An anonymous whistleblower tipped off the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and provided evidence against a Uttar Pradesh government employee who is facing life imprisonment for allegedly sexually exploiting 50 children for a decade and distributing photos and videos of their abuse to paedophiles across the world, said officers of the agency on Thursday.
This anonymous whistleblower — whom CBI referred to as a “reliable source” in its first information report (FIR) –gave the investigators a pen drive with 34 videos, 679 pictures, three phone numbers and three email IDs used to post the videos on the dark web, according to the FIR, a copy of which has been seen by HT.
This tranche of evidence, along with the agency’s own investigation, helped the CBI zero in on Ram Bhavan Singh,a suspended junior engineer with the Uttar Pradesh irrigation department who was posted in Chitrakoot district for the past 11 years and allegedly molested children between 5 and 16.
“This reliable source told the CBI that Ram Bhavan and others were involved in transmission of obscene material depicting children in sexual acts, as well as unnatural offences committed on minors, in Banda, Chitrakoot and nearby areas in Uttar Pradesh,” said one of the officials quoted above.
The whistleblower may be connected to the operation, added the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Singh — who is charged under the Information Technology Act, Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act and Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code — is currently in Banda jail. On Thursday, additional district and sessions judge Rizwan Ahmad fixed November 24 for the hearing and ordered that the accused remain in judicial custody till November 30.
The deferral came following objections raised by defence counsel Anurag Singh Chandel on Thursday. The CBI’s lawyer Ashok Kumar Singh sought time to file a rejoinder.
Singh, 40, is accused of sexually abusing children from Banda, Chitrakoot and Hamirpur districts — often targeting victims from poor and underprivileged families who he lured with gadgets and electronics. He is also accused of victimising the children of some of his relatives.
A second official said during investigation, the CBI found one of the numbers provided by the whistleblower was used to post child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the dark web, the portion of the internet not covered by search engines and, hence, mostly beyond access for typical users. Often, dark web sites are used for cyber crime because it cannot be accessed by traditional methods or browsers.
This particular number was registered to the junior engineer on his address in Banda — where he was arrested from on Monday by the CBI’s special unit called Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention/ Investigation (OCSAE) that deals with matters pertaining to online child sexual abuse and exploitation.
A third official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators suspect Singh may not have been working alone, but was part of a syndicate. This is the reason the CBI has added “others” to the FIR.
The first official said the three email IDs used to post the videos on the dark web needed sign-in credentials, as otherwise the content was locked behind a paywall to maintain a high degree of anonymity.
The FIR mentions that Singh used three mobile phone numbers and three email addresses to upload videos of child abuse.
During searches, the CBI recovered eight mobile phones, around eight lakh rupees in cash, sex toys, laptop, and other digital evidence carrying huge amount of CSAM.
CBI alleged Singh targeted children of street vendors, daily wagers, pavement dwellers and domestic helps who worked at his two-room rented house in Chitrakoot, where he lived for 10 years. The children hailed from Banda, Chitrakoot and Hamirpur districts.
“During interrogation, the accused revealed that he targeted children who could easily be lured with money, electronic gadgets, eatables or any other thing they were deprived of. Ram Bhavan believed that he could easily handle the families,” said the third official.
This official said on two occasions in the past 10 years, the children complained about him to their parents, but Singh allegedly hushed up the matter by paying money to the poor parents. The parents also may have chosen to remain silent, fearing that going public with the accusation would bring their families a bad name.
Singh came on the radar of the CBI’s OCSAE unit after the agency busted the location of uploading child pornography recently.