7 officials booked for Rs 80-crore bungling

Amritsar, September 11: An embezzlement of public money worth crores of rupees allegedly by seven Amritsar Improvement Trust officials has come to the fore during an investigation by the Chief Vigilance Office of the Local Bodies Department.

The district police have registered an FIR against three Estate Officers Arvind Sharma, DC Garg and Paramjit Singh, besides Deputy Controller Finance and Accounts (DCFA) Daman Bhalla, Tina Vohra, CA Sanjay Kapoor and bill clerk Satnam Singh. All accused are on the run.Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu said as of now it seemed that at least Rs 80 crore had been siphoned off. The probe has been handed over to the police after a department inquiry.

Chief Vigilance Officer Sudip Singh Manak claimed that the money was withdrawn in a fraudulent manner from around 70 bank accounts by issuing 49 cheques, DDs, pay orders since 2013. The money was transferred by the accused in their family members’ accounts. Many bank accounts were not even entered in the cash book of the department.

As per the modus operandi, the accused used to deposit money pertaining to the improvement trust in fake bank accounts opened in the name of the trust. They would then withdraw the amount on the pretext of spending on various works such as disbursal of salaries and other “public friendly” tasks.

A probe document procured by The Tribune reveals that Rs 58.15 crore was deposited between December 6, 2013, and May 16, 2017, in an HDFC bank account no. 501100028499581, opened illegally in the name of Improvement Trust, Amritsar.

From this account, cheques amounting to Rs 15.16 crore were issued for issuing pay orders. Two pay orders were issued to Satnam Singh, clerk, and one pay to Narinder Nath, father of Daman Bhalla. Similarly, 53 “self” cheques from this account were issued and a separate amount of Rs 19.25 crore was withdrawn illegally.

Sidhu said the CA of the department never cared to probe the scam in spite of the fact that the government auditor had raised 631 objections on the works being carried out. Announcing to put a stop to such irregularities in future, Sidhu said a third-party audit of all trusts would be carried out to unearth the truth.

“This might be the biggest improvement trust scam till date. We should learn a lesson from it. A regular check of accounts and a third-party audit of all departments is a must. No external audit was done during the previous government’s tenure. More disclosures could be in the offing in the matter which could unmask more wrongdoers. We are getting third party audit done at other places like Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Mohali, Patiala and Bhatinda also. We are determined to punish those who had dented Punjab in the past one decade,” Sidhu said.

News Source: http://www.tribuneindia.com