Former Deputy Speaker of Punjab Assembly, Bir Devinder Singh, on Thursday filed a plea before the state Lokpal against Industries Minister, Sunder Sham Arora, for his complicit involvement in auctioning 31 acres of prime land of liquidated JCT Electronics in Mohali to a private realtor, GRG Developers, last year.
This is the first complaint that has been made against a sitting minister to Lokpal, Justice Vinod Kumar Sharma (retired).
Incidentally, the Punjab finance department had written a letter to the department of industries a few days ago to cancel the auction of the 31-acre land. Punjab’s Advocate General Atul Nanda had in his legal opinion stated that the deal caused a loss of Rs 125 crore to the state exchequer.
In his complaint, Bir Devinder Singh — who was accompanied by Justice Nirmal Singh (retd) and ex-MP, Paramjit Kaur Gulshan — has said that the Lokpal should call the entire record concerning the fraudulent sale/auction of 31-acre of prime land of liquidated JCT Electronics in Mohali, by Punjab Small Industry and Export Corporation (PSIEC), that ended up causing the state government a loss of Rs 400 crore.
The petition also said that the investigations be handed over to the CBI for scanning and scrutinising the role of Arora, officials of PSIEC and Punjab Infotech, GRG Developers, and ARCIL company. It says that Arora, by misusing his official powers for wrongful gains, has caused huge loss to the public exchequer by the fraudulent sale by Punjab Small Industry and Export Corporation (PSIEC), and, therefore, FIR be registered immediately against him as well as all erring officers.
The plea demanded that direction be issued to the Punjab government, through Chief Secretary, that the fraudulent sale of the property in question is set aside, and during the pendency of the present complaint status quo in regard to property be maintained.
Quoting from Advocate General (AG) Atul Nanda’s legal opinion, Bir Devinder said that the AG himself had stated, “Neither the officers of Punjab Infotech and PSIEC nor the department of industries performed due diligence to ascertain the manner/procedure for arriving at a valuation on unearned increase income and far from asserting the right under the lease deed, proceeded solely in the above arbitrary manner. The file was presented for approval to the state government by giving it an emergent colour warranting immediate action. The approval was given by the state government on March 26, after taking approval from MD of PSIEC, ACS Department of Industries, and Minister of Industries.”
Punjab Small Industry and Export Corporation did not stake a claim of Rs 161 crore as an unearned profit to be paid on the sale of the property. It instead agreed to a claim Rs 45.28 crore as 50 per cent of the sale value. The decision was taken in the 293th meeting of board of directors of PSIEC, without referring the matter to the finance department, nor to the AG for a second opinion, Nanda says.
In January 2020, the PSIEC agreed to sell the leased land proposed at a reduced amount of Rs 90.56 crore, from Rs 161 crore as unearned increase income of which PSIEC would get only 50 per cent (Rs 45 crores) and a reduced amount of Rs 8.54 crores from Rs 9.77 crore as enhanced compensation in the auction to be conducted by Asset Reconstruction Co. (ARCIL).
The PSIEC only proceeded on the legal opinion by a private advocate, who did not examine the nature of charge over the lease rights held by Punjab Infotech as per the lease deed nor the fact that only the Managing Director of Punjab Infotech was the competent authority to value the unearned increase. Despite the financial and legal implications involved, the matter was never referred to the Finance Department nor to the AG’s office. The sale was advertised based on this reduced rate on January 4, 2020, and GRG Developers came out to be the successful bidder on February 17, 2020.
On March 20, 2020/March 23, 2020, the then MD of PSIEC, Sumit Jarangal, recommended that the transaction be approved by the government by saying, “The advocate has advised in no unambiguous terms that it is in the interest of the corporation to accept the same as in case the payments are made in accordance with sections 529 A of the 1956 Act, the corporation may be at loss and may not even be able to recover the amount which has been offered by ARCIL as the corporation is the only unsecured creditor of JCT Electronics Limited (in liquidation),” the AG had stated in his opinion.