In a classic case of how rules are bent to favour those in power, the Doraha municipal council (MC) authorities charged a mere Rs. 4 per square yard as 'development fee' from a chosen set of people, while charging Rs. 192.5 per square yard from others. Among the beneficiaries of the alleged scam - causing a loss of over Rs. 7 crore in four fiscal years (2006-07 onwards) -- was the then officiating MC president, Surinderpal Sood.
Formally brought to the police's notice in August this year, the scam involved charging a reduced levy of Rs. 4/sq-yard for four properties owned by Sood, who remains a councillor from the Congress stable, and 576 other properties in the municipal town of Doraha, which falls in Ludhiana district. This meagre rate was determined by a resolution passed by the MC in August 2004, merely a month after the then president Raj Rani had been removed in a no-confidence motion, and Sood had become the acting head in his capacity as the MC's senior vice-president.
The double standards are revealed in documents in possession of HT - for instance, the MC charged Rs. 192.5/sq yard for construction on a 434-sq yard residential plot in August 2007, but it levied only Rs. 4/sq yard in December 2006 for a much bigger plot (5,680 sq yards) owned by Sood. While charging the Rs. 192.5 fee, the MC cited a state government notification dated March 10, 2005. However, when it came to Sood's four properties and 576 others, the MC's own resolution (No. 53, dated August 23, 2004) was given precedence.
The difference of Rs. 188.5 per square yard for at least 580 properties caused a cumulative loss of Rs. 7,14,71,553 to the public exchequer, it is alleged.
When an aggrieved resident, advocate Tarlochan Singh Sethi, sought an explanation under the Right to Information (RTI) Act in May 2010, the MC handed him a copy of the 2004 resolution that had reduced the fee to Rs. 4/sq yard. Dissatisfied still, Sethi lodged a formal complaint with Ludhiana police range deputy inspector general (DIG) MF Farooqi in August.
Sethi alleged that he had approached the DIG only after the Doraha police refused to lodge a complaint. DIG Farooqi, when contacted, said he would look into the matter.
Sood, meanwhile, denied all allegations: "The executive officer (EO) of the MC is responsible for any variation in the charging of the development fees or any such financial matter." Reminded that he was the acting president of the MC when the fee was reduced, he said, "I don't remember matters that are 10 years old now."
Moments later Sood claimed that the Rs. 4/sq yard fee had been charged only for properties in "approved colonies". However, documents procured from the MC (dated August 7, 2009) stated that the town had no authorised colony.
As for EO Surinder Kumar, he argued that he had joined the Doraha MC "only a year ago" and thus was not responsible for the alleged fiscal irregularities.
The earlier House's tenure ended in 2008, and currently the 13-member Doraha MC has seven members from the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) including president Inderjit Singh Kalha; the rest from the Congress. Kalha, a first-time councillor, also took the plea that the issue has not been taken up in any meeting during his tenure.
The issue had, however, been raised at a Sangat Darshan programme of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in January 2011 in Doraha.