A day after Punjab education minister Sikander Singh Maluka said he was open to any investigation into the recent scams exposed so far in his department, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal ordered an inquiry by justice AN Jindal, a retired judge of the Punjab and Haryana high court. However, no time frame has been fixed for the inquiry.
The opposition Congress was quick to reject the probe by the ex-judge, alleging that he was known to have close relations with the Badals.
Getting to the nub of the matter, HT has uncovered the Akali minister's scandalous, parallel mechanism that ordered vague tenders to divert central funds meant for library books and science lab kits into the pockets of shadily chosen firms. The books had first come under the scanner on allegations of vulgarity, though the scam machinery helmed by Maluka managed to keep the lid on the financial irregularities for a while.
The CM's office on Monday expressly stated that "aspects particularly relating to the purchase of school library books for primary and upper primary, science kits and supply of map masters" would be probed.
The purchase is to be done by school committees, guided by the director general of school education (DGSE). But HT procured the minister's February 28 orders that bypassed all processes and senior officers, forming a three-member purchase panel - led by director, public instructions, elementary (DPI-E) Pritpal Kaur that tendered and "nominated" firms to supply books and lab kits. The whole process mentioned no scheme at all, but it has been revealed that on target were the Rs 9.28-crore book grant of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and a Rs 7.5-crore grant for lab kits under the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA).
The Sardulgarh (Mansa)-based book firm - actually a pipe factory - used the DPI-issued "nomination letter" to force overpriced and irrelevant books on schools in an illegal manner. The DGSE had issued guidelines for schools to buy books from the state language department catalogue, but the firm had the backing of verbal orders by district-level officers.
As for lab kits, the five "nominated" firms from Ambala (Haryana) hit a wall since the eyed RMSA grant for the 754 kits has not yet been released by the DGSE.
Maluka, however, had gone beyond the central grants and even got two firms "authorised" - not just "nominated" - by the same panel for the supply of map books to school students. These books are overpriced, and the process violates fair-competition norms.
In fact, in the case of the map tender, the minister did keep principal secretary (education) Anjali Bhawra in the loop. But in a turn of black humour, her April 4 orders to form a three-member panel - the minister's favourite trio, incidentally - to start the "tendering" process came after this panel had not only been formed but had also already "authorised" two firms in March.
After the irregularities were laid bare, Maluka first issued showcause notices to the firm and the panel. Even language department officials got the stick over "vulgar" content of books, even though vulgarity had been alleged in the private firm's books.
But as the layers came off and financial irregularities and brazen bypassing of rules came into focus, Maluka held a press conference on Sunday where he ducked questions but offered to be probed by anyone, "as chosen by the CM".