As political parties make frantic efforts to gain maximum political mileage from the death anniversary of Bhagat Singh on Wednesday, a Rs 1 crore scam carried out in the name of Punjab’s and India’s most beloved martyr has been unearthed. The fraud dates back to 2008, when the young freedom fighter’s birth centenary was being celebrated. A vigilance bureau (VB) inquiry has revealed embezzlement of nearly Rs 1 crore from the sum the central government had sent to the state government that year for running the show. “The Cultural Affairs Minister Hira Singh Gabria turned everything topsy-turvy,” Swaran Singh, chairman of the Punjab Arts Council, told VB officials.
Bogus bills were raised in the name of not only event managers and suppliers but also top Bollywood artistes, the inquiry revealed. The bureau’s reply (secured under the Right to Information Act) to a non-government organisation, Human Empowerment League of Punjab (HELP), has brought the scam to light. In the investigation report, which is now with the bureau chief, the VB indicted many people, including a bureaucrat. A complaint from HELP activist Parvinder Singh Kitna had triggered the investigation.
The event organiser, Punjab Arts Council (PAC), spent Rs 3.05 crore on the function on September 29, 2008, at Khatkar Kalan, the probe revealed. Of this, it is said to have spent Rs 1.49 crore on lighting, stage, seating arrangement, tents, greenrooms, sound system, and power supply; Rs 1.12 crore on signing up singers and musicians; Rs 18.53 lakh on television/video production, stay, and transport; Rs 11.42 lakh on publicity; and Rs 2.52 lakh on hospitality.
The bureau report suggests that to provide benefit to the professionals stage management company based in Chandigarh, two fictitious bidding firms were created and shown to have quoted higher rates for conducting the show. The investigating team, however, failed to trace the addresses.
The PAC engaged firm GM Entertainment to bring Bollywood artistes to the event. The company pretended to have paid the performers (some non-performers too) a much higher price than the actual imbursement, the probe reveals. The vigilance team obtained the statements of all artistes concerned and their promoters and found out that except singer Pammi Bai, no one else was paid the quoted money. Music director Uttam Singh, for instance, was shown to have received Rs 20 lakh, while he was paid just Rs 1 lakh.
Playback singers Udit Narayan, Sadhna Sargam, and Punjabi folk singer Daler Mehndi were supposedly paid Rs 12 lakh, Rs 10, lakh and Rs 5 lakh, respectively, in the books, but the singers told investigators they had been paid only Rs 1 lakh each. Going by the bills, actor Ajay Devgan was paid Rs 6 lakh, while he told the investigating team that he had not even been invited to the function. Mehndi’s manager said the entertainment company had told the singer he need not come to the show, and they had no clue who deposited Rs 1 lakh into the artiste’s account.
The PAC hired another Chandigarh company, Rainbow Entertainment, for making a documentary film on the celebrations for Rs 15 lakh. The record brings out that three firms submitted quotations for the project, and except Rainbow Entertainment, the rest were fake. Even Rainbow Entertainment allegedly submitted false addresses. There was misappropriation in the purchase of cloth, flex banners, signboards, and other items.
The vigilance bureau also questioned PAC chairman Swaran Singh, secretary general Rajpal Singh, and executive officer Sham Sunder Sharma. Swaran Singh, then principal secretary for cultural affairs, said in his reply that a team of experts had prepared the detailed budget estimate.
He said the original project cost was Rs 6 crore but the central government curtailed it. The budget estimates and selection of artistes had been discussed in the cabinet; and since the organising committee had not much time, it had gone to “trustworthy” Karan Brar for assistance, he told the bureau. In this high-tech era, it was “not unusual to call quotations in a single day”. On the participation of artistes, Swaran Singh told the bureau that the state government had made up its mind to turn the event into a political function, knowing well that top performers had been hired and advance paid. “It was government’s fault and not PAC’s if they didn’t perform,” he told the bureau. “The cultural affairs minister got two stages built instead of one and made everything topsy-turvy. I had technical competence but my advice was not sought.”
Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin
Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.
The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.
Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.
Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.
Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.
Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told
The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.
The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.
Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.
“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.
DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.
The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.
The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.
But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.
Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.
It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.
Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus
New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.
Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.
The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.
Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.
In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.
According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.
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