With the latest court judgement awarding a strong punishment to an Arunachal Pradesh government official in a disproportionate assets case, the infamous PDS scandal has once again come to the limelight.
In 2004, a PIL filed by former Arunachal Citizens’ Right chairperson Bamang Anthony and former student leader Domin Loya kick-started investigations into the Public Distribution System in the state that unearthed a scandal of over Rs 1,000 crore. The scam relates to losses incurred by the state exchequer that were incurred due to false hill transport subsidy bills that were cleared without financial concurrence.
Among those who were accused in the scandal include prolific businessmen, high-ranking officials and politicians including former chief minister Gegong Apang, who was arrested in 2010 but has since been out on bail.
The court order noted that the official had deposited Rs 2,89,43,072 in his personal account in the United Commercial Bank between October 2002 to July 2004 which “goes to indicate that the said Officer was habitually accepting bribe by abusing his official position as a public servant”.
It also said that the officer “maintained a number of properties in Arunachal Pradesh in his and his family/ children’s name, which is disproportionate to his known source of income and which he cannot give satisfactory account, and this obviously points to the ill-gotten wealth, which has been made from the money amassed by him illegally during his tenure as Director of Civil Supplies”.
During the course of the proceedings, which began in 2011, the state government prosecutors questioned a total of 22 witnesses, including the wife of the accused.
Incidentally, among the 22 witnesses that the prosecution cross-examined were Jarkar Gamlin and Takam Pario, both of whom also stand accused in the scandal and are MLAs in the People’s Party of Arunachal government in the state.
In his deposition, Gamlin said that he knew the accused since 1986 when Lego was an extra additional commissioner of Yongsha in West Siang district and that he later “made close contact with him”.
Gamlin said that the two often helped each other financially and that in 2003, he issued a cheque to Lego for Rs 14,21,000 which was repaid within a month’s time.
Pario, who was a minister in the previous Nabam Tuki-led Congress government, told the court that he had borrowed money from Lego’s wife- Poonam Osik- on two occasions totalling Rs 70 lakh but that he did not remember the year.
While both Gamlin and Pario were called in as witnesses for the case, the three-time MLAs will be on the other side of the fence when court proceedings related to their involvement in the scam comes up.
The two, however, are not the only MLAs in the present legislative assembly who have been named in the scandal.
Several former and serving ministers, including parliament MPs and their relatives, have been named as accused in the multi-crore scandal that had rocked the state when it first came to light. The list of accused reads as a who’s who of the state’s political power wielders and is not limited to any one political party.
When the court awarded Lego a five-year jail term, it noted in its order that “corruption can occur on various level, which affects the Government in large scale and corruption is very much prevalent which is a part of the everyday structure of the society”.
It said that “ends of justice would meet if the accused is sentenced to rigorous imprisonment… keeping in view the fact that he had amassed ill-gotten money to the tune of crores”.
While the court’s judgement would be welcomed by those seeking to see an end to rampant corruption in the state, it remains to be seen if the same kind of punishment would be awarded to political higher ups.
A version of this article first appeared in The Dawnlit Post.