The Central Bureau of Investigation has officially started its probe into the alleged misappropriation of funds under the Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme for students belonging to Scheduled Castes in Punjab. As per sources, the Punjab government is not willing to share the documents required for investigation with the central agency.
The Union government recently transferred the investigation of the case to the CBI, while the state gears up for the assembly election near year. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had lodged a complaint with the CBI after the allegations were highlighted by opposition parties in the media.
CBI SEEKS DOCUMENTS FROM PUNJAB GOVT
The CBI has now sought all documents pertaining to disbursal of funds under the Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme in Punjab apart from attested copies of the departmental probes ordered by state authorities.
Sources close to the Punjab government said that the CBI may not be given the requisite documents as the Punjab government in November last year had withdrawn its consent for investigation of cases by the CBI in the state. A notification was accordingly issued. As per this, the CBI will now have to seek permission from the state before conducting any investigation.
According to sources, the department concerned has already denied the requisite documents to the CBI on the grounds of the withdrawal of consent. This is not the first time documents pertaining to disbursal of funds under the scholarship scheme have been sought. Earlier when the Union social justice ministry had asked for the same, the request had been rejected.
RS 56 CRORE MISAPPROPRIATED: FIRST DEPARTMENTAL PROBE REPORT
The CBI has also demanded certified copies of the report which the then additional chief secretary Kripa Shankar Saroj had submitted to the chief secretary on August 24, 2020. The scholarship scam had come to light on the basis of that departmental probe report.
In this report, Kripa Shankar Saroj informed the state government that a misappropriation of funds amounting to Rs 55.71 crore had taken place in the social welfare department under the post-matric scholarship scheme for students of scheduled castes. The state of Punjab has a Dalit population of 32 per cent.
As per the report, Rs 30 crore was allegedly transferred to ‘ghost’ educational institutions while Rs 16.71 crore was reportedly transferred to educational institutions which were already under the scanner for financial irregularities. Another Rs 8 crore was transferred to colleges by flouting all norms, according to the report.
Senior IAS officer Kripa Shankar Saroj had also accused Punjab’s social welfare minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot of shielding a senior officer who had been accused of releasing the funds to the colleges.
MINISTER GIVEN CLEAN CHIT BY SECOND INVESTIGATION
The Punjab government, which had shunted out Kripa Shankar Saroj after the scam came to light, then ordered another departmental investigation in which Sadhu Singh Dharamsot was given a clean chit. The state government officials claimed that the allegation of transferring Rs 39 crore to ghost accounts was baseless and the money trail had been traced.
The second investigation did, however, flag the distribution of Rs 8 crore as ‘doubtful’.
OPPOSITION CRITICISES STATE GOVT
Opposition parties including the BJP, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Shiromani Akali Dal demanded a CBI probe into the allegations.
The BJP has now slammed the Congress-led Punjab government for refusing to share the required documents.
“When the departmental probe has given a clean chit to the cabinet minister and officials, why are state authorities hesitating to share the documents with the CBI? There is something fishy that the state government wants to hide,” said senior BJP leader Vineet Joshi.
The AAP also accused the Punjab government of shielding a “corrupt” minister and officials involved in the alleged scam.
“Not only the Congress government but the previous BJP-Akali Dal government also misappropriated funds meant for the Dalit community. A Rs 1,200 crore scam came to light when the BJP-Akali Dal government was in power. Captain Amarinder Singh had promised the Assembly that he would take action against the guilty and the scholarships would be paid to students from the Dalit community. But the scholarships have not been given and action has not been taken against the guilty,” said Punjab Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema of the AAP.
Meanwhile, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot has denied the allegations levelled against him and called them “politically motivated and baseless”.