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HindustanTimes Mon,14 Jul 2014

Probe finally nails Gabria in multi-crore grants scam

Ravinder Vasudeva, Hindustan Times  Ludhiana, October 16, 2013
First Published: 23:37 IST(16/10/2013) | Last Updated: 00:11 IST(17/10/2013)

An official probe has finally indicted senior Akali leader Hira Singh Gabria for grossly misusing the discretionary grants during his tenure as cabinet minister in 2007-12. The Punjab vigilance bureau (VB) had asked the rural development and panchayats department to probe the matter in March this year.

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The revelations have put Gabria, chairman of the Ludhiana District Planning Committee, in soup.

The three-member inquiry panel, comprising officials of the rural development and panchayats department, in its report has highlighted certain cases where the grants were disbursed even to a non-existing dispensary, besides to two organisations of his PA Mohan Singh Goga and Goga's wife Kulwinder Kaur.

The amounts of Rs. 5.45 lakh and Rs. 2.6 lakh were granted to Nari Ekta Aasra Sanstha run by Kulwinder and Rs. 2.85 lakh to the United Youth Federation of Gabria's PA. Interestingly, both the organisations were being run from the residential premises of Goga and his wife.

It was on a complaint by RTI activist Kuldeep Khaira in November 2012 that the VB had directed the Ludhiana district development and panchayats officer (DDPO) to verify the utilisation of the grants.

The complaint was lodged after the HT reported the matter in September and November last year. The DDPO's probe report submitted to the VB headquarters is in the possession of HT.

The grants in question in Ludhiana also included Rs. 1 lakh to "renovate" the then non-existing Baba Atma Singh Ashram, and to another dharamshala that remained in ruins.

The HT in September last year had highlighted that lakhs of rupees was doled out in Tarn Taran district as well for which the utilisation certificates were not given by the beneficiaries. Those beneficiaries mainly included a society run through a "trust" with Gabria's cousin as its member and the nagar panchayat of Chohla Sahib town, who were given Rs. 2.5 lakh and Rs. 5 lakh, respectively.

In the cases where funds were shown utilised for the purpose for which they were allotted, were actually used for other purposes, a violation of the rules.
 
Funds given to non-existing dispensary
Gabria sanctioned Rs. 2 lakh for buying medicines to a dispensary run by United Cycle and Parts Manufacturers Association (UCPMA) on Gill Road, Ludhiana, but the dispensary does not exist. The report says UCPMA president Charanjit Singh Vishwakarma also failed to produce a record about the expenditure of grants.

From around Rs. 7 crore distributed by Gabria from his discretionary grant, about Rs. 5 crore was disbursed in Ludhiana alone.

It was also found that grants worth lakhs were repeatedly distributed for the construction and repair of a dharmashala at Arjan Nagar, which the minister could not as per rules.

Gabria, who represented the industrial city's Atam Nagar constituency as SAD MLA (2007-12), was the tourism and jails minister. He lost to SAD rebel and independent candidate Simarjit Bains in the 2012 assembly elections.
 
Ball in VB's court
Owing to political pressure, the report that was submitted to the DDPO by the three-member committee on September 20 has been prepared after much delay and repeated reminders from the VB. The three members who conducted the inquiry are BDPO Ludhiana-1 Ranjeet Singh, junior engineer Jaswinder Singh and SDO Avtaar Singh.  

The report was submitted after letters from the VB dated May 24, 2013 and August 6 and September 5. It was only after the VB issued notice to the DDPO office on September 10 to submit the report within 10 days that things moved forward.

Sources in the VB confirmed that the report had been put up for discussion with the bureau officials. A top VB official confirmed that the report had been sent to seek opinion of top officials in order to take legal action.

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