Aizawl: The infamous Rs 9.33-crore scam in Mizoram has taken a new turn in the backdrop of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) finally taking cognisance against 16 engineers currently or formerly serving the State Government for allegedly swindling the amount while executing two mini hydel projects in southern Mizoram two decades ago.
This follows a Gauhati High Court (HC) directive on 17th March, which ordered an investigation into the alleged scam within six months.
The case has great political ramifications for the hilly State as the name of Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla too is associated, and the Opposition are losing no opportunity to castigate him. The Chief Minister had earlier been acquitted by a lower court.
It was no surprise, therefore, that the ruling Congress government had approached Supreme Court (SC) against the HC ruling on the plea that suspending these engineers or initiating criminal investigation against them would adversely affect development works in the State. However, the SC rejected the Mizoram government’s special leave petition against the HC order, thereby paving the way for the ACB to investigate the matter.
Interestingly, the State Government first allowed and later stopped the probe into the alleged scam, a move termed by the Gauhati High Court as ‘enigmatic’.
The issue first grabbed headlines when the People’s Right to Information and Development Implementing Society of Mizoram (PRISM), an NGO, filed an FIR in October 2008 against the Power and Electricity Department (P&E) that constructed the two hydel projects. It alleged that the cost of Tuipanglui mini hydel project rose from Rs 9.80 crore in 1992 to Rs 37.21 crore by 2001, while the cost of Kau-Tlabung mini hydel project jumped from Rs 4.82 crore in 1994 to Rs 32.53 crore in 2001.
After preliminary investigation by the ACB twice that made out prima-facie cases of corruption, the Vigilance Department finally gave it the nod to register criminal cases against 16 engineers from both the state PWD and P&E departments in May 2010. However, the Vigilance Department rescinded its order and withdrew the permission granted to the ACB.
The PRISM then took the government to the HC, but the government argued that neither the CAG, nor the Public Accounts Committee nor a departmental enquiry found any misappropriation.
The HC, however, rejected the government’s contention and ordered that ACB investigate and wind up the case by September this year.
Meanwhile, seven engineers among the 16 against whom criminal cases have been filed by the ACB got some respite as a special anti-corruption court in Aizawl granted them interim bail. They have, however, been barred from leaving Mizoram without the court’s permission or trying to influence witnesses and to cooperate with the investigators.
Some of the accused engineers had applied for anticipatory bail, but have been granted interim bail only. Hearings on some of these bail applications have been scheduled later this month. (ENe)