On Friday, an Ahmedabad Sessions Court granted relief to Vipul Chaudhary, former Home Minister of Gujarat and former chairman of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) also known as ‘Amul’, in an alleged bonus scam of Rs 14.8 crore, allowing him to file nomination for the election of Mehsana Dudhsagar dairy management committee elections which are slated for January 5 next year. The court sent Chaudhary to judicial custody on Friday after he was kept in six days police remand of Gujarat Crime Investigation Department (CID) Crime and Railways who arrested him on December 12 on charges of siphoning off Rs 14.8 crore meant as bonus for the workers of Mehsana Dudhsagar Dairy. After his arrest, former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela has come out in support saying he has been the target of a political witchhunt just weeks ahead of the elections.
Who is Vipul Chaudhary and why is he an important figure in Gujarat dairy politics?
The 55-year-old Chaudhary was home minister when Shankersinh Vaghela, his mentor in politics, was CM (1996-1997). When the Vaghela government fell, Chaudhary followed the footsteps of his mentor and joined the Congress party. In 2007, Chaudhary joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in the presence of the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi and pledged his loyalty towards the party after which he was chosen unopposed as the chairman of Amul and later chairman of Mehsana Dudhsagar Dairy.
However, the relations between Chaudhary and BJP soured in 2013 after the former was seen getting close to the UPA 2 regime. Chaudhary, as chairman of Amul, had also sent Rs 22 crore worth cattle fodder to the state of Maharashtra free of cost after which he earned the ire of ruling BJP and was ousted from the post of Amul chairman in 2014.
Considered close to the late Verghese Kurien, the father of the white revolution who had founded the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) and the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), Chaudhary is one of the board of directors at Mehsana Dudhsagar Dairy also known as Mehsana District Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd and his loyalists are currently occupying top positions in the dairy management. With elections on January 5 next year, Chaudhary is again eyeing top positions in the management.
What is the Rs 14.8-crore bonus scam at Mehsana Dudhsagar?
On December 12, a team of Gujarat CID Crime and Railways arrived at the residence of Chaudhary in Gandhinagar and arrested him for criminal breach of trust, criminal conspiracy and under sections of the prevention of corruption act. According to CID Crime officials, in October 2018, Chaudhary conspired with the current chairman of Mehsana Dudhsagar, Asha Thakor, vice chairman Moghji Patel and managing director NJ Baxi to siphon off Rs 14.8 crore meant as bonus for the 1,932 workers of the Mehsana Dudhsagar union. There are four accused, including Chaudhary, in this case and the complainant is one of the workers at the Mehsana Dudhsagar dairy.
Speaking to The Indian Express, SS Raghuvanshi, deputy superintendent of police with CID Crime and Investigating Officer in the case, said, “We arrested Chaudhary on December 12 and later also held Moghji Patel and NJ Baxi who have been sent in police remand till December 19 and December 21, respectively. The current chairman of Mehsana Dudhsagar Asha Thakor is currently absconding.” According to police, the Rs 14.8 crore bonus scam is linked to the Rs 22-crore 2013 cattle fodder controversy.
What is the cattle fodder controversy and how is it linked to the bonus scam?
In 2013, when Chaudhary was the Amul chairman, he had allegedly given Rs 22 crore worth cattle fodder to Maharashtra for free without allegedly consulting the union board at Amul. In that regard, an FIR was filed against Chaudhary at Mehsana in 2014 and he was also ousted as Amul chairman.
In 2014, the registrar of the cooperative union had claimed in its report that Chaudhary had caused them loss of Rs 22 crore by giving cattle fodder for free to Maharashtra. After that Chaudhary had approached the tribunal court challenging the report of the registrar. The court, in September 2018, asked Chaudhary to pay Rs 9 crore, or 40% of the Rs 22 crore, as advance compensation to Amul in the next one month.
According to an official in Gujarat CID Crime, “Since Chaudhary had to pay Rs 9 crore as compensation at the earliest, he conspired with the chairholders at Mehsana Dudhsagar to siphon off the money meant as bonus for the workers.”
Shankersinh Vaghela, in whose government Chaudhary was a minister, released a video statement earlier this week wherein he vouched for Chaudhary’s innocence in the fodder case. “I recall that it was (Sharad) Pawar who contacted me asking if I know any co-operative organisation in Gujarat than can provide cattle fodder to drought-prone areas in Maharashtra. I assured him that it was possible and I spoke to Vipul, who on my behest, in a very systematic manner, through official channels, sent the fodder there. There is no corruption and I am witness to this,” the former CM said.
What is at stake in the Mehsana Dudhsagar elections?
Among the major dairies of the GCMMF, Dudhsagar reported a turnover of Rs 4,700 crore in 2018-19. Severe differences emerged between the dairy union and the federation last year when the former threatened to exit the GCMMF and sell its produce independently on the charge that the federation had stalled its payments. Right since the ouster of Chaudhary from Amul, Mehsana Dudhsagar union had become the twig to keep him afloat in the Gujarat Dairy politics. In 2015, Chaudhary’s panel won 13 out of 16 seats thereby defeating BJP candidate Ashok Chaudhary even after the former was ousted from the Amul in 2014. Then, in 2018, Ashok Chaudhary was again defeated by Vipul’s panel led by Asha Thakor.
For the elections on January 5, Ashok Chaudhary is seen as the top contender against Vipul’s panel. When Vipul was arrested on December 12, his loyalists had termed it as political vendetta by the BJP to stop him from filing nominations for which the candidates have been given time till December 20.