Chandigarh: The Haryana government has granted permission to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), formerly known as the State Vigilance Bureau (SVB), to investigate two IAS officers — Sonal Goel and Anita Yadav — and seven other officials in connection with an alleged Rs 200 crore scam in the Faridabad Municipal Corporation.
The government’s action has evoked a sharp reaction from the opposition, with Congress MLA alleging that it is still shielding its “chosen” officers.
The alleged scam came to light in 2020 when several councillors complained to the municipal commissioner that payments had been made to a contractor from 2015 onward without any work to show against them. Most of the work was related to the paving of streets with interlocked tiles, and the payments allegedly went on till 2020. The then SVB registered four FIRs in March and April 2022. The allegations in the FIRs include cheating, forgery, public servant disobeying law, and various other sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act against several employees.
Eight people, including two former chief engineers and a contractor, have been arrested since.
The state government has now given permission to investigate the IAS officers — both former commissioners of the Faridabad Municipal Corporation — and others under both FIRs, as required under Section 17-A of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
This section says, “No police officer shall conduct any inquiry, enquiry or investigation into any offence alleged to have been committed by any public servant under this Act, where the alleged offence is relatable to any recommendation made or decision taken by such public servant in official function or duties, without the previous approval of the government.”
In a letter to the director-general of the ACB, dated 7 February, the government had given permission to investigate Goel and several former officials of the Faridabad Municipal Corporation under the second FIR, dated 19 April 2022.
Then, in a letter dated 27 February, Chief Secretary Sanjeev Kaushal wrote that the state government had granted permission to investigate Goel, Yadav and seven others under the first FIR, dated 24 March 2022. ThePrint has copies of both the letters.
ThePrint contacted both Goel and Yadav over the telephone. While Goel said she couldn’t comment on the matter as it’s sub judice in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Yadav asserted that her name had unnecessarily been dragged into the case, and that she had already joined the SVB’s inquiry on 12 September.
Power department secretary and former commissioner Mohammed Shayin also joined the inquiry a day before Yadav did.
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Officers under the lens
Although it’s officials of the engineering and accounts section of the municipal corporation who clear contractors’ bills, the commissioner’s signature is required to release the payment. That’s where IAS officers Goel and Yadav come in.
Goel, 40, is a 2008-batch IAS officer of the Tripura cadre, and was on a four-year deputation to Haryana when she was posted as commissioner of the Faridabad Municipal Corporation. She served in this post for two terms — from 6 August 2016 to 14 August 2016, and from 16 September 2019 to 31 December 2019. She has now returned to her parent cadre and is Resident Commissioner, Tripura Bhawan, in New Delhi.
She had approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2022 when, after the registration of the FIR, the government gave permission for an “inquiry” under Section 17-A of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Goel contended that the SVB’s action was beyond its authority and in contravention of articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
The high court, in an order dated 1 October 2022, restrained the government from taking any coercive action against Goel. In another order dated 7 October 2022, the court framed six questions to examine the legality of proceedings initiated against her. The case is ongoing.
The other officer, 57-year-old Yadav, was promoted to the IAS from the Haryana Civil Services in 2004. She is also the younger sister of Santosh Yadav, a former deputy Speaker of the state assembly.
She served as commissioner of the Faridabad Municipal Corporation from 9 January to 19 September 2019, and is currently posted as additional chief executive officer of Faridabad Metropolitan Authority.
Congress MLA’s vow
Neeraj Sharma, the Congress MLA from the Faridabad NIT constituency, played a major role in the registration of FIRs and arrests in this case.
Alleging that the government was not taking any action, Sharma had lodged a protest in the assembly on 22 March, 2022.
Speaking to ThePrint Wednesday, Sharma said, “I vowed that day that I would not wear footwear or don clothes till the perpetrators of the scam were arrested. I wore shoes and clothes only in June after the arrests.”
“This government is still trying to shield its chosen officers. Permission for the investigation has been given against two IAS officers, but some others who were also posted during the period have been spared,” he alleged.
(Edited by Smriti Sinha)
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