Punjab education minister Sikander Singh Maluka on Friday claimed that he had never assigned the task of purchasing books to the three officers who were suspended after the book scam was unearthed.
"I had formed the committee just to ensure the quality and rates of books, not for any purchase," Maluka told HT in the wake of media reports that the central probe team had found him at fault in constituting the committee.
The minister's statement contradicts his official communiqué dated February 28, in which he constituted the three-member committee for purchasing the books for libraries. The minister also disowned the committee's move to purchase science lab kits for schools.
These three officers of the Punjab School Education Board - director, public instruction (DPI, elementary) Pritpal Kaur, SAS Nagar district education officer (DEO) Vinod Kumar and finance officer Gurtej Singh had called quotations for the supply of library books and picked a contractor from Mansa on the basis of "maximum discount on the price printed on books".
They also sought quotations for the supply of science lab kits, but the education department took a U-turn soon after, disowning the entire consignment despite the kits being already delivered to a few schools. The suppliers were asked to take the kits back wherever supplied amid the uproar over the book scam in May.
A payment of Rs. 24 lakh to the trader from Mansa for the delivery of books to some schools is yet to be refunded by him. The payment was paid from the Rs. 9-crore allocation under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA).
Maluka on Friday stated that the departmental inquiry under which the three officers were suspended was "meaningless" in the wake of the Justice AN Jindal inquiry commission probing the entire scam. "How can only the department headed by me be relied upon? Suppose I give the clean chit to these suspended officers, will it be ok?" he quipped, when asked about the fate of the departmental inquiry initiated by principal secretary, school education, Anjali Bhawra.
Bhawra had also received the replies of the trio to the showcause notices she had served upon them. However, further action is awaited in the absence of any communiqué for officially halting the departmental inquiry in view of the Jindal commission probing the matter.
He called his indictment in the book scam by a team of the union ministry of human resource development (HRD) "politically motivated". "The Congress at the Centre will obviously find faults in us," he added.
Pannu on leave, Bhawra in charge
With Kahan Singh Pannu, who has been on leave for the past fortnight, yet to rejoin as director general, school education (DGSE), principal secretary, school education, Anjali Bhawra continues to hold the additional charge of the DGSE "till further orders", as per the chief secretary's order. Usually, the additional charge is given only for the leave period of the incumbent officer.
Bhawra has been attending the office of the DGSE-cum-state project director, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, in SAS Nagar for nearly a week. Maluka's daughter-in-law Parampal Kaur is working in the office as additional project director. She was brought to the education department on deputation from her parent department of rural development and panchayats.