Youth Rural Entrepreneur Foundation, a company allegedly managed by Sanjay Rai ‘Sherpuria’, whom the UP Police claimed to be a swindler in its FIR and arrested on Tuesday, has retired IAS, IPS, and armed forces officers on its advisory board.
While one retired IAS officer on the advisory board has ties to Kiran Patel, a conman apprehended in March in Srinagar, another advisory board member, a former IPS officer, was involved in the CBI vs. CBI conflict of 2018. In truth, this IPS officer’s son manages a separate business alongside a YREF director. According to the FIR filed by the UP Police, this company formerly shared the same address as Sanjay Rai.
According to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, YREF was established on October 30, 2019, and while its registered office is in Varanasi, its operations are based in Ghazipur. YREF did not disclose its shareholders and stated in its filings with the Registrar of Companies that doing so was not required because the organisation is “limited by guarantee.”
While Sanjay Rai does not hold a position with YREF, his social media handles feature photos of him with prominent ministers and depict him conducting various activities. The UP police have claimed in the FIR that Sanjay Rai is the head of YREF and that “he cheated many by claiming proximity to those in power and by displaying his photographs with the Prime Minister and other Cabinet ministers, thereby damaging their reputations.”
Not a mere conman
Six individuals serve on YREF’s advisory council, and the organisation also has six directors.
Pradeep Kumar Rai, one of its additional directors, is a “designated partner” in the Delhi NCR corporation Niveshan Ventures. The other associate in this company is Kushagra Sharma, the son of retired IPS officer AK Sharma of the Gujarat cadre. According to RoC records, Niveshan Ventures was registered on November 16, 2017 at Delhi Riding Club, No. 1, Safdarjung Road, New Delhi. This is the address listed on the documents seized from Sanjay Rai by the UP Police.
The registered address of Niveshan Ventures was subsequently changed to S 31, S 32A, First Floor, Hargobind Enclave, Opposite DLF Gate, New Delhi.
At the height of the conflict between then-CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana in 2018, Asthana wrote to the then-Cabinet Secretary alleging that Pradeep Kumar Rai was “on the government’s list of undesirable contact men.” AK Sharma was a joint director at the CBI at the time. The attorney for Pradeep Rai then denied these allegations.
Sharma is now a member of the YREF advisory council. He did not answer his phone, but sent a message that he was travelling. Following calls and messages, he did not respond.
Also serving on the advisory council of YREF is SK Nanda, a retired IAS officer from the Gujarat cadre with the 1978 batch. Kiran Patel was detained in March in Jammu and Kashmir for posing as a PMO official. Nanda assisted Patel in organising a G20-related conference in Gujarat.
Other members of the advisory council include Vice Admiral Sunil Anand, AVSM, NM (Retired), Air Commodore Mrigindra Singh, VSM (Retired), a retired IAS officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre of the 1982 batch, and an activist.
YREF asserts that it works to create employment by tapping the entrepreneurial potential of rural youth and by modernising agricultural practises.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Nanda stated that he had encountered Rai “a few times as he was a manufacturer from Kutch…and perhaps during Vibrant Gujarat” and “that was it.” The biennial Vibrant Gujarat investment summit is sponsored by the state government.
“I have no idea how he included me on the advisory council. I have never attended one of these meetings. “Perhaps he was influenced by my work with young people,” Nanda said.
When contacted, Air Commodore Mrigindra Singh stated, “I knew him during my time in the military. In the past four years, I have not encountered him, but we have remained in contact. He appeared to be a likeable individual who was also well-connected in influential circles. I do not recall if he obtained my consent for the advisory council at that time. However, I have no active ties to the NGO,” he stated.
Vice Admiral Sunil Anand denied affiliation with YREF as well. “I know and have met Sanjay Rai. However, I do not recall him urging me to join the NGO’s Advisory Board. He stated, “I have nothing to do with this NGO.”
According to documents perused by The Indian Express, YREF received donations totalling Rs 7.84 crore in 2022-23. Several Delhi-NCR corporations, including Dalmia Family Office Trust, and a government-owned bank are among the donors. Shipra Estate Ltd, a subsidiary of the Shipra Group, donated Rs 1 crore; Gurugram-based NIA Software India Ltd donated Rs 20 lakh to YREF in October 2022; and Delhi NCR-based Sebros Industries contributed Rs 50 in two installments in January of this year.
It reported Rs 1.34 crore in revenue for the fiscal year ending in March 2021, of which Rs 1.3 crore came from donations. According to documents filed with the RoC, it spent Rs 87.8 lakh on social and charitable causes.
During the fiscal year ending in March 2020, YREF reported a total revenue of Rs 92.5 lakh, all of which came from donations. In its filings with the RoC, it claimed to have donated Rs 35,250,000.
All of these companies’ top executives, who wished to remain anonymous, verified making donations to YREF but stated that these were made as part of their CSR commitment. However, they did not respond officially to The Indian Express’s correspondence. Similarly, YREF did not respond to emails sent to its official Ministry of Corporate Affairs email address.
WITH INPUTS FROM ENS, MUMBAI, AHMEDABAD