Barely nine days before the Punjab assembly election code of conduct came into force in December 2011, Rs 50 lakh were hastily sanctioned at the behest of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) legislator Gurbachan Singh Babehali for the repair of poor voters' houses.
These funds were pumped into Gurdaspur segment from the social infrastructure fund (SIF) to help economically weaker sections (EWS) construct or repair houses.
According to official records accessed by Chandigarh-based advocate Hari Chand Arora under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, the Gurdaspur deputy commissioner mooted a proposal on December 2, 2011, to the chief administrator, Punjab Urban Planning and Development Authority (PUDA), seeking sanction of Rs 50 lakh from the SIF.
Attached with the DC's letter was a list of 476 people bearing signatures on each page of Gurdaspur MLA Babehali. As per this list, 42 persons needed funds for the construction of kutcha houses, while 434 needed them for house repair.
The DC's letter to the PUDA authorities stated that the names recommended by the MLA were not included in the list of below-poverty-line (BPL) families prepared after a survey conducted in 2002. But the DC, in his letter, stated that the persons now recommended by the MLA were very poor and that their kutcha houses needed repair.
"It was on the basis of the DC's letter and the list of persons as recommended by the MLA that PUDA released Rs 50 lakh on December 13, 2011. The fact that the list of beneficiaries was prepared by the MLA concerned himself itself indicates the motive behind it," Arora said.
According to Sunil Jakhar, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader, a survey should have been conducted by government officials such as the patwari to identify deserving people whose houses needed repair.
"How could the administration sanction such grants on the mere recommendation of an MLA?" Jakhar wondered.
The scrutiny of the DC's letter does not show that any specific parameter was adopted by the administration for selecting the beneficiaries. Nor was any survey report enclosed by the district administration while seeking Rs 50-lakh sanction from PUDA.
"But what is wrong if I had made a recommendation?" asked sitting SAD MLA Babehali. "We have to make a request to the authorities. I must have recommended names on the basis of a proposal submitted before me by the councillors."
As per the official records, the PUDA authorities released the funds after getting written orders of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on December 13, 2011. The Rs 50-lakh cheque dated December 13, 2011, was forwarded by PUDA to the Gurdaspur DC the same day. The forwarding letter and cheque both reached the DC's office on December 14. Then district development and panchayat officer (DDPO), Gurdaspur, and the DC jointly signed an order on December 14, directing the accounts clerk to "issue the cheque today."
In fact, the underprivileged people of Muktsar district, Badal's home turf, received a lion's share of funds for the construction of houses last year in the run-up to the January 30 assembly elections.
Funds to the tune of more than Rs 40 crore were pumped into Muktsar district alone from the SIF to help EWS construct or repair their houses, while five districts SAS Nagar, Ferozepur, Ludhiana, Gurdaspur and Patiala got a total of Rs 5 crore. No funds were marked for the other districts.
A notification was issued in June 2010 under the Punjab Infrastructure (Development and Regulation) Act, 2002, that in order to promote social infrastructure, the state may create a social infrastructure fund, and may also use it for creating social infrastructure in sports, health, education and construction of EWS housing.
The PUDA authorities stated that SIF money had been distributed on the lines of "untied grants" such as discretionary grants, which are released by the chief minister/ministers - in terms of guidelines issued in February 2011.