Graft glare sends babus into a tizzy in Punjab, Haryana

Taking a cue from their Haryana’counterpart, Punjab bureaucracy seems to be taking a shelter under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act (Amended), while defending their colleagues booked by the state VB in alleged corruption casess, writes Pawan Kumar Bansal

As per the current inputs, Vigilance Bureaus from both Punjab and Haryana have suddenly started competing with each other as they swing into action for nailing corrupt public servants including senior officers and politicians who by their actions have caused tremendous loss to the State Exchequer and usurped public money.  As on date, Punjab seems to have taken an edge over its younger sibling because of its roping in some former ministers and a couple of IAS officers whereas Haryana SVB, despite its lot of efforts has been lagging behind in this field. While Haryana has earned kudos for catching some HCS officers, who are known to enjoy powerful connections, it has not shown its grit by putting on mat any of the serving or retired IAS officers, most of whom have been enjoying unbridled powers in the regime of Manohar Lal Khattar, who seems hesitant to flex his muscles and upset the IAS Lobby.

No wonder, the Punjab bureaucracy akin to its Haryana counterpart, is making an all-out effort to use Section 17-A of The Prevention of Corruption Act (Amended) as a protective shield. When Punjab SVB booked  Neelima, a 2008 batch IAS officer, the bureaucracy reportedly questioned the action on the ground that prior permission under the above section had not been taken. The SVB action has set the cat among pigeons. Panic has reportedly struck the state bureaucracy after registration of the case and the topic is in hot discussion in informal meetings. The Punjab IAS Officers Association has conveyed its resentment to Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann over the registration of a case against their colleague Neelima in the industrial plot scam.

The Punjab Vigilance Bureau has booked former Industries Minister Sunder Sham Arora, IAS officer Neelima and 10 other government officers for transferring a prime industrial plot to a real estate company for allowing it to establish a township by carving out plots.

The Punjab Civil Services Officers Association has gone on mass casual leave for a week against the move of vigilance bureau for not taking any sanctions before arresting Narender Singh Dhaliwal, Regional Transport Authority, Ludhiana. The association has described the action of vigilance bureau as “Illegal, wrongful and arbitrarily” as it had been taken on the basis of a mere statement of a private individual and without adopting a due procedure”.

They have also taken the plea that vigilance bureau has not taken permission from the government u/s 17-A of the prevention of corruption act, which says that no police officer shall conduct an investigation or inquiry in any offence alleged to have been committed by a public servant under this act without the prior approval of competent authority which is the chief secretary. Interestingly, section 17-A prohibits investigation without prior permission in case the officer is in discharge of his official duties. The vigilance bureau sources point out that indulging in corruption is not covered under this act.

Section 17-A of the Prevention of Corruption Act says, “No police officer shall conduct any inquiry or investigation into any offence alleged to have been committed by a public servant under this Act, where the alleged offence  is relatable to any recommendation  made or decision taken  by such public servant in discharge  of his official duties, without the previous approval of the  government.”

A similar stand was taken by the  Haryana bureaucracy while denying sanction for prosecution in the case of an HCS officer, Amrinder Singh, who during his posting as a DTO, was booked for allegedly charging money for allowing safe passage to overloaded trucks. The Haryana Chief Secretary office while denying grant of sanction for prosecution of the suspended HCS officer, the Chief  Secretary directed the Director General of Vigilance Bureau, Haryana to fix responsibility of those who were involved in arresting the officer without seeking prior  permission  and for “apparent wilful violations” of the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

However,  the Haryana CM after seeking legal opinion from the Advocate General, Baldev Mahajan, took a strong stand and gave  sanction for prosecution of the HCS officer. It is reliably learnt that some Punjab IAS officers are regularly in touch with their Haryana counterparts for consultations as the developments have thrown  a challenge to the supremacy of the hitherto “privileged class “.

Some bureaucrats admit that IAS officers are given numerous ‘tips” during their training at Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy, Mussoorie, to cover up their various acts of omissions and commissions e.g. loopholes in taking sanction under the above section of the P.C Act.
In a related development, the Haryana government has given sanction for prosecution in a case related to allotment of a school site in Gurugram against rules. The role of a senior IAS officer, who was heading Haryana Shahari Vikas Pradhikaran at that time, has been highlighted in the FIR, registered by SVB Gurugram. An alleged  tout of the officer has already been arrested and investigations are underway. Chander Mohan, SP, SVB, Gurugram refused to share details of the case but “Tehelka“ is in possession of the copy of the FIR.

The Role of another IAS officer who was holding a key post in the CMO, is also under cloud in case of allotment of showroom sites in Gurugram in the year 2018 at prices of 1996. One HCS officer, who was the  Estate Officer of H.S.V.P.Gurugram , besides a top businessman who was allotted the site, have also  been booked by the SVB .

The  businessman in question has been arrested and a massive hunt is going on for the arrest of the HCS officer who has reportedly filed a petition in the Punjab and Punjab Haryana High Court for quashing the FIR registered against him. It is intriguing that three years ago, when this scam was exposed in the media, this  HCS officer was suspended but was shortly  not only reinstated but also given the additional charge of the post of Joint Commissioner of MCG, Gurugram, a lucrative post.

The influential officer had left no stone unturned to ensure that sanction for prosecution was not granted. But the Haryana CM has given him a shock of his life by giving permission for registration of the criminal case.