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On wrong foot, Maluka puts ball in CM's court

Punjab education minister Sikandar Singh Maluka on Sunday said he was ready to face inquiry "at the level of the chief minister" into his alleged role in purchase scams that have been exposed by HT over the past week. Book scam|Lab kit scam| VOTE:Has Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal been soft-pedaling on his ministers facing corruption charges?

chandigarh Updated: May 27, 2013 00:28 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times

Punjab education minister Sikandar Singh Maluka on Sunday said he was ready to face inquiry "at the level of the chief minister" into his alleged role in purchase scams that have been exposed by HT over the past week.

"There must have been an irregularity at some point," he admitted at a press conference here, but ducked most specific questions over the scandalous "nomination" of firms to supply library books and school lab kits "under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA)". Asked why the 'tenders' and 'nomination' done by his appointed three-member panel did not mention any scheme's name, he said it was "not necessary to have names".

Firms used these "nomination" letters to force the books and lab kits onto schools against rules, and parallel to the actual procedure that is carried out under the director general of school education (DGSE). The minister claimed the schools had the choice to not buy, even though field reports show verbal orders ensured the "nominated" firms got central scheme cheques.

Maluka insisted the issue was being blown out of proportion, as he had sent showcause notices to all members of the committee that he had formed.

On DGSE Kahan Singh Pannu's dissent note in the form of a report that questioned the whole vague and parallel procedure, the minister said he had no differences as such with the senior IAS officer "but Pannu's report cannot be revealed". "It is just a preliminary report that raises some doubts," he said.

Maluka had constituted the three-member panel - headed by the director of public instructions (elementary) Prithpal Kaur Sidhu, Punjab School Education Board finance and development officer Gurtej Singh and SAS Nagar district education officer Vinod Kumar -- that had awarded the tasks for supply of books to a Mansa trader who is actually a pipe manufacturer, and the lab kits' tender to five Ambala firms.

The minister on Sunday claimed he had the authority to form such overriding and parallel panels.

Though he admitted the 'nameless' tenders were indeed for central grants, minister Maluka claimed these had culminated "only in the nomination" of firms, "not any procurement". Told that kits had already reached DEO offices and schools at several places, the minister said, "Anyone can place things like that anywhere. That doesn't mean we have ordered or procured the kits."

The total tender, as HT had reported on Sunday, was for 754 schools at cost of Rs 7.5 crore (around Rs 1 lakh each). SAS Nagar DEO Vinod Kumar, who was on the 'tendering' panel, told HT that the kits for schools in his district had been procured already for distribution.

On the ground, the distribution has been halted as the RMSA grant - which was being eyed for embezzlement with this vague, parallel nomination -- has not yet been released by the DGSE office to schools. The five firms, among whom the 22 districts were divided to supply the kits, are now in the lurch as they claim to have delivered the equipment in a majority of districts for which 'tendering' were done in March.

Minister's kin in the ring
Punjab education minister Sikander Singh Maluka also faced queries over the appointment of his daughter-in-law Parampal Kaur as additional state project director, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). She is allegedly enjoying financial powers parallel to the state project director-cum-DGSE.

She has been brought in on deputation from the rural development department where she was posted as a district development and panchayat officer (DDPO). Her shifting was unprecedented as an IAS officer earlier held the post.

Brushing aside queries at his press conference held over the scams highlighted by HT, Maluka insisted that no rules or norms had been violated.

Parampal also enjoys an official luxury car with a red beacon and some Punjab police gunmen.

First Published: May 26, 2013 17:00 IST