Even more than 15 months after the Punjab and Haryana high court directed senior IAS officer Sucha Ram Ladhar to return arbitration fee that he had charged illegally from farmers, the officer is yet to fully comply with the order.
Details procured under Right to Information Act by HT say the 1991-batch officer has only surrendered Rs 1.6 crore against the total due Rs 2.81 crore. Since October 25, 2013, after the HC orders, the personnel department has written no less than nine letters to him to at least provide details of the total number of farmers who were charged arbitration fee by him. But he gave only one, incomplete register on December 3, 2013.
Ladhar, 54, widely seen as a blue-eyed boy of the ruling dispensation led by the SAD, had charged the fee from hundreds of farmers for settling their land disputes with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) as the then divisional commissioner of Jalandhar. He had sought fee from the NHAI too but it had refused.
His conduct had come under scrutiny following a series of reports in HT, such as, ‘IAS officer reaps a rich harvest’ and ‘No policy, Ladhar makes hay as arbitrator’ (May 24-25, 2012). Later, a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the high court in October 2012, seeking recovery of the amount.
A division bench of the HC, in October 2013, directed Ladhar to refund the fee, with the interest received by him in his bank account, to the state government. The government was to further give it to farmers. The court had also imposed a cost of Rs 20,000 on Ladhar. Ladhar filed an appeal in the Supreme Court but that was rejected. The dues, excluding bank interest, were calculated by an audit report of the government on March 4, 2014, after he refused to share specific information.
Now, as Ladhar is still to give any consolidated list of the farmers, the office of Jalandhar divisional commissioner is stuck with matching the entries in the arbitration account that was held by the officer, with the record of the office.
So far, of the total 2,305 entries in the bank account, 1,667 have been matched. Thus only about Rs 65 lakh has reached 947 landowners; 437 farmers have been untraceable or dead. Many can, however, be seen making rounds of the commissioner office for their money.
HC directions of October 11, 2013, said the state government was required to refund the money to the landowners within one month of its payback by the IAS officer. Asked if any action had been taken by the state government for the delay, the RTI reply by the divisional commissioner office only said, “The matter has been brought to the notice of government regularly.”
At present, Ladhar is reportedly on election duty outside the state, and holding no specific posting with the Punjab government. It is alleged that certain political considerations in the Doaba region are also behind the government being lax in the matter.