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After conversion row, UP university faces another controversy — 2 held for swindling grant money

Two officials of SHUATS university have been arrested for criminal misappropriation of grants worth Rs 5.56 cr given by state govt. This comes a week after a mass conversion row. 

File photo of the administrative block of SHUATS. | Commons
File photo of the administrative block of SHUATS. | Commons

Lucknow: Trouble continues to dog the Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHUATS) in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh. A week after facing allegations of mass conversion, two officials of the university have been arrested for criminal misappropriation of grants given by the state government. 

SHUATS Pro Vice-Chancellor (Planning Monitoring and Development) Sarvjeet Herbert and office superintendent Ashok Singh were arrested Thursday, police told ThePrint.

According to the FIRs, accessed by ThePrint, Herbert and Singh — who have been booked for criminal breach of trust, cheating and forgery, among other charges — are among several officials named in connection with the case. The suspects have been accused of misappropriating over Rs 5.56 crore.

The arrests came on the basis of two separate complaints alleging criminal misappropriation of funds and irregularities in the appointment of professors, assistant professors, and associate professors by the varsity between 1984 and 2017.

The complaints were filed by Navendu Kumar, the deputy superintendent of the UP Special Task Force (Prayagraj field unit) Thursday.

Brijesh Singh, SHO of Naini Police Station under whose jurisdiction the university falls, told ThePrint that both the officials had been produced before a magistrate and are currently in judicial custody. 

The university, however, denies any wrongdoing. Ramakant Dubey, public relations officer of SHUATS, claimed that the arrests and the FIR came despite the fact that the university had been given a “clean chit” in investigations conducted by a special investigation team, as well as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

“A special investigation team constituted by the state government has already probed the allegations of the irregularities in recruitment and fraud and had given a clean chit to the university and sent a report to the state government two months ago,” Dubey told ThePrint, referring to an investigation conducted two years ago. “When such a big agency of the government had already probed the matter and a clean chit was given, the government reopening the probe raises questions over the investigation of the SIT.”

When contacted, an STF officer close to the investigation said that as far as they are aware, the CBI is still probing a different case of fraud in connection with SHUATS. “We can give clarity on whether the chargesheet has been filed or not tomorrow. As of now, we do not think a clean chit has been given in that case,” said the officer.

The current allegations pertain to an old investigation conducted by the local fund audit office, Prayagraj, according to one of the FIRs.

The investigation was ordered by the agriculture education and research department and the finance department via two orders — on 24 October, 2018, and 23 January, 2019.

The allegations come two weeks after eight officials of the university, including the V-C and two pro V-Cs, were booked under Uttar Pradesh’s controversial anti-conversion act.

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‘Misappropriation under various heads’ 

According to the first FIR, the inquiry conducted by the local fund auditor had found that the university indulged in “criminal misappropriation and irregular payments of the grant received from the state government to the tunes (sic) of a total of Rs 5.56 crore through existing varsity accounts on the basis of forged documents”.

The FIR was lodged under sections 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant), 419 (punishment for cheating by personation), 420 (cheating), 467 (forging a document which purports to be valuable security or a will), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (fraudulently or dishonestly using as genuine any forged document or electronic record) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and names several top officials of the university. 

Apart from Herbert and Singh, the people named in the FIR include SHUATS chancellor J.A. Oliver, V-C Rajendra B. Lal, former registrar Ajai Lawrence, pro V-C (administration) S.B. Lal, former finance controller Stephen Das, Chairman (International Education & Training) Mohd Imtiaz, and former director (human resource management) Ranjan A. John

It also mentions unnamed “officials who gave financial approvals to illegal withdrawals of money between 1984 and 2017”.

The FIR, which ThePrint has accessed, alleges that in its investigation, the local fund audit department found “misuse/criminal misappropriation of grants provided by the government via different accounts of the university on the basis of forged documents”.

“Hence, criminal misappropriation of government money has been done with a motive of fraud. A crime has been committed under sections of the anti-corruption act by dishonest misappropriation of grants received by the institution,” the FIR says. 

The FIR alleges that officials misappropriated approximately Rs 1.2 crore by putting it as expenditure under several heads such as expansion and training, and salaries and allowances.

In this, the FIR mentions unwarranted payment to the tune of Rs 10.04 lakh for travel and Rs 2.68 lakh under salary/allowance for “illegal recruitments”.

Recruitment ‘scam’

The second FIR claims that between 1984 to 2017, the varsity appointed 69 professors, assistant professors, and associate professors without adhering to the university’s rules of recruitment or following eligibility criteria.

This FIR was lodged under sections 419 (punishment for cheating by personation), 420 (cheating), 467 (forging a document which purports to be valuable security or a will), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (fraudulently or dishonestly using as genuine any forged document or electronic record), and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) as well as sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act.  

The university, says the FIR, went against recruitment rules on several accounts, such as not placing advertisements in two newspapers as mandated and not issuing appointment letters. “From the probe carried out by the local fund audit office, it is clear that the chancellor and his associates as part of pre-planned conspiracy, took undue advantage of uneligible (sic) candidates and resorted to criminal misappropriation in disbursal of salary and allowances,” the second FIR said.

Conversion controversy

This isn’t the first time SHUATS, which was given the status of a deemed university in March 2000, has found itself on the wrong side of the law. The university, formerly known as Allahabad Agricultural Institute (AAI), was established in 1910 by Sam Higginbottom, a Christian missionary who came to India in 1903.    

Higginbottom taught economics and science at the Allahabad Christian College, currently known as Ewing Christian College, and rose to become a familiar figure in the surrounding villages while studying ancient practices of agriculture.

“The varsity was once a great institute of learning in UP but its deterioration started towards the 1970s when land sharks started taking control resulting in misappropriation of funds due to monetary exchange,” a former DGP of UP told ThePrint. 

Over the past few months, the university has found itself at the centre of a conversion controversy in the state.

In addition, the Uttar Pradesh Police are also investigating two other complaints against the university’s officials. One of those complaints pertains to the allegation that the university had falsely claimed that the central government had granted it minority status. 

SHUATS PRO Dubey told ThePrint that STF investigators Thursday revealed their identities only after entering the university premises.  

“The STF officers told Herbert that they want to question him and take him to the Naini police station where an FIR is filed against varsity officials,” Dubey told ThePrint, adding: “We have full faith in the judiciary”. 

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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