In all recent scams exposed so far in the Punjab education department, senior Akali minister Sikander Singh Maluka has been carrying out his will through a three-member panel. The members remain the same, be it for the tenders and nomination of firms to supply practical notebooks, library books or lab kits, and even in map guides.
Running Maluka's parallel system in violation of procedures are director, public instructions, elementary (DPI-E) Pritpal Kaur, SAS Nagar district education officer Vinod Kumar and Gurtej Singh, finance and development officer, Punjab School Education Board (PSEB).
Gurtej's very appointment as clerk more than a decade ago has been found void ab initio (from the beginning) in a probe conducted by a PSEB joint secretary on government orders after an anonymous complaint. The October 2012 report, submitted to the principal secretary as well as PSEB chairperson, noted that Gurtej was illegally appointed on compassionate grounds after his father, a PSEB employee, died in 1998. It said Gurtej's mother was then an employee of the board, but concealed this fact to seek the job for her son.
Subsequently, he was made project officer, then became subject expert (computer) and deputy director, even as others hired as clerk with him have not risen above the rank of senior assistant, the report said.
But rather than facing any action, he was elevated as finance and development officer in February this year. While PSEB chairperson Tejinder Kaur Dhaliwal said the government had ordered the probe, principal secretary Anjali Bhawra said she was busy at a meeting.
Gurtej, when contacted, said, "I am being singled out; there are cases similar to mine. They should take cognisance of the report and clear me. I am told there are file notings to prove the PSEB knew my mother was on its rolls."
In the case of Vinod, who many believe to be the Man Friday in the scams, his appointment as DEO was made after he had served just a year as principal of a school in Hoshiarpur district and some months as deputy director in the State Council Educational Research and Training (SCERT). According to two high court decisions on individual petitions, DEOs have to be appointed as per seniority. However, the government has complied only in individual cases but not overall. Had the seniority list been implemented, it is learnt, 2010-batch Punjab Education Service officer Vinod would not be eligible for the post.
Worse, during his stint as principal of Government Senior Secondary School, Bagpur Sataur village (Hoshiarpur), in July 2010, the principal secretary issued him a departmental chargesheet after an inspection found 12 serious financial and administrative irregularities by him. While the principal secretary said she wasn't aware of the matter and would act if required, Vinod disconnected the phone after learning that it was from HT.
On April 11, Vinod was put on the 24-member decision-making board of the PSEB, the only representative among DEOs and circle education officers.
In the case of DPI-E Pritpal Kaur who also switched off her phone after being told it was HT calling - there are allegations that she was fast-forwarded into her current position by superseding seniors. A top official told HT that she had overtaken four seniors.
The trio's credentials put Maluka in a spot as he had questioned the wisdom of journalists who had asked him on Sunday why he had chosen the same three people in every shady tender. "You cannot be the judge of merit. It's my prerogative to choose panel members," he had said.