The Punjab government claims zero tolerance for corruption, but despite recommendations by the Amritsar district administration to probe embezzlement of rural grants and Border Area Development Programme (BADP) funds, it's been 16 months and cabinet minister Gulzar Singh Ranike and his personal staff have not even been questioned.
Had the government acted swiftly when the letter seeking a probe was sent by the deputy commissioner's office, embezzlement of at least Rs 2 crore in senior Akali leader Ranike's constituency in the 2011-12 fiscal could have been stopped.
Documents accessed by HT show that on May 22, 2011, zila parishad officers through the DC office sent a detailed report to the planning and rural development departments, attaching documents that pointed towards the scam - embezzlement of Rs 40.05 lakh of BADP funds through fake accounts in 2008-09 alone. Subsequently, mostly in the later half the 2011-12 fiscal, despite the government knowing about the modus operandi of using fake bank accounts, a further Rs 2 crore were pocketed via cheques collected by Ranike's staff and son from the block development and panchayats office (BDPO).
These cheques were put into bogus accounts and then encashed via cheques issued to 'self'. In fact, Rs 11.05 lakh were embezzled in the name of the minister's native village, Ranike.
"We remained under immense political pressure to not bring the facts to the fore. Thus, we decided to brief the higher officials about the scam, hoping that more fiscal periods would be looked into, and at least further plunder could be stopped. A detailed probe was sought, but we have not received any reply or orders for the probe," said an officer from the district administration.
Planning department secretary Satish Chandra confirmed that the department had received the file in 2011. "I have discussed the matter with the chief secretary and now we are going to physically verify all developmental works in Attari segment." He, however, didn't comment on the delay. "After reading the media reports, I have discussed the matter and now we are going to order a detailed probe," he added.
With a little help…
The police were informed last year about minister Ranike's staff collecting grant cheques meant for villages and fraudulently encashing them, but action has been negligible.
*The first FIR, pertaining to embezzlement of BADP funds, was registered in May last year, and another in June this year pertaining to rural grants issued by Ranike from his discretionary funds. But both inquiries are with the DSP of Attari, rather conveniently for MLA Ranike.
*It was the DGP who shifted the inquiry in the June 2012 FIR to the Attari DSP within three days on the plea of main accused Sarbhdyal Singh, the then PA of Ranike who is since at large.
*As for the May 2011 FIR, it was the police commissioner of Amritsar who requested the IGP (border range) to shift the inquiry to the rural police, thus again leading to the Attari DSP getting the case.
*Only three arrests have been made, of a bank officer and two fake account-holders, so far in the 2012 case. The 2011 case remains buried.