‘Take strict disciplinary action, recover loss to send clear message’
*Says no end to siphoning of huge money in contracts
JAMMU, Nov 22: Putting all the Engineering Departments in the dock, a Division Bench of the High Court comprising Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Sanjay Dhar has observed that litigations involving crores of rupees are being dealt with very casually by the officers in the Government of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and this results into huge loss to the public exchequer.
Moreover, the DB has pointed out that there is no end to the siphoning of crores of rupees in different contracts where huge amounts are drawn from Government treasury for the projects which were never sanctioned as if no financial discipline is applicable for taking out any money from the exchequer.
These observations have been made and strictures passed by the Division Bench of the High Court while dismissing an appeal filed by the Power Development Department against the judgment of Single Judge whereby application filed by the department under Section 34 of the Jammu and Kashmir Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1997 was dismissed.
The case before the Division Bench was that a contract for laying of 132 KV Single Circuit Thathri-Bhallesa Power Transmission Line was awarded to M/s KEC International Limited and later a dispute arose between the two. Accordingly, an Arbitral Tribunal was constituted to resolve the dispute between the parties and an interim award was passed by the Tribunal on March 6, 2016 on account of certain claims made by the company, which were admitted by the Power Development Department before the Tribunal.
Thereafter, application was filed by the PDD before the Tribunal on October 2, 2017 praying for recalling of the interim award. However, the same was dismissed by the Tribunal on the same day and thereafter application was filed by the department before the Single Judge under Section 34 of the Jammu and Kashmir Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1997. The Single Judge dismissed the application holding the same to be time barred as there was delay of 570 days in filing it.
Though the Power Development Department knocked the doors of the Division Bench by filing an appeal challenging the order of the Single Judge yet it failed to get any sort of relief as the Division Bench has also dismissed the same for being without any merit and said, “in Jammu and Kashmir most of the appeals are filed belatedly hence effort is only to obtain certificate of the court”.
However, before parting with the order, the DB said, “we are constrained to make certain observations regarding the seriousness with which the litigations involving crores of rupees are dealt with by the officers in the Government of Jammu and Kashmir”.
“This case is not a case in isolation. This court has been observing these types of conduct of the officers in number of cases but hardly any improvement has been seen in the working”, the DB said, adding there was a dispute between the parties arising out of a contract and the matter landed in this court when vide order dated November 14, 2013 this court appointed two members of the Arbitral Tribunal, which on the basis of admission made by the department, passed interim award on March 6, 2016.
“As usual the officers of the department slept over the matter and this can be result of connivance also as is even evident from the subsequent facts. It is not that the case in hand is in isolation with the department where the matter has been referred for arbitration”, the DB said, adding “”a perusal of the application shows that prayer for recalling of the interim award was made with the pleadings that special audit correction of 132 KV Single Circuit Thathri-Bhalessa Power Transmission Line was carried out by the audit team from the Finance Department and it was pointed out that there was no approval from the competent authority for revision of the cost of contract from Rs 806.41 lakh to Rs 1580.80 lakh”.
“It appears that there may be connivance of the officers of the department as they never thought of raising this issue in the reply filed to the claim petition. Rather claim was partially admitted by the department before the Tribunal”, the DB said, adding “it was only when the audit was carried out by the Finance Department that scandal came to surface and it was pointed out that there was no approval of the competent authority for the revision of the cost of the contract”.
The DB further observed, “this is not a case in isolation in Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory. There had been siphoning of crores of rupees in different contracts where huge amounts were drawn from Government treasury for the projects which were never sanctioned as if no financial discipline was applicable for taking out any money from the public exchequer”.
Pointing towards a similar case of Roads and Buildings Department, the DB said, “all this apparently shows that this is the standard operating procedure being adopted by the officers in different departments in Jammu and Kashmir”, adding “the only reason can be that no action is taken against any of the officers, who are indulging in these types of corrupt practices and consider them to be law into themselves”.
“They (Government officers) don’t follow any established procedure or financial rules. Unless strict disciplinary action is taken against these officers, they will not mend their ways. It is only because the competent authority also keeps its eyes closed to all these illegal actions of the officers, for the reasons best known to them, that they feel encouraged in repeating these kinds of activities”, the DB said, adding “even if any inquiry is initiated the same remains pending for years together”.
Asking for taking this as a test case, the DB stressed upon taking some strict disciplinary action without wasting time so as to send a message to all those who are indulging or trying to enter in these kinds of activities and mis-utilizing or usurping tax payers’ money.
“The responsibility of the officers concerned be fixed on account of whose commission or omission the Government will suffer or has been made to suffer loss”, the DB said, adding “the amount of loss should also be recovered from them after following due process of law to give a clear message to all concerned”.
Putting a question mark on the role and responsibility of the CAG or the local audit department, the DB said, “they regularly carry out audit in the departments but still keep their eyes shut on these large scale financial bungling”.
The DB directed that the copy of the order be sent to the Chief Secretary and Administrative Secretaries of Law, Finance and Power Development Departments for taking further action in the matter.