The amount collected by Punjab IAS officer Sucha Ram Ladhar as arbitration fee in his capacity as Jalandhar divisional commissioner is being returned to landowners concerned whose land was acquired by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI).
Ladhar had recently deposited part of the arbitration fee with the government. The cheques have reached the sub-divisional officers concerned of the Jalandhar division to be distributed further to the landowners.
According to the information provided by the office of the commissioner, a sum of `14.51 lakh had been distributed among 143 owners till May 22.
The conduct of Ladhar (53), a 1991-batch IAS officer, had come under scrutiny following a series of reports in Hindustan Times, starting with ‘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 entire amount illegally charged by him.
A division bench of the high court had, in October last, directed Ladhar to remit the fee charged by him with proportionate interest received by him in his bank account to the state government.
The court had also asked the state government to refund the amount so received from the officer to the farmers concerned and imposed a cost of Rs 20,000 on Ladhar for his conduct while deciding the PIL filed by Chandigarh-based lawyer and activist HC Arora.
Ladhar filed an appeal in the Supreme Court but it was rejected. In December last, he informed the state government that he had deposited `1.83 crore in the bank.
The 1991-batch IAS officer had charged varied amount to decide the disputes between the landowners and the NHAI. He had also unilaterally decided that the cost of arbitration would be equally shared by the landowner and the NHAI. When the NHAI had refused to deposit its share, Ladhar had issued another order in November 2011 that the arbitration costs for the respondent NHAI would be paid by the petitioner at the time of award which would be recovered at the time of taking the award money.
The awards were released to the petitioners after payment of arbitration fee.
The RTI information received recently by HC Arora from the office of the Jalandhar division has revealed that arbitration fee worth Rs 2.86 crore was collected by Ladhar in the arbitrator’s account with the SBI of which he transferred Rs 1.6 crore to his own savings account. The remaining Rs 1.16 crore stands transferred to the government account.
The RTI information reveals that of 1,568 arbitration cases decided by Ladhar, the files and records of only 1,299 cases are available in office of the commissioner and 198 files are lying in the court of additional sessions judge, Jalandhar.
Commissioner R Venkat Ratnam, vide his letter dated April 4, 2014, had requested the chief secretary to constitute a state-level audit committee to conduct a thorough audit of the bank account, register and the cash book supplied by Ladhar, in order to arrive at a correct amount of arbitration fee charged by him, and the interest accrued thereon.
Venkat Ratnam has also suggested to the chief secretary to consult the Legal Remembrance to have his opinion as to how much arbitration fee is required to be recovered from Ladhar.