Dept begins probe on bank accounts of ‘villagers’ in posh Amritsar area

Would a poor villager from remote Attari or some other block of Amritsar open a bank account in the posh Ranjit Avenue area of Amritsar city to deposit Rs 15,000 shagun received from the state government for the marriage of his daughter? The Department for Welfare of SC and BC of former minister Gulzar Singh Ranike, who resigned on Sunday, is not convinced.

After Ranike's staff members — Baljeet Singh, Amit Kumar and Om Parkash, who have been arrested after an FIR was registered on June 25, 2012 in the rural grants scam — told the police that the modus operandi of rural and border area funds was also used for siphoning off shagun money, the department has begun its probe into the shagun rip-off in Amritsar. Bogus bank accounts were opened, cheques were "procured" through district welfare officers and credited in these accounts and later, the money was withdrawn through 'self' cheques.

Branches of three banks at Ranjit Avenue area are under scanner. "I have asked the district welfare officer of Amritsar, Rajinder Singh, to visit the Bank of Maharashtra, ICICI Bank and IndusInd Bank to get photocopies of accounts opened by villagers and the shagun cheques deposited there during 2010-11 and first three months of 2011-12. After the report comes, we will send a special audit and accounts team for further probe. It is very unlikely that a villager will travel 40 to 45 km to a posh area in the city to withdraw the money. In all likelihood, these seem to be fake cases," Director (SC and BC) H S Nanda said.

The investigation by the department has revealed that shagun cheques were received in lumpsum, through signatures on receipt book by Jeet Singh, the official personal assistant of Ranike, from the animal husbandry department — the other portfolio held by the minister. The cheques were handed over to Jeet Singh and Sarbhdyal Singh, the minister's absconding PA, by previous district welfare officer Sarbjinder Randhawa, who has been posted in Mohali three months ago.

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