Money laundering case registered against Wipro in Assam court
By Nava Thakuria
Guwahati: A case against Wipro Limited, IAS officer and a former State Coordinator for National Register of Citizens (NRC) Prateek Hajela, and Integrated System and Services (ISS, represented by proprietor Utpal Hazarika) has been registered in an Assam court for their suspected roles in money laundering to the tune of Rs 155 crores in the NRC Assam updation process (May 2014 to October 2019).
Assam’s well-known businessman, filmmaker and social media user Luit Kumar Barman lodged the complaint in this regard in the court of Kamrup (metro) chief judicial magistrate on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.
Barman, who introduced himself as a concerned and vigilant Indian national against corruption, cited the recently released report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on social, economic and general sectors for the year ended March 31, 2020, where the issue of corruption involving a large amount of public money was mentioned. The highest national audit body also recommended penal actions against Hajela (who was recently released by the Madhya Pradesh government after his three-year deputation term got over) and Wipro (an acclaimed IT company of international repute).
Barman in his complaint (Kamguwcjm, registration no CR/155/2023, date 12 April 2023, Luit Vs Prateek) introduced three individuals as witnesses namely the complainant Barman himself, Hitesh Devsarma, IAS-retired (who was the immediate successor of Hajela as NRC State coordinator) and Aabhijeet Sarma (president of Assam Public Works, the original petitioner in the Supreme Court of India for NRC updation in Assam). Both Devsarma and Sarma had lodged five FIRs against Hajela in the last one year alleging financial mismanagement and money laundering as well as the intentional inclusion of illegal migrant’s names in NRC.
The complainant narrated that the process of NRC updation in Assam was done under the supervision of the Supreme Court and since the initial stage, Hajela was appointed (and served) as the State Coordinator. A large number of contractual data entry operators (DEOs) and specialized software developers were also involved in the tedious process where the DEOs were denied the minimum salary as per the country’s Minimum Wages Act.
“Hajela, without any due process of transparent tendering, delivered the task of supplying DEOs and software development to Wipro (the system integrator). The system integrator illegally engaged one sub-contractor (ISS, owned and managed by Hazarika) and paid the DEOs only Rs 5,500 to 9,100 per month (per person) during 2015-2019, whereas it was sanctioned Rs 14,500 to 17,500 every month for one DEO by the NRC authority (read Government of India),” said Barman.
He opined that an undue benefit to the tune of Rs 155.83 crore to the system integrator ignited the suspicion that kickbacks and money laundering must have occurred in the process. After going through the CAG report, Barman lodged a complaint at Paltan Bazar police station in the city on October 19, 2022, and put necessary facts including the unlawful engagement of a subcontractor by the system integrator. The CAG report observed that the difference in margin was exorbitant after allowing Wipro a 10 % reasonable profit margin.
But the officer-in-charge of Paltan Bazar Police Station did not register the FIR and even avoided any kind of enquiry over the matter. Finding no other way, the complainant also sent an electronic mail (on March 17, 2023) to the city police commissioner in vain. Non-registration of the concerned complaint by the police created doubts about the integrity of investigating agencies empowered by the laws. Hence, Barman begged for justice from the court over the issue associating millions of genuine residents in Assam, who suffered from the process in different ways.