The nascent National Democratic Alliance government in Bihar received a jolt just hours after being sworn in when cabinet minister Jitan Ram Manjhi resigned in the wake of a controversy over his alleged involvement in a teachers training institutions scam in the 1990s.
Manjhi, a Janata Dal (United) minister, submitted his resignation late Thursday night which was being forwarded to Governor Buta Singh for acceptance, sources in the office of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told PTI.
Speaking to reporters on Friday before leaving for Gaya, Manjhi said he had tendered his resignation voluntarily.
"I have resigned voluntarily and the chief minister did not ask me to quit," he said, adding, "I have no grievance against the chief minister. I have quit as I want the NDA government to have a clean image."
Alleging that there was a conspiracy against him within the party, the JD(U) leader said, "Charges have been levelled against me and the police are investigating. No chargesheet has been made."
"I believe that charges of being involved in the scam is one thing and those charges being proved is another thing," he added. Asked why he joined the cabinet in the first place, Manjhi said, "I had not thought the matter will become so serious despite my innocence."
According to the first information report registered by the state vigilance department in 1999, the fraud involved senior officials of the National Council for Teachers' Education, a government body formed in 1995 to grant recognition to teachers' training institutes, senior bureaucrats and politicians, including Manjhi, who was the Minister of State for Education at that time.
Besides Manjhi, the then cabinet minister for education Jaiprakash Narain Yadav, senior IAS officer Chintu Nayak, several present and former vice-chancellors and bureaucrats were made accused in the case.
While Yadav had to resign from the then Rabri Devi ministry after a special vigilance court issued a warrant of arrest against him in 2000, Manjhi had gone underground for some time.
Yadav had surrendered before the court but Manjhi had got anticipatory bail from the Supreme Court.
When a reporter pointed out the pending case against Manjhi at the Chief Minister's maiden press conference on Thursday, Nitish had said that there were no tainted ministers in his government but assured that he would look into the allegation of fraud against his minister.
"People thought that I have been chargesheeted and that I am a tainted minister. That might have worried Nitish Kumar. I come from a Dalit family and Nitish Kumar had thought that my being a minister will help Dalits in the state but afterwards media or others from the party asked why a tainted minister was in the cabinet ahead of other leaders," Majhi said.
"When I got to know about it, I personally offered to resign so that the chief minister can run the government without any worries," he said.
Altogether 39 persons had been made accused in the 6 cases lodged in the scam.
The accused were alleged to have conspired with the heads of various teachers' training institutes, existing only on paper, in selling fake degrees to students from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh
for prices ranging between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 2.25 lakh.
Investigations carried out by the vigilance sleuths revealed that several teachers' training colleges were either fake or did not meet the requisite infrastructure requirements as prescribed by either the All India Council of Teachers' Education or the University Grants Commission but were given recognition by the NCTE on the basis of forged spot inspection reports.
Over 40,000 fake degrees were issued by these institutions, according to the FIR, which also said Gaya-based Magadh University and Darbhanga-based L N Mithila university had given large scale recognition to such institutions.
Jaiprakash Narain Yadav had to resign recently from the union government for his alleged involvement in the illegal release of his brother and Rashtriya Janata Dal candidate for Jamui, Vijay Prakash from police custody.
Complete Coverage: The Bihar Elections