Govt refuses probe into Meghalaya Housing scam

SHILLONG, Nov 25 – Half of the fund, amounting to over Rs 9 crore, meant for providing roof for the poor, was allegedly misappropriated by the Housing department in connivance with the supplier during 2003-06.

The scam was unearthed by the Meghalaya Right To Information Movement (MRTIM) after filing an RTI and gathering other information. The amount was embezzled in connivance with bureaucrats and the supplier.

Strangely, the Meghalaya government although admitting in black and white that there is “circumstantial evidence” that something was wrong has nonetheless refused to conduct an inquiry by the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

The matter relates to 2003-06 when Corrugated Galvanised Iron (CGI) sheets were being supplied to the rural poor of the State under one of the Housing department’s scheme. The supplier according to Steel Authority of India challan lifted grade VIII CGI sheet and then showed in the supply invoice the CGI sheet as grade III – which is of higher quality.

The department in its defence pointed out that it did not have the material to check the quality of the CGI sheets, but at the same time claimed that all the material supplied were of the same quality as the demand was for.

But what is more damaging is the revelation that the Housing department’s then Director VA Sangma opened a savings account at Vijaya Bank, Laitumkhrah on December 17, 2003 and parked most of the amount from the scheme there.

Under Meghalaya Treasury Rules, 1985 prior permission is required to open a savings account. In Sangma’s case, the permission was not obtained.

None of the transactions made from the account was routed through the cash books of the Director of Housing department and thus evaded the legislative scrutiny, besides the entire amount remained out of Government account.

“The Director withdrew huge sum of amount in cash from the account. There were also mysterious transfers of money to unnamed account holders. Also the money was being paid to self,” Michael Syiem of MRTIM said after holding a public hearing on the case.

Interestingly, government officials stayed away from the hearing despite invitations. “We are making serious allegations that most of the fund was embezzled. We have the documents to prove it. If the government thought we are making false allegations they can take us to Court for defamation,” Tarun Bhartiya another MRTIM activists challenged.

The RTI activists are now demanding that an independent inquiry be conducted, all records and challan from SAIL and the Housing department should be summoned and criminal proceedings against the public servants and supplier involved in the scam be initiated.