When the dust of the previous scam is yet to settle, another swindle in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) has come to light here.
An official of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) has overdrawn Rs 1 crore from the government account by violating the scheme rules. The money is unspent for the past eight months, while the labour engaged in the district is protesting for wages. The scam happened in the tenure of Surjit Singh Rakhra as rural development minister.
Already the block development and panchayat officers (BDPO) of Samana (assembly constituency of Rakhra) and Patran are named in first-information reports (FIRs) about similar irregularities in Rakhra’s term. This time, subdivisional officer (SDO) Tejinder Singh Multani, who also holds the charge of executive engineer, is in the eye of the storm.
Overstepping his powers, Multani not only involved contractors in the MNREGS implementation but also overdrew for purchases that were made only on paper. Fishy transactions worth Rs 70 lakh from the MNREGS bank account has also come to the fore.
The job-guarantee Act prohibits involvement of contactors in projects, yet bypassing local gram panchayats, Multani purchased material worth several crore rupees from select dealers such as Sanjiv Gupta, Harjit Singh, Faqir Chand, Kulwinder Singh and others. The Act says that the principal role of the PRIs is planning, monitoring, and implementing the projects, but Multani didn’t involve the panchayats in the purchasing of material.
The purchases were made at the central level but there was no concession given to the department or panchayats. The rates quoted by Multani were similar to what the Samana and Patran BDPOs had quoted, which had got them booked for causing loss to the department. Multani also issued bearer cheques to junior engineer Balwinder Singh, though rules state that the government agencies can issue only account-payee cheques.
“Multani is as guilty as the Samana and Patran BDPOs, who face FIRs after my investigation report.
I couldn’t finalise the inquiry against Multani, since I was told that superintending engineer (SE) Parkash Singh was conducting it,” said additional deputy commissioner (development) Rajesh Tripathi. He said Multani had, prima facie, committed several irregularities. Tripathi had looked into the earlier MNGRES scam.
The SE has not submitted any report to the department yet, but another SE, Harbhajan Singh, who visited Patiala to oversee the scheme projects, pointed out the irregularities in his report to the government.
Xen denies charge
When contacted, Multani denied the allegations and said the purchase was transparent. He failed to explain how the money was in his account when the job-guarantee Act says it should go into the account of the beneficiary or the supplier directly. He said he was open to any inquiry.
Cong demands investigation
The Congress, meanwhile, has demanded investigation into the entire spending of the MNREGS money in Patiala district. “It is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many similar scams. Already, we have asked for an independent inquiry related to the money spent in Rakhra’s tenure,” Patiala (rural) legislator Brahm Mohindra of the Congress. He regretted that the department was sitting the money, while labourers were seeking wages.