The State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) scam in Assam has taken a new turn with the arrest of an employee of the District Institution of Information and Training (DIET) Howly in Barpeta by the Chief Minister’s Special Vigilance Cell on June 1. The employee, Sonmoni Nath, is accused of blackmailing and extorting money from Sewali Devi Sharma, the prime suspect in the scam that involves embezzlement of Rs 105 crore from the SCERT funds.
Sewali Devi Sharma, who was arrested earlier this month, had confessed to the Vigilance Cell that she had been blackmailed by several RTI activists and journalists who had threatened to expose her involvement in the scam. She had allegedly paid them huge amounts of money to keep them quiet. The Vigilance Cell is interrogating another suspect, Manoj Das, who is also said to be an RTI activist.
The scam came to light after an audit report revealed irregularities and misappropriation of funds in the SCERT during 2017-18 and 2018-19. The SCERT is a state-level body that deals with curriculum development, teacher training and educational research. The scam involved fake bills, forged signatures, inflated expenses and ghost beneficiaries.
The Chief Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who also holds the education portfolio, has vowed to bring all the culprits to justice. He has said that there are around 12 people who have been found to be involved in the scam, most of them being RTI activists and journalists by profession. He has also revealed that there had been a direct transfer of funds from the government’s treasury to journalists’ personal bank accounts. He has hinted that one of them may have a political affiliation as well.
The scam has also rocked the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Assam as one of its leaders, Bidyut Kalita, was suspended from the party on Thursday for his alleged involvement in the scam. Kalita was reportedly one of the journalists who had received money from Sewali Devi Sharma.
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