Disposing of a petition challenging the allotment of a fancy vehicle registration number (PB 65 R 0007) to Punjab cabinet minister Sikander Singh Maluka’s wife Surjit Kaur without participation in the auction, the Punjab and Haryana high court has directed her to pay Rs 2.1 lakh.
Justice K Kannan on Friday directed the district transport officer (DTO), SAS Nagar, to recover the amount within a month. As per the court directive, in case the DTO fails to “effect the recovery within one month”, then the amount shall be recovered from the DTO’s salary by the state government.
Justice Kannan observed that “nepotism and favouritism” was apparent on the face of the DTO’s order. He noted that the officer’s action had resulted in the loss of public money and all this was done to favour political and influential persons. He ordered that the compliance report regarding the recovery of the amount be placed before the court within eight weeks.
The order came on a writ petition filed by SAS Nagar resident Varinder Jeet Kaur, who had alleged that she had deposited Rs 2.2 lakh for the number, but it was allotted to Surjit Kaur for Rs 10,000 only. Though she was denied the number, the amount was not returned to her, the petitioner said, adding that there was delay in depositing road tax, but the number could not have been withdrawn from her without issuing a notice.
Varinder Jeet was the highest bidder for the 0007 number and had deposited Rs 2.2 lakh for it on August 3, 2012. However, she failed to deposit road tax within the stipulated period of seven days.
The DTO had then cancelled her allotment of the fancy number and re-allotted it to Surjit Kaur in August 2013 for Rs 10,000.
Varinder Jeet contended that the cancellation order was invalid as her bid amount had not been returned. The DTO stated before the court that there was no provision in the policy to refund the money.
Varinder Jeet’s counsel had argued that as per the policy, only 50% of the application amount, which came out to be Rs 5,000, could be forfeited and the rest had to be returned to the petitioner.
The court agreed with this contention and ordered the refund of Rs 2.2 lakh with an interest of 12% per annum. In her petition, Varinder Jeet stated that “illegally withdrawing the vehicle registration number and secretively and arbitrarily allotting” it to the minister’s wife amounted to defrauding both the petitioner and the state.
She asserted that it caused financial loss to the cash-starved state exchequer because if the number had been put to auction again, it would have fetched much more money than by “secretively allotting” it for Rs 10,000.