A file pertaining to the Rs 23.93-crore iron ore scam - involving an IAS as well as Punjab Civil Service officers among others - has resurfaced after the Punjab chief minister's office allegedly kept it under wraps for more than 21 months, it is learnt.
An inquiry into the 2004 scam had held 1993-batch PCS officer Amarpal Singh responsible for causing Rs 23.93-crore loss to Punjab Agro Foodgrains Corporation (PAFC) when he was posted as additional managing director (AMD), while 1989-batch IAS officer Kripa Shankar Saroj, former managing director, PAFC, was held "equally responsible" in the case.
It was in November 2008 that former chief secretary Ramesh Inder Singh, who, after reportedly recommending the suspension of both officers, had handed over the inquiry to then financial commissioner (revenue) Romila Dubey.
While the Parkash Singh Badal government suspended Saroj in March 2008 (he was reinstated in August 2010 after the Central Administrative Tribunal gave a favourable verdict), no action has been taken so far against Amarpal.
"… it is because of the negligence on the part of then AMD Amarpal Singh that the corporation suffered Rs 23.93-crore loss," states the inquiry report.
Government sources said the CM's office finally sent the file back to the personnel department in June, after which chief secretary Rakesh Singh put the matter on the fast track. The chief secretary had fixed July 11 for giving a personal hearing to the two officers before taking the final decision, but the hearing was adjourned for July 26 on Saroj's request.
According to official records, on the basis of Dubey's inquiry report, the agriculture department had in July 2010 recommended action against Saroj and Amarpal for their failure to recover at least Rs 18 crore from the company hired for the export of iron ore to China in 2004.
But since then, the government had been sitting on the matter and even ducked queries posed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act about the case file's whereabouts.
Hindustan Times had highlighted the matter in two reports 'Rs 24-cr loss, govt keeps lid on report' (July 11, 2011) and 'Govt lies to duck RTI query' (July 20, 2011).
In an effort to trace the file, RTI activist Kuldeep Singh Khaira of Ludhiana-based Vigilant Citizens Forum petitioned the state Information Commission after the CM's office, personnel department and the advocate general's office kept passing the buck.
Initially, the government had refused to furnish information under the RTI Act on the plea that the file was with the advocate general's (AG) office, where it was sent in 2010 for legal opinion. However, replying to an RTI query, the AG office had said in July 2011 that "no such records pertaining to the case in question" were available in the office.
Recently, during hearing of the case before the commission, the Punjab AG office submitted that the file in question had been received by the office "on November 17, 2011, from the office of Punjab CM for opinion… " The AG office further said: "… the entire file has since been returned to the CM's office vide order dated January 4, 2012."
Now, the government also admitted before the commission that the personnel department had sent the file "concerning the iron ore case" to then chief secretary on September 6, 2010, and that the latter's office sent this file to the CMO on September 13, 2010. The public information officer of the IAS branch submitted before the commission that the personnel department received the file back from the CMO on June 12 this year, nearly 21 months later.
Punjab Agro Foodgrains Corporation (PAFC) ventures into iron ore export without mandate in 2004
Selects Reliance Polycrete allegedly without tenders; releases Rs 17 crore to company
Company mortgages fake titles of properties offered as security in favour of PAFC
Two cheques for Rs 5 crore and Rs 9 crore, which the company had issued in April 2005 to the PAFC, were dishonoured
After a show-cause notice, firm issues two new cheques for Rs 15 crore in September-December 2005, which, too, were dishonoured
FIR registered against firm; government suspends IAS officer, but no action against PCS officer
Chief secretary to hear the two officers' version on July 26