Ashwini Sharma, the main accused in the sexual abuse case involving four women and the director of a private hostel in Bhopal where they stayed, received a grant of Rs 6 lakh from the Madhya Pradesh government over the last two years for a boys' hostel, registered with the state government, that he ran.
A day after the special investigation team seized documents from the hostel where four hearing and speech impaired women alleged raped, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) chief Rahul Lodha said, "Ashwini Sharma got a grant of Rs 50,000 in 2016 and Rs 5.57 lakh in 2017 in four installments in the name of a boys' hostel at Ayodhya Bypass. The accused opened two other hostels in Awadhpuri for speech and hearing impaired women, but we didn't find any registratoion documents. Meanwhile, funds on the basis of documents related to boys' hostel continued to come."
According to the police, Sharma, a graduate in Computer Science, incurred heavy losses in his IT business in 2008. He started a grocery shop where he came in touch with students. That's when he got the idea to open hostels for students.
The SIT is now probing how he got the funds despite huge lapses in maintenance of records of these hostels.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has sought details from social justice department about the women's hostel, grants sanctioned and inspection reports.
The social justice department gives Rs 4,000 per month to specially abled students pursuing a course at Industrial Training Institute (ITI). The amount was Rs 1,800 per month before January 2018.
Social justice minister Gopal Bhargawa said the department pays the grant money directly to students and has nothing to do with the hostels. "We have not given any grant to any NGO. We give scholarships to underprivileged, SC/ST, specially abled or blind students to pursue technical courses. Technical education department releases the grant," he said.
Regarding the private hostels, the minister added, "The police should regularly inspect these hostels to ensure safety of the students. The chief minister has also said that he would bring a law to ensure safety and security of inmates of such hostels."
The incident has given the opposition ammunition to launch an attack on the BJP government. The Congress has alleged that Ashwini Sharma -- much like Bihar's child rape accused Brajesh Thakur -- is close to the leaders of the ruling BJP.
Releasing a video on Friday, state Congress spokesperson Shobha Oza said, "Ashwini Sharma is an activist of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and he enjoys the blessings of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan". In the video, Ashwini Sharma is seen standing close to Mr Chouhan and touching his feet.
Sharma has told the SIT that he provided lodging to 74 students -- 53 men and 21 women. Ms Oza demanded to know why the SIT recorded the statements of only four women when there were 70 more speech impaired students staying at the hostel run by Sharma.
Congress' state spokesperson Bhupendra Gupta said, "He got the grant because of the BJP's patronage. There is something very fishy going on."
BJP spokesperson Rahul Kothari categorically denied the allegation. "The Congress is just playing politics in such a sensitive matter, the accused is arrested and investigations are on," he said.
State Congress chief Kamal Nath has asked Mr Chouhan to hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).