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Anti-Corruption Bureau nails J&K officials in solar lights scam

LG Manoj Sinha with sleuths from the J&K anti-corruption department (Photo: [email protected]/Twitter)

With the Government’s thrust on transparency, accountability and ensuring financial discipline, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has exposed a major scandal involving withdrawal of funds from the public exchequer for projects that were not executed in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

Engineers of the UT’s Power Development Department (PDD) have been caught siphoning money from the treasury which was shown to be spent for the procurement and installation of over 3,600 solar street lights in the border district of Kupwara.

“During physical verification, not a single Solar Light was found installed by Electric Division Kupwara in the territorial jurisdiction of Electric Sub-Division Kupwara and Electric Sub-Division Trehgam,” according to documents accessed by India Narrative.

With strict instructions from the Department of Finance to keep a tight vigil on the government treasuries so as to ensure that no funds were drawn for works that were not executed at the fag-end of the financial year, the ACB made random checks and inspections in March 2023.

The people of Kupwara had complained that officials of the Electric Division (ED) had withdrawn over Rs 6 crore from the treasury for works not executed or non-existent on ground.

During the spot inspections, the ACB teams, accompanied by executive magistrates and engineering experts, observed that a payment of Rs 6.12 crore had been made illegally to four contractor firms without installing the allotted solar lights. Subsequently, the ACB has written to the Government’s General Administration Department and recommended action against the delinquent officials including cancellation of the tender and recovery of the payments.

Documents accessed by INDIA NARRATIVE make clear that the ACB has found substance in the complaints and written to the GAD that there was a possibility of criminal conspiracy which could be established in a thorough investigation. However, it was not clear immediately why the ACB had not clearly recommended registration of FIR against the accused in its Advisory No:- 26/2023 dated 05-04-2023, addressed to Commissioner-Secretary GAD. Director ACB, Anand Jain, did not respond to phone calls.

AEE Sub Division Kupwara conveyed to Executive Engineer ED Kupwara vide letter No: ESDK/1242-44 dated 28-03-2023 that execution of the allotted works was not possible at the fag end of the financial year in two or three days.

Similar communication came to Executive Engineer ED Kupwara from AEE Sub Division Trehgam on 28-03-2023. It reads: “It is impossible for the contractors / Sub Division to complete the erection of poles and installation of solar lights nearly 02 or 03 thousand solar lights. Else it is difficult for sub division to make billing against such a work when nothing is executed on ground”.

But Executive Engineer ED Kupwara got the bills prepared through Assistant Engineer Stores, namely Mudasir Ismail, and JE Store Manzoor Hassan Choudhary instead of the authorised territorial AEEs and JEs.

“No procurement of solar lights along with has been made. No solar lights have been installed on spot. No time was given in tenders which needs to satisfy the execution of work. The entire expenditure has been made illegally and criminal aspects will be seen separately which appears as a conspiracy to siphon off public funds by the following officers/officials”, the ACB letter to the GAD reads and names Executive Engineer ED Kupwara, Shamim Ahmad, AE Mudasir Ismail and JE Manzoor Hassan Choudhary as the accused.

With the approval pending in the GAD, Managing Director KPDCL has ordered transfer of Executive Engineer Kupwara, Shamim Ahmad, to ED Kulgam. “He has survived 5 heads of the State and has been shifted from Kupwara after 5 years and two months. But it is surprising that he has been transferred to a prize position and given charge of two districts in South Kashmir. Here officials are removed for bribery or embezzlement of Rs 10,000. A huge amount of Rs 6.12 crore has been swindled and there is no suspension, no serious departmental action”, said a PDD insider.

Officials said that the funds siphoned in Kupwara had been received for developments out of the outlay of District Development Councils, Block Development Councils and Panchayats in the border district. Reports said that well after the ACB raids, the PDD engineers have gone into panic mode and started ferrying solar lights in some areas of Kupwara. They are justifying the illegal payment with the argument that they had drawn the money “to prevent it from lapsing on 31 March.

Also Read: In Kashmir, Manoj Sinha steps up fight against corruption clogging rise of new Kashmir