The two men who stole Rs 48.35 crore from the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), which was to be paid to those whose land had been acquired, used a complex strategy to carry out the fraud. The size of the heist is whopping indeed, but HT, after accessing the vigilance report, has learnt that what’s more interesting is how it was done.
ILLEGAL TRANSACTIONS, FAKE BENEFICIARIES
It was former DRO Capt Vinod Sharma who blew the whistle in the case and reported to health minister Anil Vij about it. Vij intervened and got the inquiry transferred to the vigilance bureau, which formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT).
The prime accused in the case, district revenue officer (DRO) Naresh Kumar Sheokand (who claims to be relative of a top Congress leader), has absconded. The bail application of his accomplice, Bhim Singh, a manager with Punjab National Bank, was dismissed on April 26.
According to the vigilance report, in 2012, when Sheokand was posted as DRO Panchkula, the Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC) and NHAI acquired land in the district. To disburse money to land owners, HSIIDC opened an account with IndusInd Bank, Panchkula, and another with HDFC Bank, Barwala. These accounts, opened in the name of the DRO, Panchkula, had Rs 203.50 crore in them. Sheokand, however, also opened an account with PNB’s Jangpura Extension branch in New Delhi on December 26, 2012. It was in the name of DRO-cumLAC (land acquisition collector), Panchkula.
Five days later, Sheokand issued the first cheque, seeking transfer of `20 crore from IndusInd Bank to PNB, Jangpura Extension. The transfer was declined due to insufficiency of funds. But he tried again, this time issuing a cheque of `19 crore on January 5, 2013.
Apart from these accounts, Sheokand had opened another account with PNB, Sector 8, Panchkula, on December 27, 2012. From the Rs 19 crore transferred to the PNB’s Jangpura branch, he transferred Rs 1 crore to this account and gave away the rest as ‘compensation’ for land, only that the beneficiaries were not the real ones. At that time, the HSIIDC stood at a loss of Rs 18 crore.
HSIIDC COMPENSATED AT NHAI’S COST
The NHAI, which wanted to compensate land owners for the Panchkula-Yamunangar highway in 2012, had also opened a joint account in the name of DRO-cum-LAC (which was Sheokand) and project director, NHAI, at the Sector 8-based PNB. This account contained more than Rs 500 crore - Rs 495 crore deposited on March 28, 2013, and `6.58 crore on June 6, 2013. Now this is where Bhim came into play.
On March 30, 2013, Bhim, a manger with PNB’s Jangpura branch, without permission of account holders and his counterpart in Sector-8, Panchkula, transferred `250 crore to the PNB Jangpura branch, which Sheokand had opened. On the same day, Rs 80 crore was transferred to some accounts in New Delhi and Chandigarh, and the rest was either converted into FDR (fixed deposit receipts) or deposited in another account at the same branch. The entire money, Rs 250 crore, was brought back in the original NHAI account (PNB Sector 8), but without interest that had been earned, thus causing losses to the highway agency.
The two accused, however, made up for the loss (of `18 crore) the HSIIDC had incurred. They got two FDRs worth Rs 22.09 crore transferred from the NHAI account to the HSIIDC account in the same branch. This they did on July 17, 2014.
Bhim also transferred six FDRs from the Sector-8 PNB branch to various accounts opened in the name of the DROcum-LAC Panchkula without permission. Of these, two worth Rs 20 crore were encashed and given away to illegal beneficiaries, causing more loss to NHAI. The NHAI pegged its losses at Rs 48.35 crore - taking into account the loss of interest and also illegal payments.
Bhim has told the court and the vigilance bureau that he did everything on Sheokand’s instructions and that he had authority letters to show.
The people, including two women, who were allegedly benefitted by the fraud are yet to be arrested.