The AAP Government in Punjab is sitting over a request of the state’s Vigilance Bureau for sanction to prosecute a large number of senior excise and taxation officers accused of corruption in the collection of Goods and Services Tax (GST) due to which the cash-strapped state has been cheated of over Rs 1,000 crore in revenue.
The Punjab Vigilance Bureau registered two FIRs in the year 2020 and exposed a nexus between a divisional excise and taxation commissioner (DETC), 3 assistant excise and taxation commissioners, and 11 excise and taxation officers (ETOs). Two transporters who represented the truckers in the state have also been booked in the case as they played a key role in the scam.
The corruption scandal was detected in 2020 but was going on at least two or three years prior to this as well, senior officials said.
The Vigilance Bureau after completing the investigation filed a challan in the special court, Mohali on September 26, 2020 but the trial of the accused could not start as the sanction for the prosecution from the then Congress government in the state led by Captain Amarinder Singh was held back.
As many as 34 times the judge has taken up the matter for further hearing since the case was filed in 2020 but each time he was informed that the sanction from the government has not come through. While this had been happening in the case of the Congress government which had been accused of large-scale corruption, things were expected to change with the AAP government caming to power. However, the Bhagwant Mann government which had vowed to root out corruption in the state also appears to be dragging its feet over granting sanction for prosecution so that the trial can proceed in court.
The sanctioning authority, in AAP government now is Finance Minister Harpal Singh Cheema who also holds the charge of the Excise and Taxation Department.
Cheema when contacted on phone by Indian Narrative on Sunday said, “it is an old case, and I don’t remember anything about it. I will have to check with my office before I answer your question.”
An email was sent to the financial commissioner, taxation Mr. Ajoy Sharma on Friday to know why the sanction for prosecution was not being granted, but he did not reply.
The modus operandi of the accused officers was to allow trucks belonging to certain transporters to pass tax barriers without paying GST or to undervalue goods that were loaded. The services of some “passer boys” were taken who would in advance contact the excise officer concerned on his mobile phone informing him that such and such number of loaded trucks entering or leaving Punjab belonged to a particular transporter. This was a sufficient indication for the officer that the trucks were to be cleared without much ado.
Those whom VB is seeking to prosecute are Simranjit Singh, DETC, Piara Singh, ETO, Moga, Ravinanadan, ETO, Fazilka, Varun Nagpal, ETO, Muktsar, Kalicharan, ETO, flying wing Chandigarh, Satpal Multani, ETO, Faridkot, Ved Parkash Jakhar, ETO, Fazilka, Lakhbir Singh, ETO, mobile wing, Amritsar 1, Japsimran Singh, ETO, Amritsar, Dinesh Gaur, ETO, Amritsar, Sushil Kumar, ETO, Patiala, and Ram Kumar, Inspector, mobile wing, Jalandhar.
The investigating officer, Ashish Kapoor, the then AIG VB, informed the court through the challan that the phone calls of the accused with transporters Vijay Kumar of Ludhiana and Somnath of Phagwara were secretly recorded to reach the truth. The transcript of the recorded calls was presented in court wherein payment of bribes was openly discussed and confirmed.
It was found that transporter Vijay Kumar Ludhiana who uses the phone number 9878000023 repeatedly called different excise officers to facilitate the passage of trucks. The calls were made to 9698200092, 9872031169, 7307404445, 988800858, and 9463415573 on different dates. All these phone numbers were owned by and were being used by the accused excise officers.
Similarly, transporter Somnath who uses phone number 9876400527 was in constant touch with different excise officers for the same purpose. He made calls to 9817387906, 9803000527, 9915447544, 9463255599, 9914877877, 9465100800, 8054352014, and 9814119965 on different dates. Again, all these phone numbers were registered in the names of the accused officers.
Sources disclosed that the Vigilance Bureau somehow allowed two IAS officers then posted with the excise department, to go scot-free whose role in the GST scandal came under a cloud. Even the name of one IPS officer cropped up but no further action was taken against him.
Bhavneet Kaur, Commissioner GST, did not reply to a question sent to her via WhatsApp message whether the accused officers were still in service despite corruption cases having been registered against them.
(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)