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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

When Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann said Dharamsot will be in jail in scholarship scam case

Dharamsot was arrested in connection with a scam in the forest department, which he headed when he was a minister in the cabinet of Captain Amarinder Singh.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh |
Updated: June 7, 2022 12:20:48 pm
Sandhu Singh Dharamsot, Bhagwantt Mann, Dharamsot arrested, Dharamsot graft case, Punjab news, Indian expressPunjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann had indicated that Sadhu Singh Dharamsot will be jailed. (File)

Less than two months after Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann had indicated that Sadhu Singh Dharamsot will be jailed, the former minister was arrested Tuesday on charges of graft. Dharamsot was arrested in connection with a scam in the forest department, which he headed when he was a minister in the cabinet of Captain Amarinder Singh.

“Soon, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot will be filing an application in the Punjab and Haryana High Court or in the sessions court urging for VIP treatment in jail,” Mann had said while speaking to the media in Jalandhar on April 14.

Dharamsot was also accused of a scam in the post-Matric SC (PMS-SC) Scholarship while he was a minister in Amarinder Singh’s government. The scam was alleged by the then administrative secretary of the social welfare department, Kripa Shankar Saroj, who had written to the then chief secretary Vini Mahajan on August 21, 2020. Dharamsot was cleared by a three-member panel comprising three state government officials. The Centre had also ordered an inquiry into the alleged scam but no headway was made into the case.

Saroj had alleged that under the PMS-SC scheme, the Centre had sent Rs 303 crore to Punjab in February-March 2019. “Though the Directorate of Social Justice withdrew Rs 248 crore from the treasury, however, the department had then distributed this sum in an arbitrary manner. Significantly, records pertaining to Rs 39 crore are missing. Either this sum has been embezzled or paid to some ghost institutions,” wrote Saroj.

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“An amount of Rs 16.91 crore was paid to such institutions against which the audit team had recommended a recovery of Rs 8 crore, thus costing the state exchequer Rs 24.91 crore. If the amount of recoveries which the audit team had concluded are added to this Rs 16.91 crore, then these officials had cost the exchequer to the tune of Rs 24.91 crore. The minister and his team of officers, worked in tandem,” he added.

The whistle-blower was later transferred out and now works in the department of NRI affairs.

Following the expose, then chief minister Amarinder Singh had ordered an inquiry and asked Vini Mahajan to look into the case. Simultaneously, the then Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot had also ordered a departmental inquiry into the alleged scam. Two Joint Secretary-level officers in the department were deputed to conduct the probe that did not make any headway. At that time Amarinder Singh had accused the BJP-led Centre of “interference” in state affairs without consulting his government and waiting for an inquiry being undertaken by the chief secretary.

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Mahajan had constituted a three member-panel comprising Jaspal Singh, K A P Sinha, and Vivek Partap Singh to probe the allegation. Two months later, in their inquiry report, they had cleared the minister but held officials of the department responsible for paying Rs 7 crore out of turn to a number of private institutions in violation of rules.

The committee stated that the money trail of Rs 39 crore, which was alleged to have gone into accounts of ghost institutions, was traced. The irregularity was, however, found in payments worth Rs 7 crore, which was disbursed to 13-14 private institutions out of turn.

“The minister’s involvement in the disbursal of Rs 7 crore is not made out as he is not the proposer of this disbursal. The proposal came from the officials at the level of director and deputy director in the (social justice) department,” the report had stated.

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“Payments were made to even those institutions, which had been found out as defaulters by the FD audit team. Instead of effecting recoveries from those institutions, heavy payments were made at the level of deputy director Parminder Singh Gill,” the report added.

Amarinder had then written to Mahajan to fix responsibility against the officials. It was stated that it was a decision of the Cabinet to provide the central grant to colleges on a turn basis as and when the money was received. In this case, certain private colleges received preferential treatment and money was disbursed to them out of turn. This was in violation of the Cabinet decision on the basis of which Mahajan was asked to fix responsibility. The department then started issuing charge sheets to the departmental officials.

Later, Dharamsot was dropped by Amarinder’s successor Charanjit Singh Channi from his Cabinet and Dr Raj Kumar Verka was made the minister in charge of the social welfare department. He made several announcements that he would bring the guilty to book. But no action followed. Dr Verka joined the BJP a few days ago.

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First published on: 07-06-2022 at 12:03:26 pm

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