The Punjab government has decided to tighten the noose around a serving Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer and a retired one for their direct or indirect involvement in the multi-crore scam in four government-funded farm councils, it is learnt.
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Thursday directed chief secretary Rakesh Singh (IAS cadre-controlling authority) to decide the appropriate action against 1980-batch IAS officer Himmat Singh and retired IAS officer Ravinder Singh Sandhu in the Rs 87-crore diversification rip-off, government sources said.
The rip-off is under the scanner of various agencies after Hindustan Times exposed the scam in March 2010 and subsequently published a series of reports highlighting pilferage, forgeries, fake bills and unlawful expenditure by hand-picked officials at the helm of the project.
The officers had brazenly spent government money on their foreign tours and expensive indulgences at the country's most luxurious five-star hotels, derailing Punjab's crop diversification dream much before it could take off.
At the root of the scam are the councils on citrus and agri juicing, value added horticulture, organic farming, and viticulture (grape cultivation). The councils were set up in 2006 by then Congress government for initiating crop diversification by promoting horticulture and organic farming.
It took Ludhiana-based NGO Resurgence India - assisted by People for Transparency and Progressive Development Facilitators - more than a year to unravel the shocking details running into 20,000 pages, obtained under the Right To Information Act (RTI).
Himmat Singh, close confidant of then chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, had been appointed permanent vice-president of the councils, while Vikramjit Singh Chimni, a tea estate manager, took over as chief executive officer.
Following the HT expose in 2011, the Punjab police had arrested more than a dozen people, including Chimni, and all of them remained lodged in prisons.
While more trouble is in store for Chimni, the government has decided to turn the heat on Himmat and Sandhu, top government sources say.
The charge against Himmat is that he, as the permanent vice-president of the councils, allegedly incurred sizeable expenditure of all four councils despite the fact that he was on leave from May 11, 2007, to August 31, 2009 (including ex-India leave from May 11, 2007 to August 26, 2007). But his expenses continued to be charged to the councils during this period too. The hotel bills of the IAS officer mention top liquor brands and imported beverages, as per information accessed under the RTI Act.
Then financial commissioner (development) Ravinder Singh Sandhu (May 9, 2007, to November 30, 2008) allegedly got installed drip irrigation system and citrus plants (worth Rs 21.45 lakh) free of cost on his farms at Chak Sadhu village in Hoshiarpur district. Sandhu retired on November 30, 2008.
Following an inquiry report submitted by the special investigation team (SIT), the office of the financial commissioner (development) sent a detailed report to the chief minister.
"The chief minister has not only recommended recovering the money from the IAS officers but also directed to take action against the guilty. Besides, the CM directed the IAS cadre-controlling authority to examine the matter and take necessary action against the serving/retired IAS officers," a senior government functionary said.