At the peak of the pandemic in 2020, when millions lost their jobs and the economy came to a grinding halt, a group of farmers in the remote village of Kallanayakanahalli on the outskirts of Bengaluru received a windfall of money from a mysterious source. The dumps of money which landed in three tranches into their bank accounts could have changed their fortunes during crunch time, only, the money wasn’t theirs to keep. It had to be cashed out to a powerful resident of the village, who is now in police custody in Bengaluru as the kingpin of the biggest voter data theft in the history of Karnataka: Ravikumar Krishnappa, founder of the Chilume Trust.
As part of our ongoing investigation that originally exposed the data theft by Ravikumar and his NGO, TNM has stumbled upon a suspicious money trail indicating the possibility of an even bigger scam involving the founder of the Chilume Trust. We have documents showing a series of dubious bank transactions, seemingly using a company incorporated by the Government of India, to several farmers in Ravikumar’s village.
The issue was brought to our attention by a group of residents from Kallanayakanahalli village in Nelamangala who visited the TNM office a day after we broke the data theft story through a joint investigation with the Kannada outlet Pratidvani. They made the astonishing claim that at least 100 residents of Kallanayakanahalli had each received lakhs of rupees through bank deposits. According to them, Ravikumar had laundered the money by routing it through the bank accounts of residents.
We travelled to the village to verify their allegation, and established contact with 10 residents who revealed that they have been receiving money into their accounts from unknown sources, allegedly at the behest of Ravikumar. Of those we met, five people received money through NEFT (online bank transfer) in the year 2020 from an account named “CSC e-Governance services IN”. Though the amounts are not the same (they range from Rs 40,000 to Rs 1,40,000), they all got the money on three specific dates in 2020 — October 27, November 12, and December 15. They claimed that Ravikumar made them withdraw the amount in cash and give it to him within a few days of the deposit. TNM has copies of passbooks where these transactions are evident.
Chellaiah (name changed), a farmer, received three payments and the entries were marked as NEFT transfer — CSC e-Governance. In the first transaction on October 27, 2020, Chellaiah received Rs 44,245. On November 12, 2020, he received an even bigger amount in his account — Rs 1,31,284. He then received Rs 50,352 on December 15, 2020, also from the same CSC e-Governance account. On all three occasions, the amount was withdrawn within days of it being transferred into the account.
Chellaiah's passbook entries
CSC e-Governance Services India Ltd is a Special Purpose Vehicle (CSC SPV) incorporated by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India, to monitor the implementation of Common Services Centers Scheme (CSCs). It is a company in which the Government of India has a ‘golden share’, and is therefore treated as a ‘government company’ under the provisions of the Companies Act of 2013 and other laws. CSC e-Governance sets up centres across the country, especially in villages, that act as one-stop shops for all government schemes and several business services.
Another resident, Siddanna (name changed), showed us his passbook that had three deposits on the same dates as Chellaiah, also marked CSC e-Governance. He received Rs 63,859 on October 27, 2020; Rs 60,472 on November 12, 2020; and Rs 23,108 on December 15, 2020. He too withdrew these amounts within days of receiving the money.
All the transactions are marked as NEFT (National Electronic Funds Transfer) — that is, these were online money transfers.
Siddanna's passbook entries
A third resident, Mala (name changed), told TNM that she received payments of Rs 65,210, Rs 27,807, and Rs 72,773, on the same three dates as the others.
Mala's passbook entries
Hari (name changed), did not want to show us his passbook; however, he confirmed that he received almost Rs 2,00,000, and that all the entries were marked CSC e-Governance. “Ravikumar is my relative. His guys took my account number forcibly. When the money came, I withdrew cash from the account and gave it to Ravikumar. The money came from Delhi, kendra sarkar, to me in three deposits.”
The CSC scheme runs through Village Level Entrepreneurs or VLEs. They are CSC franchisees who provide a wide variety of services, including filing of death/birth certificates, conducting government surveys, and Aadhaar enrolment. These VLEs are paid commissions for the services they render. None of the residents of Kallanayakanahalli who received the huge sums of money are VLEs, nor do they have anything to do with CSCs.
When TNM asked them if Ravikumar or any of his people had made them sign any document, they all replied in the negative. “People close to Ravikumar came to our home and collected our passbooks. They did not ask for any other documents from us,” a resident of the village said.
According to Hari and other Kallanayakanahalli residents TNM spoke to, more than 100 people from the village have got mysterious deposits in their accounts in the last few years, although we could not independently confirm the number.
Passbook records also show that the money had been withdrawn as cash from ATMs within a few days of deposit. In Chellaiah’s case, Rs 44,000 was withdrawn in two instalments of Rs 25,000 and Rs 19,000 after the first deposit on October 27, 2020. The amount received on November 12, 2020 was similarly withdrawn between November 21 and December 5.
While all the residents of the village said that they withdrew the money in cash and handed it over to Ravikumar directly or to his people, TNM could not independently verify this alleged handover. However, we have accessed balance sheets of Chilume Enterprises Pvt Ltd, the company started by Ravikumar. In 2021, Rs 15 lakh is marked as ‘trade receivables’ from CSC e-Governance while an amount of Rs 1.5 lakh has been marked in 2022 for the same.
“If the balance sheet entry is authentic, this could mean that Ravikumar was running a CSC centre,” an officer who has worked on the CSC e-Governance project said.
Balance sheet entry of Chilume Enterprises Pvt Ltd
Balance sheet entry of Chilume Enterprises Pvt Ltd
CSC e-Governance did not respond to TNM’s queries on phone, or to our queries sent via email. Though a reporter visited CEO Sanjay Rakesh’s office in New Delhi, the office refused to answer questions.
While the transactions involving CSC were the most common, we also found deposits from other bank accounts. A wife and husband from the same village each received amounts ranging from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 in five separate transactions between March 2016 and February 2019. The transfers were from accounts in two small finance banks. In these cases too, the amount was promptly withdrawn within a few days. “I kept around Rs 1,000 but returned the rest to Ravikumar,” the husband Nanjaiah (name changed) told TNM. The wife said she handed over the entire amount to Ravikumar.
Asked why they were speaking out against Ravikumar after having cordial ties with him, the residents spoke about a rift with Ravikumar following the 2020 Gram Panchayat election held at the end of December that year. “Ravikumar began helping people who favoured the candidate he was backing and caused trouble for those who didn’t,” a resident told TNM. The residents added that Ravikumar often bragged about his connection to a powerful minister when he was questioned about his actions.
We tried to ascertain the source of the money or what it was in lieu of, but we failed for lack of jurisdiction. What we have found is the tip of a scam that evidently goes much deeper and calls for an official enquiry.
This story is a part of TNM series on voter data fraud.