The Punjab government has told Punjab and Haryana high court that an amount of Rs 1.08 crore has been refunded to farmers who were charged an arbitration fee by former IAS officer and former Jalandhar divisional commissioner SR Ladhar.
As many as 348 cheques worth Rs 18.12 lakh have been sent back by sub-divisional magistrates as land-owners could not be traced. "The total refundable amount is being verified and ascertained. It tentatively comes to around Rs 2.85 crore. The refund of income tax deposited by Ladhar is yet to be received from the tax department," the government told the high court.
The government response came on a contempt petition filed by advocate HC Arora wherein it was alleged that the arbitration fee collected by Ladhar from land-owners in the state had not been paid back. As per the affidavit, Ladhar has deposited `1.83 crore in arbitrator account, and the refund of the income tax, amounting to Rs 57.17 lakh, when received, would also be deposited in said account.
As per audit carried out, the total receipts in arbitrator's account were Rs 2.85 crore, out of which `1.60 crore was transferred to Ladhar's account. As many as 676 entries of bank account involving an amount of Rs 1.46 crore are still to be matched with office records, the court was told.
Meetings were held with divisional commissioners of Patiala and Jallandhar and Ladhar was asked to provide arbitration record. Various letters were written to him to produce record. But Ladhar, in a March 2014, letter has told secretary, personnel that the Jalandhar commissioner did not get his signatures on the relevant lists, the court was told.
The court has been told that National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), supplied a list of 1,429 arbitration cases and same was passed on to deputy commissioners concerned. The list of 1,429 awards was "inconclusive" with regard to awards given by Ladhar, it has been stated, "The list does not contain the awards given by him for the Amritsar Improvement Trust and a single award (dated 28.9.2009) where arbitration fee was collected from 629 land-owners and also 39 other awards announced by Ladhar are not mentioned on the list," the court has been told.
The reply has been filed by chief secretary Sarvesh Kaushal while Ladhar and Jalandhar divisional commissioner R Venkat Ratnam are yet to file their responses. The hearing has further been adjourned for February 16. The conduct of Ladhar, a 1991-batch IAS officer, had come under scrutiny after a series of reports in HT, starting with 'IAS officer reaps a rich harvest' and 'No policy, Ladhar makes hay as arbitrator' (May 24 and 25, 2012). In October 2012, on the basis of these reports, a public interest petition was filed in the high court for the recovery of the entire amount from the officer who is said to be close to key leaders of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal.