Delhi lieutenant governor Vinai Kumar Saxena on Saturday ordered the state’s chief secretary to register an FIR against officials of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), authorities of a public bank and private entities for allegedly “embezzling” ₹20 crore in water bills, said people in the LG’s office, a move the state’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) welcomed, adding that deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia earlier recommended an inquiry into the matter when it was brought to his notice. The party also urged that strict action be taken against errant officials.
Saxena also asked chief secretary to be submit an action-taken report on the matter within 15 days, the people cited above said.
An official in the LG’s office said that over ₹20 crore (from water bills interest and penalties) paid between July 2012 and October 2019 was kept in a private bank account, rather than DJB’s bank account for several years.
The official added that the water utility had appointed Corporation Bank to collect water bills on its behalf through an order in June 2012 for three years, and the contract was renewed in 2016, 2017 and 2019, even after the fraud was detected, an official in Saxena’s office said. The bank, in apparent violation of the terms of contract and with the knowledge of DJB officials, engaged a private agency to collect cash and cheques, and deposited them in DJB’s bank account.
The state water utility noticed the irregularities while extending the bank’s contract beyond October 10, 2019, when chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was DJB chairperson, the official said.
“Despite knowing all this, the board further extended the contract till 2020,” he said.
“Rather than making the erring vendors pay the swindled ₹20 crore and punishing them, DJB not only extended their contract, but also increased their service fee from ₹5 to ₹6 per bill,” the official alleged, adding that DJB officials also relaxed norms making it mandatory for the vendor to deposit collections in the DJB’s account within 24 hours of being received.
Since he took over in May this year, LG Saxena has been locked in a sustained confrontation with the elected Delhi government over multiple issues, including over a move to order a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into alleged irregularities in the state’s 2021-22 excise policy implementation which led to raids at deputy CM Manish Sisodia residence.
He has also given his assent for an anti-corruption branch (ACB) probe into alleged irregularities in the construction of seven temporary hospitals and the construction of classrooms in Delhi government schools. Saxena also approved a proposal for a CBI probe into alleged irregularities in the proposed procurement of 1,000 low-floor buses in 2019.
The AAP on Saturday said it welcomed such investigations.
The matter pertains to the period from 2012 in which allegation has been made about connivance of bank and DJB officials, according to AAP chief spokesperson and DJB vice-chairman Saurabh Bharadwaj.
“We welcome all such investigations. The utility’s chief executive officer had informed the deputy chief minister and DJB chairperson Manish Sisodia about this matter and he recommended an investigation,” Bharadwaj said. “Strict action should be taken against bank officials as well as DJB officials if they are found guilty.”
Sisodia took over the water portfolio in June earlier this year. Earlier, it was held by Satyendar Jain.
Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Adesh Gupta said the party has been vocal about the issue for a year.
Addressing a press conference on Saturday, Gupta alleged, “In June 2020, DJB told the bank that the amount received from the customers was not deposited in its account. In this way, ₹20 crore of DJB was embezzled, but the AAP government and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal did not take any action on it. DJB not only extended the contract but also increased the amount paid to the fraudsters by relaxing their conditions of service instead of recovering money or punishing them.”