Amritsar villages left in lurch
The Rs 16.5-lakh development grant earmarked for Chak Mukand having been embezzled through a fake bank account, hundreds of residents of this village are forced to defecate in the open. Of the nearly 2,500 households in Chak Mukand, roughly half the families, all of them landless scheduled castes, have no toilets.
"We filled the form for toilets about three years ago, but we are still being told that the grant has not arrived," said Amrit Kaur.
This is not an isolated case. There are 12 villages which have been deprived of development grants to the tune of Rs 1.69 crore marked for them for basic amenities like potable water, drainage, street lighting, pucca houses and garbage dumping grounds.
An HT team visited these villages and found that the villagers from the marginalised sections were the worst sufferers.
"Saraa pind hi bahar janda hai (all villagers defecate in the open)," said a middle-aged woman, inviting chuckles from her neighbours.
Of the Rs 16.5-lakh grant for Chak Mukand, a cheque for Rs 5 lakh was released in March 2011 and another cheque for Rs 11.5 lakh was released nine months later. But the cheques, encashed through fake accounts, never reached the village.
A perusal of the bank statements of these fake accounts, the copies of which are with HT, showed that a sum of at least Rs 1.69 crore had been embezzled in less than a year (from March 2011 to February 2012).
In Khasa village, the street outside the compound of Mazhabi Sikhs is littered, with drains choked on both sides. The 'kuccha' houses of landless peasants and labourers are in stark contrast to the bricked houses in the localities of landlords, which present a neat picture with a proper drainage system and streetlights.
Shockingly, a cheque for Rs 10 lakh released for Dhaul Khurd village was withdrawn from a fake account in the name of the panchayat. When the HT team visited the village, the sarpanch turned out to be a woman, Veer Kaur, contrary to the bank account records that mentioned a man called Inderbir as the sarpanch.
Asked about it, Veer Kaur laughed, clapping her hands: "Those cheaters did not even have the brains to arrange a woman for opening the fake account in our name."
Standing in the middle of a swampy street, she pointed towards the overflowing dirty village pond. "Social welfare minister Gulzar Singh Ranike did not come here even once last year to announce a grant for the village," she said.
Kotla Dal Singh Rs 10 lakh
Dhaul Khurd Rs 10 lakh
Rakh Cheeta Rs 10 lakh
Chak Mukand Rs 9 lakh
Bodh Rs 10 lakh
Kotli Nasser Khan Rs 10 lakh
Khasa Rs 10 lakh
Abadi Narain Ghar Rs 8 lakh
Mandiala Rs 8 lakh
Iban Khurd Rs 10 lakh
Ramuwal Rs 10 lakh
Dhattal Rs 10 lakh
Total: Rs 1.15 crore
(While these grants, misappropriated through fake accounts opened in November-December 2011, are part of the FIR against social welfare minister Gulzar Singh Ranike's personal assistant Sarbhdyal Singh, who is absconding, another amount of Rs 54 lakh was embezzled through fake accounts opened in March 2011, taking the total amount to Rs 1.69 crore).
Procedure for release of discretionary grants
A minister has a discretion to grant Rs 2.5 crore annually for the development of villages. As per the official procedure, the minister sends a formal proposal letter to the controller, rural development (finance) for the release of grant, identifying the specific works to be undertaken.
The controller, finance then cross-examines the proposal and sends the grant cheque to the district development and panchayat officer (DDPO), from where the cheque is released to the panchayat.
As per the norms, a member from the personal staff of the minister collects the grant cheque, which is then formally disbursed by the minister in the village itself.
In the case of these 12 villages, Ranike's PA collected all the cheques, but the money never reached the villages.
Curiously, Ranike never announced the said grants during his visits to these villages. He did not even initiate any inquiry into the embezzlement of the grants released from his discretionary funds.