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Gauhati High Court disposes of PIL about financial irregularities, misappropriation of funds in the tea department

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Gauhati Sept 21(ILNS): The Gauhati High Court on September 20, disposed of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) highlighting various allegations of financial irregularities, misappropriation of funds, etc.

These allegations are based on certain reports i.e. Inspection Reports prepared on accounts of the Director of Welfare of Tea and Ex-Tea Garden Tribes, Assam, during the period of November 2011 to February 2018 prepared by the office of the Principal Accountant General (Audit), Assam consisting of as many as 5(five) such Inspection Reports.

The Division Bench comprising of Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice Manish Choudhury, while considering the PIL while observing that since the Petitioner had submitted representations to the authorities, directed the authorities to examine the same in view of the irregularities pointed out in the said reports.

In the first report, relating to the period from November 2011 to November 2012 in respect of the said Directorate, irregularities to the extent of ` 57.95 lakh have been pointed out in the matter of implementation of the scheme – Providing financial assistance, course fees to ANM/GNM/BSc Nursing and Para Medical Trainees, etc. Other irregularities also have been pointed out in the said report.

In respect of the period from December 2012 to February 2014, similar financial irregularities have been pointed out relating to providing electric meter free of cost for installation in quarters of tea garden workers covering all tea gardens in Assam, in phase manner, wherein it has been mentioned that payment has been made for installation of meters @ ` 100/- per meter instead of ` 80/-, thus incurring extra avoidable expenses. There have also been allegations of extra expenditure of ` 23.47 lakh relating to providing sports gears/items like sport vest, game shoe, football, etc. There has been allegation of irregular payment to the extent of ` 98.88 lakh relating to supply of sports gears. There have also been allegations relating to providing solar lamps to the deserving students belonging to Tea tribes of Assam, who had passed HSLC/HSSLC exam at least in a 2nd Division as incentive for further studies. Though expenses have been shown to have incurred, a list of such beneficiaries was not available.

In respect of the period from March, 2014 to August, 2015, irregularities also have been pointed out including disbursement of subsidy amount for purchase and distribution of Taxi-cab involving expenditure of ` 5.00 crore to educated unemployed youths belonging to such category of Tea Tribe persons. In respect of the period from September, 2015 to January, 2017 irregularities relating to payment of grants to schools to the tune of ` 54.75 lakh have been also pointed out.

Similarly, in respect of the period from February, 2017 to January, 2018 irregularities including excess expenditure to the tune of ` 370.40 lakh, which relates to sponsoring candidates for undergoing study/training in different job oriented courses in the Assam Down Town University, have been pointed out. Excess amount has been allegedly paid for conducting Civil Service Examination Coaching for the students belonging to the Tea tribe community.

Accordingly, the Petitioner Amguri Naba Nirman Samiti , a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), submitted a representation to the Superintendent of Police, Chief Minister’s Special Vigilance Cell, Assam on 27.09.2019 highlighting the various financial irregularities followed by other representations dated 12.06.2021 addressed to the Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam as well as to the Superintendent of Police, Criminal Investigation Department, Government of Assam.

P J Ssikia  ,  Counsel for the Petitioner, alleged that none of these complaints have evoked any response from the authorities concerned in spite of such irregularities having been pointed out in the Inspection Reports in respect of the Director of Welfare of Tea and Ex-Tea Garden Tribes, Assam. It has been submitted that necessary orders may be passed for causing inquiry.

It has been submitted at the Bar that similar PILs had come up before the High Court being, alleging misappropriation/corruption relating to other department under the Directorate of Welfare of Scheduled Castes, Assam, wherein the High Court after hearing the parties directed the Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam to dispose of the pending representations filed by the petitioners either by himself or by a Committee, which may be constituted by him.

The Bench further observed that these reports being prepared by the competent authorities of the office of the Principal Accountant General (Audit), Assam, deserve serious consideration of the authorities and accordingly directed  the respondent authorities more particularly the , the Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam, to consider the representations submitted by the Petitioner on the basis of the materials so submitted and to dispose of the same, in accordance with law, after giving an opportunity of hearing to the Petitioner by passing a speaking order by causing an enquiry  and taking necessary preventive, remedial and punitive actions wherever necessary.

The Court clarified  that while constituting the Committee, care must be taken to ensure that the officials, who are members of the Committee, are not the ones against whom allegations have been made.

“The aforesaid exercise shall be undertaken by the respondent authorities as expeditiously as possible, preferably within a period of 12(twelve) weeks from the date of receipt of a certified copy of this order. It goes without saying that if the petitioner is aggrieved by the action taken or non action, the petitioner would be at liberty to approach this Court again”, the order reads./ILNS/SS/SNG

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