Punjab IAS officer Sucha Ram Ladhar has to submit one-third of the arbitration fee he collected.
The Punjab and Haryana high court on Tuesday directed the Punjab government to submit the details of the account head in which Ladhar would deposit the money so that the court could then issue appropriate orders.
Ladhar had charged Jalandhar and Patiala farmers more than Rs. 1.50 crore in arbitration fee, while deciding their land-acquisition compensation cases. It came to light when Hindustan Times ran a series of reports starting with "IAS officer reaps a rich harvest" and "No policy, Ladhar makes hay as arbitrator" (May 24 and 25, 2012) about the conduct of Ladhar (53), a 1991-batch officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).
"As per the rule, the officer will have to deposit one-third amount of the arbitration fee charged by him," ruled the division bench of chief justice Arjan Kumar Sikri and justice Rakesh Kumar Jain. "We'll pass general directions, as many other officers might also be doing arbitration," said the chief justice, speaking for the bench.
Ladhar's counsel, ML Sareen, submitted that the officer was ready to deposit a third of the amount charged by him to the government. "But the Punjab government, when the case was pending, had come out with a letter asking him to deposit the entire amount, which is illegal," he argued.
When the officer had asked the state government under which law he had been asked to deposit the entire amount, it had been unable to explain, said Sareen, contending that the arbitrator's appointment was done by the Centre under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act of 1996. "The post is not ex officio at all. All over the country, arbitrators charge fee for the job, as there is a great deal of land accusation for national highways," he added.
Sarin submitted that under the National Highway Act of 1956, Ladhar was free to fix his arbitration fee. "As per the Centre's circular issued on October 27, 2008, he is ready to rework the amount and remit one-third of what he has claimed," the counsel said. The circular permits an arbitrator to charge Rs. 500 a day and Rs. 250 for half day (less than two hours of work).
The petitioner, lawyer HC Arora, argued that other IAS officers, including BK Srivastava (name submitted by Ladhar), be also directed to deposit the extra arbitration fee." Arora had sought criminal or departmental action against Ladhar.
Hundreds of families whose land the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) had acquired in Jalandhar and Patiala divisions for widening of the road had paid Ladhar cheques for Rs. 4,100 and Rs. 12,000 each depending upon the case for deciding their compensation disputes. The court has the details.