Not rules but whims and fancies of minister Sikandar Singh Maluka seem to be the writ in the Punjab education department. In modus operandi similar to the scandal in purchase of library books, the minister ordered questionable tendering that set off a scam in the purchase of science laboratory kits for 754 schools worth R7.5 crore.
While the 'nominated' firm in the books scam pocketed Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) grant, the eye in the 'lab kit scam' was on R7.5 crore issued for precisely 754 schools under the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA).
The firms - five, all from Ambala, given the 'tender' without specifying the scheme and funds - forced the kit on some schools by flashing the 'nomination letter' given by a Maluka-formed committee, which had also facilitated the books scam.
However, as the RMSA grant had not reached the schools, principals asked how they would pay the nearly R1 lakh each. As per rules, the director general of school education (DGSE) has to disburse the RMSA grant in his capacity as state project director, and also lay down broad purchase guidelines. That was awaited, but Maluka's machine was at work.
After the lid came off the books scam, the education department said the kits' supply was "stopped till further orders".
Like he did in the books scam to route the money to Friends Enterprises, Sardulgarh (Mansa) - actually a pipe factory - Maluka ordered tendering that was handled by a panel he formed in the first week of March. No scheme was named, the tender only sought to "raise the standard of education".
The number of schools was the same as those listed for the RMSA grant: 754. The RMSA allocation for kits is around R1 lakh per school, and the Ambala firms priced the kits at R99,203.70. The vague tendering for the same equipment for the same number of schools worth the same price of kits - without stating any scheme's name in the tender or nomination - stands in question thus.
Even more quaintly, five firms were chosen for the same tender, from the same town, and agreed to supply the kits at the same price to assigned districts. A technical check of the kits was to be carried out at the district level, after suppliers had been "nominated".
The RMSA grant remains to be released, confirmed director general school education (DGSE) Kahan Singh Pannu, refusing to go into specifics. As for purchase guidelines, these are approved by a committee that includes the chief secretary.
In the books purchase scam, since the SSA grant had already reached schools, 'Friends' picked by the Maluka-appointed panel flashed 'nomination letters' and pocketed crores. That tender, too, was vague and did not expressly say it was for the SSA grant.
The DGSE was asked to probe the books scam only after content was deemed vulgar. But in his report he questioned the very intention behind parallel tendering. Maluka insists there is no irregularity.
Same panel at work
The three-member committee, which nominated firms to supply science lab kits without mentioning the scheme, had director, public instructions, elementary (DPI-E) Prithpal Kaur, SAS Nagar district education officer Vinod Kumar and Punjab School Education Board finance officer Gurtej Singh. The three also comprised the panel that nominated a firm for supplying books. Both panels were formed by Maluka in the same week. Tenders appeared a week later, not mentioning any schemes but tailor-made to pocket the SSA, RMSA grants.