Jharkhand Mining and Industries Secretary Pooja Singhal has been in the news since last Friday, when the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raided properties linked to her and her family members in connection with a five-year-old money laundering case. The case relates to the alleged diversion of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme funds worth Rs 18.6 crore. The Hemant Soren-led state government is yet to initiate any action against Singhal over the latest ED raids.
This is not the first controversy in which Singhal’s name has cropped up. Despite this, the 2000-batch IAS officer, a millionaire according to her own immovable property returns filed with the Centre, has enjoyed top positions in successive Jharkhand governments, headed by chief ministers belonging to various political parties — be it the BJP’s Arjun Munda, Raghubar Das or the present CM, Hemant Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM).
As the ED’s investigation into the money laundering case is unfolding, a string of other glaring irregularities allegedly involving Singhal are tumbling out of the cupboard, sources in the agency told. Serving and retired IAS officers of the state, including those who worked closely with Singhal, claimed that it was her proximity with political bosses — irrespective of their party affiliation — that ensured she remained unscathed despite numerous files highlighting her alleged wrongdoings being moved around.
Political blame game
The ED raids are happening at a time when the opposition BJP has approached Governor Ramesh Bais and sought CM Soren’s disqualification for allegedly misusing his position to grant himself a mining lease, and his wife an industrial lease, in Ranchi. This allegedly happened during Singhal’s tenure as mining and industries secretary. She is also chairperson of the Jharkhand State Mineral development Corporation.
During a press conference Saturday, Jharkhand BJP president Deepak Prakash, while speaking to mediapersons, sought an inquiry into Singhal’s entire tenure till date. Meanwhile, Jharkhand Finance Minister Rameshwar Oraon told blamed successive governments in the state for failing to check corruption. “The Pooja Singhal case is an example. The Raghubar Das government gave a clean chit to her. Until corruption is checked, no government will be able to do good governance and fulfil its commitment,” Oraon said.
JMM general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya said action will be taken against the officer. “The CM can suspend her, but with the approval of the state cabinet,” he told.
Two dozen locations raided
Since Friday, the ED has raided close to two dozen locations, including properties linked to Singhal and her family members. The raids are related to a case of alleged money laundering lodged five years ago over alleged diversion of funds worth Rs 18.6 crore — allocated under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (MGNREGA) — during Singhal’s tenure as deputy commissioner of Jharkhand’s Khunti district in 2009-10.
Among the properties raided in four states including Jharkhand is the Pulse Sanjeevani Healthcare Private Hospital, where Singhal’s husband Abhishek Jha is the managing director. This hospital has been raided twice since Friday. Sources in the government told that ED teams had seized many incriminating documents containing details of properties and investments linked to Singhal and her family.
The ED teams also recovered a huge stack of cash worth Rs 19.35 crore from the house of Suman Kumar, a Ranchi-based chartered accountant, who allegedly has links to Singhal and her family. Kumar has since been arrested under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, and is being questioned by the ED about the source of the cash.
‘Momentum Jharkhand’ & Kathautia land transfer
Retired and serving bureaucrats told that Singhal had been investigated previously as well, yet she managed to earn the trust of whichever chief minister was in power at the time.
Singhal was appointed state agriculture secretary when BJP’s Raghubar Das was CM between December 2014 and December 2019. Also during Das’s tenure, Singhal was appointed Officer on Special Duty (OSD) for ‘Momentum Jharkhand’, which was launched by the CM with much fanfare in 2017 to attract investment to the state.
The JMM had claimed that the investment meet was a scam, and when Soren became CM in December 2019, he ordered a special audit. In January 2020, a complaint was filed with the Jharkhand Anti-Corruption Bureau against former CM Das, alleging embezzlement of funds through ‘Momentum Jharkhand’ events. However, a serving bureaucrat in the Jharkhand government pointed out that despite all the noise, nothing happened to Singhal, who was the OSD for ‘Momentum Jharkhand’.
“She was instead made secretary of two high profile ministries — industry and mines — by the Soren government in August 2021,” this official told on the condition of anonymity. Singhal is also credited with bringing out the state’s new industrial policy.
A retired bureaucrat narrated another allegation made against Singhal when she was the Palamu deputy commissioner (DC) in 2012-13. “It was one of the most brazen cases of wrongdoing. She transferred 83 acres of land belonging to tribals and some forest land, in complete violation of provisions of the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, 1908, to a private company for mining at Kathautia. She did not seek the permission of the state government, which is mandatory,” the IAS officer, who was posted at Palamu back then, told.
The incident led to a law and order problem, with the villagers launching massive protests, the officer further said, adding that a committee headed by N.K. Mishra, then-divisional commissioner of Palamu, was set up to probe the matter. Mishra submitted a report to the government, where he pointed out alleged irregularities committed by Singhal.
“When the report was submitted, then-chief secretary Rajbala Verma set up a one-man committee to go through the report submitted by Mishra. The committee submitted its report saying there was no wrongdoing on the part of Singhal. And she got a clean chit in the case,” the official added.
At the time, BJP’s Arjun Munda was Jharkhand CM. Officials claimed there had been many other cases of alleged irregularities by Singhal, but whenever an inquiry report was submitted or a file moved, it was allegedly brushed under the carpet. “There was never any action taken. She was always confident of getting a clean chit,” a serving official said.
‘Super ambitious, always knew what she wanted’
Singhal, 44, was born in Uttar Pradesh. She did her MBA from Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University in Uttarakhand. “She was a topper in all her classes. She cleared the civil services in her first attempt. In fact, she is one of the youngest to get through IAS at the age of 21 years,” a family friend of Singhal, who did not wish to be named, told.
A retired IAS officer under whom Singhal worked early on in her career remembered her as being extremely focussed. “She told me after her father passed away that she would get her mother remarried. And she got her mother remarried. I was very surprised by her clarity at such a young age,” he said.
The retired officer further said that Singhal was extremely ambitious from the start. “She knew whom to approach…her PR was very strong. She had developed good contacts with MLAs from across parties. But it was when she got posted in the districts that she came into her own,” he added. Singhal married Rahul Purwar, a 1999-batch Jharkhand cadre IAS officer, and the couple had two daughters. However, the marriage was short-lived. She later married Abhishek Jha, whose father worked at the Child Development Project Office, and was a district level officer in the state.
Jha had just returned from Australia after completing his studies. Soon after their wedding, he bought land in the heart of Ranchi and constructed the multispeciality Pulse Sanjeevani Healthcare Private Hospital, which is now on the ED’s radar. ( Source: The Print)