Sucha Ram Ladhar, a senior Punjab-cadre IAS officer, has allegedly made Rs 1.58 crore in arbitration fee for resolving disputes between farmers and the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) over land acquisition compensation, according to top government sources.
The fee was allegedly charged during Ladhar's postings as Jalandhar and Patiala division commissioner-cum-arbitrator since August 2007, the sources said. The functioning of the 1991-batch IAS officer, known for enjoying Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal's patronage, has come under the scanner following Hindustan Times' expose about Ladhar's money-making practice ('IAS officer reaps a rich harvest' and 'No policy, Ladhar makes hay as arbitrator', May 24-25).
Hundreds of families, whose prime land has been acquired by the NHAI in Jalandhar and Patiala divisions of Punjab for widening national highways, have paid Ladhar through cheque Rs 4,100 and Rs 12,000 costs per case for deciding their compensation disputes.
Taking cognisance of the HT reports, chief secretary Rakesh Singh had sought Ladhar's explanation, directing him to reply within 48 hours.
After examining Ladhar's voluminous reply, which he submitted on Monday, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) branch of the personnel department, on the chief secretary's direction, has prepared a damning dossier holding the IAS officer guilty of indulging in 'gross misconduct' by charging fee without the state government's approval.
"In his reply, the IAS officer has stated that he received Rs 1.32 crore as arbitration fee, while he was posted as Jalandhar divisional commissioner, and Rs 26 lakh in the capacity of Patiala divisional commissioner while deciding land compensation cases of landowners. Ladhar has also claimed to have deposited income tax on the amount," said a source privy to the case.
The detailed confidential note of the personnel department (IAS branch), which is set to be placed before the chief secretary on Friday, recommends that Ladhar be directed to deposit the entire money he received as arbitration fee and that this amount be given back to those who paid it.
Sources said the noting further stated that the IAS officer violated the All India Service Conduct Rules with impunity. Rule 13(4) of the conduct rules reads: "No member of the service shall accept any fee for any work done for any public body or for any private person without the sanction of the government."
As per the conduct rules, the 'fee' means a recurring or non-recurring payment made, whether directly or indirectly to a member of the service from a source other than the "consolidated fund of India or the consolidated fund of a state."
But in his explanation, Ladhar has stated that he neither committed any illegality while charging arbitration fee nor - as per the conduct rules - was he required to get prior sanction from the state government.
Further, he has stated that if the sanction was needed at all, the government should give sanction retrospectively, government sources said.
On the other hand, the personnel department's note has slammed Ladhar for defending himself by interpreting the rules wrongly.