Kerala

Sanchaya scam puts Kozhikode Corporation in spotlight

Employees staging a protest at the Kozhikode Corporation office demanding justice for the four suspended officials.

Employees staging a protest at the Kozhikode Corporation office demanding justice for the four suspended officials. | Photo Credit: K. Ragesh

The Kozhikode Corporation office has been witnessing much drama recently over the Sanchaya password leak issue. If it is not the employees staging a protest demanding that the suspension of their colleagues be revoked, it is the Opposition councillors staging a sit-in demanding a fair investigation into the scam.

The furore over the issue has escalated to such an extent that Opposition councillors waited a full day to gherao the Mayor on Saturday, while she, as well as chairpersons of most standing committees were a no-show at the corporation office.

All hell broke loose on June 17, as media reports brought out a deep-rooted scam connected to the Sanchaya building tax assessment software used in the corporation as well as most local bodies in the State. It was revealed that the login details of some employees in the revenue section of the corporation were leaked out to allot numbers to a large number of buildings, including a few that were unauthorised or deemed unfit. Some officials revealed that they had, in fact, alerted the Corporation Secretary about the scam around six months ago, and that she had failed to take appropriate action then. They pointed to the involvement of middlemen in matters of the corporation and hinted at the existence of a lobby they were part of, along with some councillors, former employees, and real estate giants.

Corporation Secretary K.U. Bini’s knee-jerk reaction, of suspending four employees in the revenue section, including the whistleblowers, escalated the issue, and aligned the employees, irrespective of their political affiliations, against the corporation. A combined protest committee of the Kerala Municipal and Corporation Employees Union and the Kerala Municipal and Corporation Employees Association launched a protest demanding that the suspensions be revoked, as preliminary investigations hinted that the suspended officials were not guilty.

“This is a case of the complainant turning an accused. One of the suspended officials had given clear details of building numbers allotted to wrong buildings using his digital signature and had alleged a password leakage. He had even identified 236 such buildings. But the corporation claims that there are only six of them,” said T. Anil Kumar, district president, Kerala Municipal and Corporation Employees Union. He clarified that one of the suspended persons never used computers and was unaware that he could login until he was suspended. Another person had only six months to retire from service, and he will have difficulty getting retirement benefits if he is connected to the scam, Mr. Anil Kumar said. The employees have warned of an indefinite strike from Monday.

Meanwhile, the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP have launched protests against the corporation demanding a comprehensive inquiry into the scam. “We suspect that the Secretary had a role in the scam. She should step aside to ensure a fair probe,” said K.C. Shobhita, UDF parliamentary party leader in the council. The UDF also alleged that the authorities were trying to save the actual culprits by making scapegoats of the four suspended officials. The BJP had demanded a judicial inquiry as well.

However, it took the Secretary a couple of days more to even approach the police, while an internal inquiry headed by the Deputy Secretary was launched. At present, the Local Self Government department and the Information Kerala Mission, which had developed the software in question, too are conducting parallel investigations. Apparently, the software had several glitches and was so open that anyone with login details could access it from anywhere to get details regarding property tax in the corporation and could make changes and even replace an existing file with the one that suited them. The initial inquiry has shown that some assessments and approvals were made at odd hours from systems within the corporation office.

The issue has put the corporation on the defensive. With the report of the internal inquiry committee due any time now, the authorities expect to settle the issue amicably, without damaging the image of the corporation anymore.


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Printable version | Aug 7, 2022 6:33:59 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/sanchaya-scam-puts-kozhikode-corporation-in-spotlight/article65564552.ece