The Punjab government has decided to initiate twin action -- disciplinary proceedings and recovery of over Rs. 6 lakh -- against senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Himmat Singh for indulging in "financial impropriety" in the multi-crore diversification scam of four government-funded farm councils.
The major charge against the 1980-batch IAS officer, who was known for enjoying the patronage of then chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, is that during the 27-month-long leave he kept on brazenly spending government money on his tours and expensive indulgences at the country's most luxurious five-star hotels in the capacity of vice-president of the farm councils, according to a "confidential" government document.
At the root of the scam are the councils on citrus and agri juicing, value-added horticulture, organic farming, and viticulture (grape cultivation) which were set up in 2006 by the then Congress government (2002-2007) with a mandate to promote high-value crops and steer farmers out of the wheat-paddy cycle.
The diversification project after having sunk roughly over Rs. 80 crore of public money is now mired in a litany of scandals and has since come a cropper.
The rip-off is under the scanner of various agencies after Hindustan Times exposed the scam in March 2010 and subsequently published a series of reports highlighting pilferage, forgeries, fake bills and unlawful expenditure by hand-picked officials at the helm of the project, derailing Punjab's crop diversification dream much before it could take off.
After having examined the matter at various levels and obtaining approval from chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, the government last week slapped the chargesheet on Himmat Singh, who is currently posted as member secretary, state women commission.
The "statement of imputations of misconduct" issued against the officer says: "Himmat Singh…was on leave from May 11, 2007 to August 31, 2009 and incurred unauthorised expenditure. During the period of leave he undertook several trips from Chandigarh to Delhi and Mumbai and the expenditure on travel, stay in hotels, taxi charges, telephone and internet has been borne by the council."
Holding this "unwarranted and impermissible" conduct of the IAS officer, the government has pointed out that the officer resorted to this practice "without prior approval from the competent authority." While indulging in "financial impropriety" the officer also "misused his official position," the government has held.
"By doing so, he has violated rule 3(1) of All India Services (Conduct Rules), 1968, and had made himself liable for disciplinary action under Rule 8 of the All India Service (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969."
Setting 21 days' deadline for replying in writing to the allegations, the government has said that if the written statement is not received within the specific period it would be presumed that the IAS officer has none to submit.
In order to prepare the written statement, Himmat Singh will have access to the official records strictly relevant to his case. But the IAS officer can inspect the documents on any working day and "after taking prior appointment" from the officer concerned.
But failure to inspect the documents will not constitute a valid ground for delay in the submission of the written statement.
Rs 2,37,109: Hotel boarding and lodging expenditure
Rs 2,96,651: Travelling expenses
Rs 17,597: Taxi bills
Rs 89,887: Telephone and internet charges
Total: Rs. 6,41,244