The Punjab government has directed Jalandhar divisional commissioner Sucha Ram Ladhar to immediately return the entire money - about Rs 1.58 crore -- that he had charged as arbitration fee from farmers while deciding their land acquisition compensation cases.
Ladhar (53) -- a 1991-batch IAS officer, who charged the fee without the state government's approval during his postings at Jalandhar and Patiala since August 2007 -- has also been asked to deposit the interest he may have earned on the amount, though the rate has not been specified in the letter sent to him on October 11. Sent on chief minister Parkash Singh Badal's directions, the letter also directs him not to charge the fee in future.
Over five years, Ladhar earned at least twice his salary (pay scale of 37,400-67,000 +10,000) by charging Rs 4,100-12,000 per case as arbitration fee from hundreds of farmers whose land has been acquired by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), even though the divisional commissioner anyway functions as an ex-officio arbitrator between the NHAI and private parties.
Following a series of reports in HT, starting with 'IAS officer reaps a rich harvest' and 'No policy, Ladhar makes hay as arbitrator' (May 24, 25), the "misconduct" of Ladhar has come under the scanner of various authorities, including the Punjab and Haryana high court.
After failing to get any support for what state advocate general Ashok Aggarwal describes as misconduct in his legal opinion, Ladhar had on September 20 expressed the will to part with the money and asked how he should do it. The government has thus asked him to put the money back into the arbitration bank account. Ladhar, being the arbitrator, had originally put the money into this account before withdrawing and retaining it for himself.
"After the money is deposited in the arbitration account, inform the government immediately," says the letter, sent by the personnel department.
Also, he has been asked to immediately apply for refund of the amount -- over Rs 50 lakh - that he claims to have paid as income tax on the arbitration fee, and "deposit it too in the account of the arbitrator".
Since Ladhar had also mentioned in his letter that he paid honorarium to government and private staff engaged for the arbitration work, the government has directed him to produce "vouchers pertaining to the payments made to the staff" and also "receipts of the stationery" consumed. He has to furnish names of the part-time staff engaged, duration of service, copies of their appointment letters, besides receipts of money paid to them.
Chief secretary Rakesh Singh had recommended a departmental chargesheet against Ladhar for his "misconduct" and recovery of the money with 12% interest. The recommendation had come after a damning legal opinion of the advocate general, who had said, "…the fixing/charging and then retaining the arbitral fee by Ladhar has to be viewed as a misconduct on his part."
Govt to Ladhar
*Besides the arbitration fee (about R1.58 crore), also pay the interest earned on the amount
*Apply for refund of income tax (over R50 lakh) and give it to govt when received
*Produce details of staff engaged for arbitration work and receipts of payments made