(Written by Omkar Gokhale)
Rapping the state tribal development department for not taking any action against its officials allegedly involved in the tribal welfare scheme scam despite repeated directions, the Bombay High Court noted that there were “deliberate measures by the department to shield officials”.
A division bench of Justice S C Dharmadhikari and Justice R I Chagla was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by two Nashik residents, Bahiram Motiram and Gulab Pawar, who had alleged a scam worth thousands of crores when the Congress-NCP government was in power.
On Monday, the bench expressed its displeasure over a rejoinder filed by the state and said the names of the accused officials needed to be revealed. The bench further noted that the department had failed to take any action before the High Court got seized of the matter.
As many as 123 bureaucrats were named in the alleged siphoning off of funds allocated for tribal welfare in the state. The accused officials have faced criminal and disciplinary action since June 2013, after the HC had ordered an extensive probe. The alleged scam came to light in 2012, when a bunch of petitions were filed against the conduct of the accused officials.
“It appears there are prima facie deliberate measures to shield the officials. You cannot say that 63 people have retired and they cannot be prosecuted. It means somebody has allowed them to retire without any action. This affidavit does not inform whether 89 complaints have resulted into an FIR or any arrest and whether a chargesheet was filed,” the court observed.
The HC also pulled up the state for not providing details of action taken against the private contractors and whether they were blacklisted by the tribal department.
The petitioner had submitted that the Justice Gaikwad Committee, which probed the scam, had recommended further investigation. However, the government did not form any Special Investigation Team (SIT). On Monday, senior counsel Anil Sakhare, for the state government, assured the court that the investigation will be completed by March 2020.
The bench also warned the department’s principal secretary, Manisha Verma, who was also present during the last hearing, to comply and be “truthful” to the court and to understand the gravity of the case. “Otherwise, they will need to be sent back to training centres,” the court stated.
“The principal secretary and her political bosses need to be aware that they must allow officials to work and take action. It is an eyewash… the justice delivery system has been hampered,” Justice Dharmadhikari said.
In May 2017, an inquiry commission, headed by Justice (Retd) M G Gaikwad, had found merit in the allegations levelled in a PIL filed before the HC. The PIL contended that a politico-officio-contractor nexus had siphoned off several thousand crores of funds between 2004 and 2012 by propping up “dubious” welfare schemes for the tribal department.
Contending that more than Rs 100 crore in tribal welfare funds had been misappropriated, the Gaikwad commission had recommended criminal prosecution against more than 50 serving or retired government officials.
Earlier, the government had appointed a one-man committee under retired bureaucrat Prabhakar Karandikar to go through the commission’s report and suggest the methodology for initiating action against the guilty.
The court has directed the state to file a reply stating action taken and posted the next hearing in the first week of March.
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