Senior Punjab Civil Service (PCS) officer Dr Amarpal Singh has escaped suspension, despite then chief secretary RI Singh's order, in the Rs 24 crore iron ore export scam due to then advocate general Hardev Singh Mattewal's legal intrusion which chief minister Parkash Singh Badal accepted, it has emerged.
A high-level inquiry into the 2004 scam had held Dr Amarpal, a 1993-batch PCS officer, responsible for causing a Rs 23.93-crore loss to the Punjab Agro Foodgrains Corporation (PAFC) when he was posted as additional managing director (AMD), while 1989-batch IAS officer Kripa Shankar Saroj, former managing director, PAFC, was held "equally responsible" in the case.
While the Badal government suspended Saroj in March 2008 (he was reinstated in August 2010 after the Central Administrative Tribunal gave a favourable verdict), no action has been taken so far against Dr Amarpal.
According to official records accessed by Hindustan Times, considering the "gravity of the charges and the substantial loss caused to the corporation", then chief secretary RI Singh had, on February 23, 2008, recommend to "place both the officers under suspension".
While appointing then financial commissioner (revenue) Romila Dubey as inquiry officer, Singh had directed to "chargesheet both the officers for major penalty", besides "criminal action", depending upon the findings of the inquiry.
After this, the file moved at such a breakneck speed that on March 4, 2008, the principal secretary to the chief minister wrote that the chief minister had sought the opinion of the AG.
The next day, Mattewal, in his own handwriting, gave this opinion: "MD (Kripa Shankar Saroj, IAS) be placed under suspension…in case of AMD (Dr Amarpal) he may not be placed under suspension"
As per records, on March 6, 2008, chief minister Badal wrote: "I agree with the opinion of the AG. Necessary action be taken accordingly."
Thus, the IAS officer was suspended, while the PCS officer escaped the punishment.
Hindustan Times has highlighted the matter in various reports, including "Rs 24-cr loss, govt keeps lid on report" (July 11, 2011), "Govt lies to duck RTI query" (July 20, 2011) and "Kept under wraps, file resurfaces after 21 months" (July 12, 2012).
As the file has finally resurfaced after it was kept under the wraps for 21 months, chief secretary Rakesh Singh will give a hearing to the officers before "awarding any punishment."
In a June 12, 2012 order, the chief secretary wrote that the charges framed by the inquiry officer against Saroj and Dr Amarpal had been established. "…In this way, the Punjab Agro Food Grain Corporation has suffered financial loss due to the negligence and connivance of both these officers. Hence, both of these officers deserve...major punishments for this negligence," said the note of the chief secretary.
'Amarpal overruled legal advice'
As per the agreement, the RPL had to furnish 10% security to the PAFC by pledging the assets/property in favour of the PAFC. In a January 11, 2012 office note, the PAFC authorities stated: "This security was inadequate."
When the RPL deposited three title deeds of its properties valued at Rs 5.05 crore in May 2004, the matter went to the legal division for advice. The adviser stated that the mortgage deed was required to be registered and the stamp duty is to be paid. "Thus, such mortgage deeds, the way these were submitted by RPL, were advised to be not valid," say the PAFC records.
"This legal advice was overruled by Dr Amarpal Singh, AMD…In our opinion this was a wrong decision…As such, the then AMD grossly erred…despite legally advised in this regard," the PAFC records further state.