Twelve-month-old explicit direction from chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for slapping chargesheets against a serving as well as a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer in the multi-crore agricultural diversification scam in the four Punjab government-funded farm councils has become a casualty of slothful bureaucracy.
In what is known as Rs. 90-crore rip-off, the Punjab Police had arrested more than a dozen people in the scam; they are now on bail after spending at least six months in jail. The scam has been under the scanner of various agencies after Hindustan Times first exposed it in March 2010 and subsequently published a series of reports highlighting pilferage, forgeries, fake bills and unlawful expenditure by officials at the helm of the project.
Government sources say in view of the gravity of the issue, the chief minister in the first week of July 2012 had directed chief secretary Rakesh Singh (IAS cadre controlling authority) to decide the appropriate action against the 1980-batch IAS officer Himmat Singh and the retired IAS officer RS Sandhu for their direct or indirect involvement in the scam.
It was decided to first issue the chargesheets to the officers, which had to be prepared under the direct supervision of the financial commissioner (development). But during the tenure of Gurinderjit Singh Sandhu, who retired as financial commissioner (development) in March, the draft of the chargesheet kept shuttling among lower-rung officials of the agriculture department, it has emerged.
Sources say that after the inquiry report submitted by the special investigation team (SIT), a detailed report was sent to the chief minister last year, who had recommended not only recovering the money from the IAS officers but also directed to take action against the guilty.
Inquiries reveal that despite CM's direction the chargesheet has not been issued till date even as it was sent to the personnel department in May after then FC (development) Sandhu demitted office.
Asked to shed light on the whereabouts of the file, secretary (personnel) Saravjit Singh said his department had sent the file to the chief minister for approval after the chief secretary gave the nod. When informed that the CM office had not received the file, Saravjit Singh cross-checked with his staff and admitted that the file was still lying in his department. "I will immediately send the file to the CM office," Singh told HT.
It is learnt that recently Himmat Singh met secretary (personnel) Saravjit Singh and denied having committed any illegality.
The charge against Himmat Singh is that he as the permanent vice-president of the councils allegedly incurred sizeable expenditure of all four councils despite the fact that he was on leave from May 11, 2007 to August 31, 2009, including ex-India leave from May 11, 2007 to August 26, 2007.
But his expenses continued to be charged to the councils during this period too. The hotel bills of the IAS officer mention about various brands of liquor like Bacardi, Black Label, Bacardi Rum, imported beverages, besides spa, as per the information Ludhiana-based NGO Resurgence India had accessed under the RTI. The NGO had to fight a dogged battle for more than a year to unravel the shocking details running into 20,000-pages.
On the other hand, then financial commissioner (development) RS Sandhu (May 9, 2007 to November 30, 2008) allegedly got installed drip irrigation system and citrus plants (worth Rs. 21.45 lakh) in his farms at Chak Sadhu village in Hoshiarpur district free of cost.