Paanwala who unearthed NREGS fraud now exposes pond scam in Porbandar

The curiosity of Aslam Khokhar,a paanwala from Kutiyana,over an unfinished pond in his hometown in Porbandar district has blown the lid off an alleged Rs 36-crore scam in the state’s flagship irrigation scheme implemented by the Gujarat State Land Development Corporation.

Written by Hiral Dave | Rajkot | Published:February 10, 2012 4:29 am

The curiosity of Aslam Khokhar,a paanwala from Kutiyana,over an unfinished pond in his hometown in Porbandar district has blown the lid off an alleged Rs 36-crore scam in the state’s flagship irrigation scheme implemented by the Gujarat State Land Development Corporation (GSLDC).

According to Khokhar,who had unearthed an NREGS scam to the tune of nearly Rs 1 crore in 2010 while surfing Internet,the financial irregularities are reported to have taken place in the district between 2007 and 2010.

On paper,nearly Rs 36 crore were spent on construction of ponds at private farms (khet talavdi),villages (gam talavdi) and outskirts (sim talavdi) in some 70 villages of three talukas during the said period by GSLDC,a government undertaking formed to implement water and soil conservation projects. But departmental inquiry,following several complaints from villagers,revealed gross irregularities in the implementation of the project.

The inquiry revealed there was no record of contractors who received payments in crores,labourers engaged in the work and even machines like earthmovers,which,according to officials concerned,were used at project sites.

“I have obtained records of 100 earthmovers that,on paper,were shown as being used in the project. But replies to my RTI queries by the RTO revealed that in 90 cases,it was not an earthmover but some other vehicle,like motorbikes or scooters,” said Khokhar.

“Residents of all the villages in question agree that no work was done. But not all are ready to say it in affidavits as they are afraid. But some of them have filed affidavits with me,” he added.

In November last year,Indravadan Mehta,joint director (project preparations) GSLDC,had said in an affidavit to the Gujarat High Court that the suspected regional officials were likely to face action under the Code of Criminal Procedure. He had filed the affidavit in response to a public interest litigation by Khokhar.

The HC dismissed the case last week after the state government promised to take necessary action against the officials concerned.

The irregularities had surfaced for the first time when the department headquarters in Gandhinagar received six complaints from different villages between June and December 2008. Subsequently,an inquiry was ordered into a complaint by Kudwadar village sarpanch Nebha Chelar even as five other complainants withdrew their pleas for various reasons.

The GSLDC in its affidavit maintained that gross irregularities were found in the probe report and in 2009,chargesheet was filed against 11 employees,including assistant director (water conservation) I H Prajapati,regional observer M G Parmar,regional observer M S Chavda and others.

While the department formed another committee for further probe against these officials,reply to an RTI application filed by Khokar in 2009 revealed the scam was spread across the district.

Last April,Khokhar produced 3,500 pages of RTI replies from RTO and GSLDC as evidence before the Governor seeking action against officials concerned. At the same time,he filed a PIL in the HC alleging the department was trying to shield its officials by not taking further steps.

In the PIL,he had attached photographs of 20 sites where work was never done,and affidavits by 12 sarpanchs and villagers,testifying that no work was done at their respective villages.

A three-member inquiry team appointed by GSLDC in August 2011 under Rajkot deputy director (water conservation) P T Korvadia validated the evidence furnished by Khokhar and held officers responsible for gross negligence.

The inquiry report submitted by the team in December revealed:

The RTO licence number of earthmovers shown at various places,against which payments to the tune of several crores were made,were that of motorbikes,scooters and tractors.

There is no record of the contractors,like identity and address proofs,who were awarded projects on paper.

Discrepancies in the list of contractors who were awarded work on paper and who actually undertook the project.

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