When the 2012 Punjab assembly elections were nearing, cheques of at least Rs 15,000 each suddenly began reaching hundreds of 'poor' voters of Gurdaspur constituency for the repair of their apparently ramshackle houses.
Without following any transparent system, and merely relying on the recommendation of the since-reelected Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) legislator Gurbachan Singh Babbehali, the previous SAD-BJP regime led by Parkash Singh Badal pumped about Rs 1.7 crore into the assembly segment just before the poll code of conduct came into force in December 2011.
Pleas filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act have revealed that these funds were released from the Social Infrastructure Fund (SIF) to help economically weaker sections (EWS) construct or repair houses.
But the scrutiny of the official record does not show any specific parameter having been adopted by the administration for selecting the beneficiaries. No survey report was enclosed by the district administration while seeking grants.
Babbehali, 59, won the January 30, 2012, assembly election by an impressive margin of 21,570 defeating Congress candidate Raman Bahl.
While a major part of the grant was disbursed among the residents of 21 wards of Gurdaspur municipal council, over Rs 20 lakh were given to families of five panchayats.
In response to queries as to whether applications were received from the beneficiaries, what was the procedure/criteria adopted, or if any identification of the beneficiaries was done, the Gurdaspur Improvement Trust, which received this grant from the deputy commissioner, said that "no application was received". The only criterion followed: "Halqa MLA Gurdaspur ji de hukma anusaar (as per the orders of the MLA of the Gurdaspur constituency)."
While near Rs 80 lakh were sanctioned through a cheque on October 31, 2011, Rs 30 lakh were received from the DC under the SIF on December 14, 2011 and Rs 50 lakh on December 13, 2011.
According to the stamped records provided under the RTI, the then Gurdaspur DC mooted one of the proposals on December 2, 2011, to the chief administrator, Punjab Urban Planning and Development Authority (PUDA), seeking sanction of Rs 50 lakh from the SIF.
Attached with the DC's letter was a list of 476 people bearing signatures of Gurdaspur MLA Babbehali on each page. As per this list, 42 persons needed funds for the construction of kutcha houses, while 434 needed them for house repair.
The scrutiny of the records indicates that in some cases more than one member of the same family got Rs 15,000 cheque.
In fact, this is not the first such case. As reported first in HT, the underprivileged people of Muktsar district, Badal's home turf, received a lion's share of funds - more than Rs 40 crore -- for the construction of houses in the run-up to the 2012 assembly elections.