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Punjab’s bureaucrats great public swindle

A Right-to-Information query has revealed how bureaucrats in Punjab are quietly squandering money collected from citizens on variety of goodies, reports Manish Tiwari.

india Updated: Sep 05, 2008 17:16 IST
Manish Tiwari

Every time citizens pay for a driving licence or a marriage certificate in Punjab, they are — unknown to them — funding a variety of goodies for bureaucrats, a right-to-information query has revealed.

Government records reveal that Deputy Commissioners have been buying laptops, mobile phones, air-conditioners, plasma TVs, laptops, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, water purifiers and digital cameras.

Crores of rupees are also being used on furniture, refreshments and partying, repair of offices of district administration and electricity and telephone bills of offices of district administration.

The cash is supposed to be used to create infrastructure and run more public services.

This money is collected by what are called Sukhmani societies, government organisations that collect “facilitation charges” from the public to perform a variety of government services, including registration of deaths and marriages, driving licences, ration cards and arms licences, under one roof.

“If the funds are being misutilised by the DCs, the government would certainly look into it and take prompt action,” Punjab Chief Secretary Ramesh Inder Singh told the Hindustan Times.

This revelation, close on the heels of a Hindustan Times expose on “misuse” of Red Cross funds in Punjab, comes from an analysis of records procured under the Right To Information Act by three civil rights groups: Resurgence India, Ludhiana; Burning Brain Society, Chandigarh; and People for Transparency, Sangrur.

After the Hindustan Times expose on the Red Cross, the Punjab government had returned Rs 1.95 crore to the Red Cross, while several IAS officers were forced to pay back lakhs of rupees that they spent for personal purposes.

In the most-recent instance, District Commissioners, administrative heads of districts and head of the societies — they were created in 2004 — that collect the “faciliation charges”, have also allowed pilferage of public assets, evasion of income tax and violation of labour laws, government records show.

According to the then Principal Secretary (Information Technology) B.R. Bajaj, during whose tenure the societies were formed, “Rules don’t permit DCs to use society funds for personal or other purposes.”

That has not bothered bureaucrats:

In January 2007, a mobile phone worth Rs 12,200 was purchased for the DC (Nawanshahr). Public charges were also used to pay for his home phone bill of Rs 8,225 and Rs 25,256 on home furniture.

In the same district, Rs 9,000 was spent for buying gol gappa-papadi in July 2006, and Rs 4,000 on dinner for all officers of Nawanshahr district in June 2007.

In Roop Nagar district, a Deputy Commissioner bought an Aquaguard water purifier for Rs 14,500 on January 11, 2008 and furniture worth Rs 17,296 for his home-office on June 23, 2006.

There are numerous entries in the records from Sangrur, where milk, Good Day biscuits, soft drinks, mineral water, lassi for the Deputy commissioner, under the head “DC Sahab da Samaan” were purchased from public funds during August 8-September 9, 2007.

In Ferozepur, records show up “Archies” cards, a day before Diwali in November 2007, biscuits and kaju badaam (cahew nuts and almonds).

“It’s criminal to use public’s money for personal purposes,” said former Punjab Chief Secretary K.R. Lakhanpal. “Even if they use the funds for government purposes, they can’t do that.”