CHANDIGARH: Accountability, audit and monitoring mechanisms were the transparency tools that chief justice Tirath Singh Thakur emphasized upon
while talking about the sorry state of affairs at various Red Cross societies in Punjab and Haryana.
While hearing a PIL filed by Resurgence India, a Ludhianabased NGO, the division bench comprising the CJ and justice K Kannan, wondered if deputy commissioners were acting as monarchs given the fact they had no qualms in diverting Red Cross funds even for personal use. The judges also questioned the Punjab counsel over existence of any constitution or guidelines regarding the working of these societies . The bench was particularly angry that there were no regular meetings of the societies' office-bearers as mandated under the law.
'' If there are no regular meetings , then how can one expect accountability and audit of expenses ,'' the CJ wondered. Interestingly , Punjab counsel remarked though audit was done annually, it '' may not be done as diligently as required.''
The bench also deliberated over appointing an authority to oversee the functioning of societies and report the matter to HC. They sought the report submitted by former IAS officer Rajan Kashyap, as disclosed by the Punjab counsel, on the functioning of Red Cross societies to Punjab government. The division bench sounded the Punjab counsel that misuse of Red Cross funds would lead to erosion of public faith in a noble institution . The judges also enquired about salaries being paid to Red Cross employees and the manner of their appointments.
The state of Haryana also came under criticism as the CJ took a serious note of Red Cross funds being used on tailoring projects, computerization projects for SDM office, air conditioners and stabilizers. The bench sought audit reports from Haryana counsel, who informed the judges that audit was being done by the state AG office.
Importantly, the NGO filed a counter affidavit during the previous hearing that severely criticized and doubted the bonafides of Punjab DCs' reports on alleged misuse of Red Cross funds.
The NGO counsel had told the division bench comprising CJ Tirath Singh Thakur and justice Hemant Gupta that he had got the said reports under RTI and asserted that not all funds had been deposited with the PM Relief Fund as claimed in the reports .
In its petition against the Union government, the CBI director and secretary-general of Indian Red Cross Society, the NGO had sought necessary action for ensuring punishment to all involved in the case. Importantly , as many as three DCs of Patiala division who were accused of misappropriation of funds deposited Rs 44 lakh in PMs' Relief Fund following HC directions.
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Punjab govt to take action against 3 IAS officers for Red Cross fund misuse
The Punjab government has decided to initiate disciplinary action against a serving and two retired IAS officers for improper use of Red Cross Society funds.
These are Vikas Garg, and retired officers KS Sidhu and Harkesh Singh Sidhu. This information was provided in the Punjab and Haryana high court by the state government in an ongoing case. The scandal had been exposed by Hindustan Times in 2007.
Submitting that the competent authority had taken a decision to initiate action against the officers under the All-India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969, and the All India Services (Death-cum-Retirement Benefits) Rules, 1958, the government informed the court, “The matter is under process.” The division bench comprising acting chief justice Ashutosh Mohunta and justice HS Sidhu directed the state government to file a status report by September 11.
The impropriety found against Vikas Garg is that during his tenure as Patiala deputy commissioner (DC), using Red Cross funds, a Toyota Innova vehicle worth Rs. 10 lakh was purchased by raising loan against a fixed deposit receipt (FDR) that was yet to mature.