The Justice AN Jindal (retd) commission of inquiry, which gave the clean chit to former Punjab education minister Sikandar Singh Maluka in the multi-crore book scam of 2013, had in his report blatantly misinterpreted an official order that could have been used as evidence against the minister.
Despite the minister’s February 28, 2013, order to form a three-member committee “to purchase syllabus books and books for libraries in primary schools”, the commission’s report submitted to the state government in December 2013 said: “The minister never intended to constitute the committee for the purchase of books, but only wanted to frame the policy guidelines.”
This misinterpretation and other such details have come to light now as Hindustan Times has procured a copy of the probe report.
In fact, the report turned the case on its head by making the accused minister appear as the whistleblower in the scam that was reported by HT in May 2013. It was the then director general, school education (DGSE), Kahan Singh Pannu, who had pointed towards a scam along with then principal secretary, school education, Anjali Bhawra, and halted the murky procurement midway, revealed documents procured under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The scam pertained to the purchases of books, science lab equipment and geography maps worth more than ` 9 crore, of which books amounting to ` 23.7 lakh and lab equipment worth more than ` 28 lakh were already sent to schools to benefit specific suppliers through the purchase committee, in violation of the Punjab financial rules.
In case of the books, in fact, HT had exposed how the firm that was given the contract was actually a cement-pipe-manufacturing company.
Pannu had locked hor ns with Maluka after apprising Bhawra of the scam-exposing news reports and halted the purchases of library books and science lab kits on finishing his own probe in just three days in May 2013.
Bhawra, the documents revealed, had stated before the inquiry commission that the probe was conducted by Pannu with her consent, and that the committee formed by the minister was actually “a purchase committee”.
But the Jindal panel report stated: “After the media expose on irregularities in purchases in the education department, it is the minister who suo motu immediately asked the DGSE to hold the inquiry and to stop the supply of books.”
The entire Jindal panel probe report did not mention the exact contents of Maluka’s order to form the purchase panel, saying that “the committee was constituted by the minister to frame policy guidelines for procurement.”
“None of the committee members examined by the commission had raised a finger on the integrity, influence, collusion and unlawful conduct of the (then) education minister. Therefore, the minister cannot be challenged. If any functionary of the state commits a default, then the minister cannot be condemned for such default,” the report added.
The minister had constituted the committee by bypassing the DGSE and the principal secretary, school education, in violation of the financial rules, as reported by HT in a series of reports. SHOOTING THE MESSENGER
The commission even went beyond its terms of reference, observing that “a lot of adverse publicity was made in the media by opposition parties levelling allegations against the education minister (Maluka) of corruption, embezzlement and misappropriation of the SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) and RMSA (Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan) funds, terming it as a ‘serious scandal’ or the ‘book scam’.”
“The allegation appears to have been made by the opponents just to attain political mileage and tarnish the image of the education minister,” it added.
Maluka could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.