M A I N   N E W S

Punjab education scam-I
Rs 3 cr unaccounted advance; 65 lakh fraudulently taken out of banks
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 22
Crores of rupees are missing from the accounts of the Punjab State Council of Education Research and Training (SCERT). More than Rs 3 crore was given as "temporary advance" to officials but no bills exist to prove the utilisation of the money. A sum of Rs 65 lakh has been allegedly siphoned off from government accounts and another Rs 26 lakh has not even been deposited in accounts even though it has been shown in the official cash book of the council.

All this, and more such acts of alleged misappropriation, forms part of the inquiry report that is to be submitted to the government by a team of investigators, which was asked to look into this "education scam." The scam was first reported in The Tribune in its edition dated May 25 this year. Such a blatant loot of the government exchequer has perhaps never come to light earlier in the Education Department of Punjab. The inquiry was instituted after the Principal Secretary, Education, Mr Sarvesh Kaushal, stumbled upon these financial irregularities during a routine visit to the SCERT last month.

The inquiry report does not stop at this. It says nobody knows how 18,000 books valued at more than Rs 17 lakh had been lying dumped in the office of the SCERT in Sector 17 here for more than five years. It has recommended a full-scale inquiry by an investigating agency to reach a final conclusion on the matter.

Pointing out the siphoning off of money from government accounts, the report says the entry in the cash book of the council and the bill used were correct. The trick was, however, to prefix digits when the cheque was actually issued. Giving an example, it says in October, 2005, a bill of Rs 12,373 was to be cleared. However, the digit "4" was prefixed making it a cheque for Rs 4,12,373. That is, Rs 4 lakh in excess payment. The inquiry report has given 44 such examples involving the siphoning off of Rs 48.28 lakh. The report says the full reconciliation of bank accounts may reveal even more and has raised questions as to how bearer cheques were issued by the SCERT to clear bills.

Another Rs 16.34 lakh is missing. Cheques were issued for which no bills existed and there was no entry in the cash book. The report says "suspected embezzlement cannot be ruled out."

The issue of Rs 3 crore or so as temporary advance has been dealt with in detail in the report. It tells how Rs 1.23 crore was advanced to meet urgent requirements for the Class V examination which the SCERT conducts. Normally, proof of such expenses has to be provided. However, in this case no bills had been submitted and the officials concerned had been submitting a simple certificate on their own saying that the funds had been utilised. The plea was that secrecy had to be maintained in the printing of question papers. The inquiry report has pointed out that this "secret fund" was also being used to meet expenses on petrol, the repair of vehicles, telephones, refreshment and taxis, among other sundry expenses.

A major unaccounted advance is of Rs 1.47 crore which officials withdrew from accounts over the years to conduct the Elementary Teachers Training examination without any evidence of bills and vouchers to show the expenses. The inquiry committee has also provided a list of officials who were given lakhs of rupees each year for the conduct of this examination. The report says the SCERT was to conduct the Class VIII examination in 1993-94 and a sum of Rs 25 lakh was advanced to officials and printing presses. However, no bills or evidence of spending existed in the records even 13 years later.

(To be concluded)





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