Punjab ex-minister Arora arrested, three IAS officers too under lens in industrial plots scam

Punjab ex-minister Arora arrested, three IAS officers too under lens in industrial plots scam
Source: IANS

New Delhi, Oct 17: With the arrest of former Punjab Industries Minister Sunder Sham Arora by the Vigilance Bureau on Saturday, three serving IAS officers who headed the Punjab Small Industries and Export Corporation (PSIEC) from time to time have also come under the scanner.

The VB is looking into the role of the ex-Minister in scams to the tune of hundreds of crore rupees pertaining to the sale of 25 acres of prime land in Mohali to a coloniser at a throwaway price and the fraudulent sale of 300 industrial plots in Mohali, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Dera Bassi, Bathinda, Khanna and Goindwal.

The Vigilance Bureau had registered three regular inquiries numbered 3/2018, 4/2021, and 6/2022, against the arrested Minister Sunder Sham Arora and a group of officers of the PSIEC. The Minister was caught in Zirakpur late on Saturday evening while he was offering a bribe of Rs 50 lakh to Vigilance Bureau AIG Manmohan Kumar Sharma to hush up the investigation into his disproportionate assets case.

The role of the former minister is also being looked into by the VB in a scam to the tune of Rs 600 crore in the sale of 25 acres of prime land in phase IX, Mohali belonging to defunct Anand Lamps Ltd at a throwaway price of Rs 120 crore.

The 25-acre plot was initially allotted to JCT Electronics in 1987 by the Punjab State Industrial Development Corporation (PSIDC) at a subsidised rate to promote industry and generate jobs. But the land was ultimately passed from a defunct Anand Lamps Ltd company to a private coloniser, M/s Gulmohar Township for Rs 120 crore though its market value was estimated to be around Rs 900 crore. A condition was imposed on M/s Gulmohar that only an industrial unit will be set up there.

However, Sunder Sham Arora in connivance with officers allowed the coloniser to carve out 125 residential and commercial plots in violation of allotment conditions allegedly pocketing a huge bribe amount.

In another connected matter, the VB is looking into the fraudulent sale of over 300 industrial plots all over the state under the patronage of the same Minister and different Managing Directors of PSIEC who acted in connivance with junior officers of the corporation and some property dealers.

It is learnt that the VB has recently issued Look-Out-Circulars (LOCs) against two officers of the PSIEC fearing that they may escape abroad as the inquiry progresses. However, LOCs have yet not been issued against any of the IAS officers suspected to be involved in the multi-crore scams.

The modus operandi adopted by fraudsters is that unsold plots of the PSIEC are first identified and allotted to friendly dealers by issuing back-dated letters. These plots, as per the rules, are required to be re-auctioned at prevalent market rates. But by ante-dating, the allotment letters the plots are sold at rates that prevailed some 5 to 6 years ago. Once possession is given to the allottee dealer, he sells it off at the current market rates, pocketing and sharing a profit of several crores.

Later the records of most of these plots were shown as having been destroyed by termites or simply reported to be untraceable.

According to the VB file, Mohali industrial area phase 8 plot numbers, D-248, D-247, C-174, E-261, C-210, C-211, E-260, F-209, D-250, E-250, E-234, C-168, and Mohali phase 9 plot numbers 656 and 659 are suspected to have been fraudulently allotted and sold to unsuspecting buyers.

Satnam Singh Daun, a social activist in the know PSIEC functioning revealed that on two earlier occasions when VB started inquiring into the fraud, the IAS officers concerned stalled proceedings on the basis of a letter purported to have been issued by the then CM Amarinder Singh. The VB was informed in writing by the then MD that the CM had ordered the constitution of a three-member committee to look into the matter.

Daun said that a committee of 3 bureaucrats was formed which did not have any sanction from the then Chief Minister. The committee gave an "all is well" report in order to push the scams under the carpet.

Interestingly, no such letter was supplied to the VB. On September 15, this year the present VB functionaries wrote to the MD, PSIEC, to provide the CM's letter that led to the stalling of its probe. To date, the VB has not received any reply.

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