One of the biggest scams in recent times has come to light at the state administration level, involving senior officials of the Public Works Department (PWD) and fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 112.58 crore from government accounts.
It is said that bogus bills were used to issue cheques to contractors and withdraw the state funds.
Finally acting on a complaint letter forwarded by the Superintending Engineer of Mumbai PWD Circle in April, the Azad Maidan police station registered an FIR against senior officials of the PWD on Monday.
The police took six months to file the FIR after the department had sent in its complaint, a delay that is inexplicable in light of the fact that Superintending Engineer Ulhas Debadwar had specifically mentioned in his letter that it was a case of cheating the government to the tune of no less than Rs 112.58 crore.
Debadwar’s letter said the case warranted the application of Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against an executive engineer who had colluded with a divisional accounts officer to cheat the government.
Finally, the police registered the FIR under Sections 406 (criminal breach of trust), 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the IPC.
While sources said the scam involved at least 23 junior engineers and four deputy engineers, the FIR has been lodged against two officials.
One of them is Swamidas V Chaubey, who was an executive engineer attached with the South Mumbai division of the PWD, known as the presidency division since the British era. The other official against whom the FIR has been filed is S K Saxena.
The delayed filing of the FIR strongly points to efforts behind the scenes to cover up the Rs 112.58 crore scam in the South Mumbai division of the PWD. Apparently not convinced about the scam, the police had been of the opinion that “prima facie no cognizable offence had happened” and had sought permission to close the matter.
The complaint will now be forwarded to the economic offences wing of the police for further investigation.
Each division of the state PWD receives a specific amount every year for repairs and maintenance of state government properties. The presidency division was allocated Rs 35.90 crore for the purpose during the financial year 2011-12.
Chaubey allegedly colluded with officers working under him and released crores as payments to contractors in violation of the government norms that are followed during approval of payments and issuance of cheques to contractors.
According to the complaint letter (copy with MiD DAY) written by Debadwar to the police, Chaubey used the same reference number for multiple cheques whereas government norms specify this number should be unique for each payment and should not be used again.
The number is assigned in the authority letters issued for making payments to government contractors and is then mentioned on the reverse side of the cheque.
The cheques that were issued using the same number or numbers already used in the past were deposited with the Reserve Bank of India, which handles the accounts of the state government.
Sources said even the RBI officials concerned failed to verify the unique number on the reverse side of the cheques issued by the executive engineer and the various amounts were withdrawn by the contractors.
“The role of the RBI officers entrusted with the job of payments from government accounts also needs to be looked into,” an official from the PWD said, requesting anonymity.
ACP Shashikant Satav, Azad Maidan division of city police, said: “The complaint will be forwarded to the EOW (economic offences wing) as any case that involves an amount beyond Rs 50 lakh is investigated only by them. Initially we were of the opinion that the funds withdrawn were used for government works, but now the department has decided to file an FIR. ”
Superintending Engineer Ulhas Debadwar said: “Our communication with the city police is still on. We are investigating the matter at the departmental level also. Our vigilance and quality control branch is currently investigating the role of deputy engineers and junior engineers and the bogus bills submitted in the scam. Only after the investigation is completed will we be able to tell you exactly how many bogus bills were submitted.”