An unusual inquiry and a series of dossiers in Punjab's public works department (PWD) have dug out leads to a slew of malpractices which, if investigated, have the potential to incriminate a number of senior engineers. The leads may also help join the dots of an engineer-politico nexus that is widely discussed yet hardly revealed.
The shocking details, which are a part of documents running into over 100 pages (in possession of HT), point towards a complete failure of the PWD's chain of command in Mansa district, leading to alleged embezzlement of nearly Rs 20 crore due to forgery, diversion of funds and expenditure on development activities that were never actually undertaken.
In a related development, the state vigilance bureau (VB) has arrested Joginder Singh, an executive engineer who is a prime accused in the scam, on July 21. As per the FIR (first information report), Joginder withdrew Rs 5 crore from the treasury by forging the signatures of GR Bains, chief engineer (plan road).
Ever since the case was registered, the VB has reportedly come under mounting pressure from an influential Akali leader of Mansa district not to expand the ambit of the case and probe further irregularities committed by Joginder with the connivance of others, said top government sources.
However, when contacted, PWD chief engineer (buildings) AK Singla said the VB was inquiring if payments were indeed made for works not done: "If that has happened, it is a serious matter." In fact, in a June 5 letter to the PWD top brass, Varinderjit Singh Dhindsa, superintending engineer (Bathinda circle), has written upfront that when he examined some of the vouchers/bills, "…it is crystal clear that the most of the works for which the payments were released were not done at all".
The irregularities about diversion of funds first came to the fore in July 2011, after some contractors of Mansa approached the authorities seeking the release of money against different sanctioned government works that they had executed. Records showed that the payments had already been released, on paper.
To cite an example, administrative approval of Rs 10.5 crore was given for construction of a degree college in Sardulgarh; a Rs 8-crore tender was allotted. "But an amount of Rs 3.12 crore of the Rs 10.5 crore stands diverted to an unknown work. Further, there is still a payment of Rs 3 crore pending towards the contractor who actually executed the college project," confided a senior PWD functionary. Similarly, Rs 2 crore of the total Rs 7 crore meant for a bridge in Mansa were diverted, while Rs 1 crore of a polytechnic college in Breta and a veterinary hospital were also diverted to a work that has no records.
A three-member committee was set up in September 2011 to probe the irregularities. The committee submitted the interim report in November 2011, charging the now-arrested executive engineer (Xen) Joginder Singh with illegal practices.
And it goes further.
The probe documents reveal that junior engineers (JEs) and sub-divisional officers (SDOs) of Mansa district submitted in writing that they never executed or supervised the works in question, nor did they even prepare estimates of the works for which crore of rupees have shown to have been released.
A divisional superintendent, in fact, recorded his testimony that no estimates/tenders/agreements etc were available in the records of the department pertaining to the payments released. Even the head draughtsman submitted that no estimates were ever prepared for such works, states the inquiry report.
"From the inquiry report, startling facts have come to the light… all the concerned JEs in writing submitted that they had nothing to do with the works in question against which the payments have been released," confirms an internal communiqué by superintending engineer (Bathinda) Tretha Singh Chahal. Even the measurement book, a fundamental document for PWD works, was forged -- no payment can be made without making entries of the work done in this book. In this case, the measurement book or MB, which has to be prepared by the JE, was never prepared; yet, the payments were made.
More than two hands
"This needs a thorough probe. One person alone cannot do it," opined a top officer of the department who wished not to be named.
In this background, on June 20, chief engineer Singla shot off a letter to the engineer-in-chief RP Singh proposing to set up yet another probe committee. "Funds allotted for the sanctioned works were utilised for the unapproved works, and are adversely affecting the progress of the sanctioned works… Even the contractors have been mounting pressure for release of funds for the sanctioned works," Singla has acknowledged.