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Punjab minister says any agency can probe him after secretary indicts him in scholarship scam

Punjab Social Welfare Minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot was indicted earlier this week by his secretary in an alleged misappropriation of funds meant for Dalit students.

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Chandigarh: Cornered over allegations of misappropriation of post-matric scholarship funds meant for Dalit students, Punjab Social Welfare Minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot Friday said he was ready for an independent probe by “any agency”. 

Under attack from the opposition, led by the Aam Aadmi Party, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Lok Insaaf Party, during the single-day session of the state assembly, the ruling Congress found itself on the backfoot over the issue. 

The opposition demanded Dharmsot’s removal after the additional chief secretary heading the department of social welfare indicted his own boss in the Rs 64-crore scam earlier this week.

Apart from causing a huge embarrassment to the Amarinder Singh government, Dharamsot’s indictment by his own secretary has generated a controversy in the state, which reportedly has the largest Dalit population in the country.

Dharamsot, however, said the charges against him are politically motivated. 

Also read: 38 people die in 3 days in Punjab after ‘consuming’ illicit liquor, 7 bootleggers arrested

What the report says

On Monday, additional chief secretary of the social welfare and justice department, Kripa Shankar Saroj, submitted an inquiry report, indicting Dharamsot and some other officers for causing a loss of Rs 63.9 crore to the exchequer in the distribution of the scholarship amounts to private technical colleges in the state. 

The 54-page report, accessed by ThePrint, stated that under the post-matric scholarship scheme, the Government of India 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 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,” according to the report.

“Interestingly, an amount of Rs 16.91 crore was paid to such institutions against which the audit teams (of the finance department) had recommended a recovery of Rs 8 crore, thus costing the exchequer Rs 25 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 (a loss to) the exchequer to the tune of Rs 55 crore,” the report stated.

“Hon’ble minister and his team of officers worked in tandem, which are being mentioned in the report, which necessitates the presenting of this report,” stated Saroj.

The report also stated that for “three months” — from the time Saroj joined the department in August 2019 to December 2019 — neither he nor the director of the department were sent a “single paper” for approval. 

All files related to the scholarship scheme were dealt by Deputy Director of the department P.S. Gill and Dharamsot. The report pointed out that the work related to the scheme had been specifically assigned by the minister to Gill under his signature.

Saroj added that instead of using the grants for paying the pending maintenance allowance among Dalit students, the deputy director gave away a large part of this money to colleges from whom recoveries had been recommended by the state’s finance department following a special audit exercise. 

In order to justify the payment, the deputy director and the minister ordered a re-audit of these already audited colleges, the report stated. 

The report named at least 10 private engineering colleges, which were re-audited.

Saroj added that his predecessors too abdicated their responsibility and allowed the “nexus” between the deputy director and the minister to continue. 

He said that the senior assistants and superintendents of the scholarship branch were “hand in glove” with the authorities.

‘Conspiracy to cast aspersion on state govt’

In a statement issued Thursday, Dharamsot, however, said that the charges were malicious, absurd and politically motivated. 

“There are some vested interests who cannot digest the fact that our SC students are getting good facilities and education during Captain Amarinder Singh government,” said the minister, terming it as a conspiracy to cast aspersion on the state government’s efficient working.

Meanwhile, the BJP Friday claimed that the scam was not as meagre as it was being projected to be. 

The party said the scam is much larger and the amount involved was not less than Rs 959 crore. 

Tarun Chugh, the national secretary of the BJP, in a statement said it was highly unfortunate that CM Singh was shielding Dharamsot.

The National Scheduled Caste Alliance, meanwhile, demanded a CBI probe into the scam Friday. Paramajit Kainth, president of the alliance, said a similar scam in Himachal Pradesh was being investigated by the CBI.

President of Joint Association of Colleges Jagjit Singh Friday stated that by levelling allegations of a scam, the Punjab government was delaying the release of Rs 1,850 crore of post-matric scholarship.

SAD’s youth wing, meanwhile, held a protest outside the assembly over the issue.

Also read: Punjab minister says CM’s liquor home delivery move undignified, supports wife’s review call


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