A scam to remember: Shaheed Bhagat Singh Centenary Celebrations 2008

Rs 1 crore fraud in 2008 during Bhagat Singh’s Birth Centenary Celebrations
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh, 22 March 11

Even as frantic preparations are on these days to make the martyrdom day function of Shaheed Bhagat Singh being held at his ancestral village Khatkar Kalan on Wednesday, a ‘historic’ event, a probe by the Vigilance Bureau has pointed to the embezzlement of nearly one crore from the funds sent by the Union Ministry of Cultural Affairs in 2008 to the state government for the concluding function of Shaheed-E-Azam’s birth centenary which was organized in 2008. The information provided by the Bureau to an NGO, Human Empowerment League of Punjab (HELP) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act reveals how bogus bills were raised in the names of not only the event management and supplier companies but renowned Bollywood artistes also to ‘utilize’ the money. The probe, report of which is under the consideration of Vigilance Bureau chief, is learnt. to have indicted a number of persons including a bureaucrat. The probe was ordered on the complaint of HELP activist Parvinder Singh Kitna.

A whopping Rs 3.05 crore were spent by the organizer Punjab Arts Council (PAC) on the function which was held on September 29, 2008 at Khatkar Kalan, out of which Rs 1.49 crore were spent on lighting, stage, sitting arrangement, tents, green rooms, sound system and power supply, Rs 1.12 crore on calling singers and musicians and Rs 18.53 lakh on television video production besides lavish spending on lodging and transportation. Rs 11.42 lakh was spent on publicity and Rs 2.52 on hospitality.

Vigilance probe has revealed that to provide benefit to a Chandigarh based “The Professionals Stage Management Company”, two fictitious bidding firms were raised which were shown to have quoted higher rates than this company. The investigating team failed to trace these addresses. The PAC engaged G M Entertainment Company to arrange Bollywood artists from Mumbai. The company pretended to have paid the performers (some non performers also) much higher a price than it actually did. Vigilance team, obtained statements of all concerned artists or their promoters to find out that except Pammi Bai, no one else was paid the quoted money. Music director Uttam Singh, for instance was showed to have been paid Rs 20 lakh whereas he was paid Rs one lakh only. Playback singer Udit Narayan, Sadhna Sargam and Punjabi folk singer Daler Mehndi were paid Rs 12 lakh, 10, lakh and 5 lakh respectively in books, but the singers themselves claimed to have received one lakh each. As per bills, actor Ajay Devgan was paid Rs 6 lakh whereas he told the investigating team that he was invited at all for the said function. Daler Mehndi’s manager said the singer was told by the entertainment company that he need not come but who deposited Rs one lakh in his account was not known.

The PAC signed an MOU with another Chandigarh based company ‘Rainbow Entertainment’ to make a documentary on the celebrations for Rs 15 lakh. The record shows three quotations from three firms including Rainbow but the other two companies again came out to be fake. The address given by Rainbow too proved to be false. During the probe, misappropriations were detected in purchase of cloth, flex banners, sign boards, and other miscellaneous items.

Vigilance Bureau also questioned Punjab Art Council chairman Dr Swaran Singh, secretary general Rajpal Singh and executive officer Sham Sunder Sharma. Dr Swaran Singh, who was then principal secretary, Cultural Affairs, said in his reply that the detailed budget estimate was prepared by a team of experts. He revealed that the original project cost was pegged at Rs 6 crore but it was rejected by the Central government following which, the cost was curtailed. He claimed that that the budget estimates and issue of selection of artists were discussed in the Cabinet. Since the organizing committee had not much time at its disposal, a “trustworthy” Karan Brar was asked to assist, he said. Dr Singh argued that in this high-tech era it was not “unusual” to call quotations in a single day.

As for participation of artists, Dr Singh said that the state government had suddenly made up its mind to turn the event into a political function despite the knowledge that pricey performers had been booked and advance paid. It was government’s ‘fault’ and not theirs if they could not perform, he added. “The cultural affairs minister got two stages built instead of one and left every thing topsy-turvy. Although I had technical competence but my advise was not sought”, he said.

Information sent by Harpreet Kaur