat — full-sleeved shirt and formal trousers often paired with a jacket — used to move around in a beacon-fitted SUV and was always accompanied by a safari suit-clad man who posed as his security officer.

Deb also employed about 18 people in an office with a sign board that said ‘Kolkata Urban Planning’ and used to pay them up to Rs 35,000 a month. They were given fake appointment letters on KMC letterheads.

The Kolkata Police, which has set up a special team to investigate Deb and unearth the various scams he was running, suspect that many government employees were hand-in-glove with Deb. The police have started questioning some KMC officers and staff.

Deb nearly got busted last year when some people he had taken money from in return for government jobs reported him to the Electronics Complex Police Station at Bidhannagar (adjoining Kolkata). The Bidhannagar Police questioned Deb, but mysteriously let him off since the duped youngster had only lodged a verbal complaint.

Deb, a zoology graduate, took admission to a masters course in genetics at Calcutta University, but never completed the course. He appeared unsuccessfully for the civil services preliminary examination in 2014 conducted by the UPSC.

He told his parents — his father Manoranjan retired as a deputy director of the excise department — as well as his relatives and friends that he had cleared the prelims and then the mains and the interview in 2015 to become an IAS officer. He kept up the charade for the next seven years till he was busted last week.

But what has surprised many is that Deb hobnobbed with senior IAS and IPS officers, and none of them ever suspected him.

“It is normal for any IAS or IPS officer to start talking about service matters with a fellow-all India service officer they meet for the first time and enquire about his batchmates etc. Debanjan would never have been able to answer them satisfactorily and that should have raised red flags,” said a former IPS officer who retired as an ADG of Bengal Police.

For any IAS or IPS officer, he said, it is quite easy to detect a person faking his all-India service affiliation. “It is very surprising that even senior IPS officers could not see through this young man when they attended events with him. Even a casual conversation with Deb would have exposed him as a fraud,” said the former ADG.

What is also very surprising is that even though Deb posed as the KMC joint commissioner, the former mayor of Kolkata (Firhad Hakim) fell for it.

There is no way that Hakim, having been the mayor, would not have personally known senior officers of the KMC that he presided over.

The fact that Deb was questioned but let off by the Bidhannagar Police smells suspicious. The police received a serious complaint from people that Deb had duped.

“The Bidhannagar Police should have carried out a thorough probe, and that would have exposed the scams that Deb was involved in. It is astonishing that instead of investigating him, the police let him off,” said the former IPS officer.

Other former and serving police officers who did not want their identities disclosed said that Deb could have been let off in the face of such a serious allegation only if the Bidhannagar Police received instructions from a top officer or politician.

Hence, they say, the team probing Deb should also investigate why the Bidhannagar Police let him off. Till now, the state police have busted many fake job rackets and arrested many like Deb who had duped people promising them government jobs. Why Deb was only questioned and then let off is a mystery that needs to be investigated.

Deb’s flashy lifestyle, especially his use of a beacon-fitted SUV and his visiting cards that declared him to be an IAS officer holding the post of KMC joint commissioner should also have raised red flags.

“It is impossible to fool everyone, including the police, for such a long time. His parents discovered last year (after he was questioned by Bidhannagar Police) that he was faking the ‘IAS officer’ status and they even told the police about it. But the police did nothing. Why? Who was protecting Debanjan Deb and why? How come senior IPS officers fell for his claim that he was an IAS officer? How did Trinamool politicians attend events with him?” asked state Bharatiya Janata Party chief Dilip Ghosh.

That Deb conducted fake Covid vaccination camps and no one raised any doubts even after not receiving the mandatory vaccine registration SMS from the CoWIN platform is in itself very suspicious.

“This young man (Deb) was bold enough to invite senior IPS officers and ruling party politicians, including a senior minister, to events. He must have gained the confidence to be so bold gradually and due to the patronage of some powerful people,” said a serving IPS officer.

Another very suspicious thing about this scam is that Deb operated openly and with impunity from Kasba and even held vaccination camps there. Kasba is a Trinamool bastion and it is well-known that nothing can happen there without the express sanction of local Trinamool leaders, especially local MLA Javed Ahmed Khan.

Khan, who is close to Mamata Banerjee and has the reputation of a ‘strongman’ and exercises a vice-like grip over his turf (Kasba). Debanjan Deb is a resident of Madurdaha in Kasba and ran his racket from Kasba itself.

“It is quite impossible that Khan could not have been aware of the presence of an ‘IAS officer’ right under his nose and in an area he exercises such control over. Deb has been operating rackets from Kasba for seven years and must have come to the notice of the Trinamool leaders, including Khan. Why they did not question him and report him to the police, or what links the local Trinamool leadership had with Deb needs to be investigated,” said a senior BJP leader who has close links with Kasba.

That is why few are willing to buy Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s dismissal of the many frauds perpetrated by Deb as ‘isolated incidents’. More so since Banerjee at a press meet on Wednesday (30 June) tried to give it a political colour and hinted that it could be a ‘BJP conspiracy’ to defame Bengal.

This sort of obfuscation by the Chief Minister and attempts by other Trinamool leaders to explain away the entire scam as a one-man operation raises suspicion that it is far from an ‘isolated incident’.

That is also why, says leader of opposition Suvendu Adhikari, the scam needs to be probed thoroughly. And the Bengal Police can hardly be expected to conduct a fair probe. Hence, says Adhikari, an investigation by a central agency is in order.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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