The money-making practice of Punjab-cadre IAS officer Sucha Ram Ladhar who has earned more than Rs 1.50 crore in arbitration fee from farmers while deciding their land acquisition compensation cases - came under the scanner of the Punjab and Haryana high court on Tuesday.
Visibly surprised after reading the contentions raised in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by advocate HC Arora, seeking criminal/departmental action against Jalandhar divisional commissioner Ladhar, the division bench headed by chief justice Arjan Kumar Sikri issued notices of motion to Ladhar, the Centre, the Punjab government and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for November 2.
The conduct of Ladhar (53), a 1991-batch IAS officer, has come under scrutiny following a series of reports in Hindustan Times, starting with 'IAS officer reaps a rich harvest' (May 24) and 'No policy, Ladhar makes hay as arbitrator' (May 25).
"Here is an officer who is conducting arbitration cases in his official capacity…but forcing the private parties to pay arbitration fee to him, despite the NHAI telling him that he cannot charge arbitration fee, and despite there being rules to the effect that he cannot accept any fee without the permission of the government... He has collected arbitration charges amounting to Rs 1.50 crore," said the chief justice while addressing the Punjab government counsel.
Hundreds of families, whose prime land has been acquired by the NHAI in Jalandhar and Patiala divisions for widening of national highways, have paid Ladhar through cheque Rs 4,100 and Rs 12,000 costs per case for deciding their compensation disputes, even as the divisional commissioner functions as an ex officio arbitrator between the NHAI and the private party.
The petitioner contended that Ladhar acted illegally in fixing fee for acting as arbitrator in his ex officio capacity while working as divisional commissioner-cum-arbitrator and did not comply with the central government's directions to pay at least one-third of the fee charged by him to the government exchequer.
It was further contended that Ladhar had violated provisions of the All India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968, since no member of the All India Service can accept fee for any work done for any public body or for any private person without the government's sanction. The petitioner also argued that the entire amount should be recovered from Ladhar along with 12% interest.
The bench was also informed that the state government has failed to take any action against the officer despite a legal opinion given by the advocate general, Punjab, stating that Ladhar had indulged in misconduct and deserved to be chargesheeted for it. Ladhar has not even bothered to deposit the amount with the government till date, the petitioner stated.