Srinagar, Nov 9: The High Court has directed the Crime Branch of police to constitute a special team to investigate the multi-crore gunny bag scam.
The court described the case as of "great public interest" and observed that crores of rupees are being "shrouded in dark corners of public godowns not noticeable to the public eye."
In a span of 13 months the loss of Rs 3.50 crore was caused to exchequer with the shortfall of 33 lakh gunny bags. "In simple terms, in a month more than one lakh gunny bags were getting missing, and it is extremely surprising that such a colossal loss to the exchequer has went unnoticed," the single bench of Justice Bashir Ahmad Kirmani observed in the case Abdul Qayoom Dar and others versus State.
The court directed the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Department (CAPD) to provide all assistance to the Crime Branch. The court also directed the CAPD to furnish details of all directors who have remained at the post from January 2005 to November 2007 and other officials who are concerned with managing, inspecting and administering the godown.
The petitioners who were posted as assistant storekeepers at Gulab Bagh godown were aggrieved of the Chief Accounts Officer's communication of July 20, 2007 in which he had deducted over Rs 3 crore, 66 lakh from their personal accounts following shortfall of thousands of gunny bags.
The petitioners had also challenged their suspension order passed by the then director on July 20, 2007.
The grounds pleaded by the petitioners through their counsel say that they should not be held responsible for the shortfall of gunny bags as they have been requesting the concerned authorities to sell the empty gunny bags.
The petitioners pleaded that it was only after their insistence that two auctions resulting in sale of 72, 74,875, and 91, 70,120 empty gunny bags were left behind. They pleaded that since the gunny bags are perishable and do not remain serviceable after three years, the stock taking by the department was faulty, and fixation of liability upon petitioners was wrong.
"Because even in case of accepted shortfalls all officials who have held the charge from time to time should be also held responsible," they pleaded. The petition said the department has repeatedly flouted the norm of stock checking which is required to be done after every six months.
The respondent department filed the reply through the advocate general of the State Altaf Hussain Naik. He pleaded that CAPD has two godowns at Lethapora and Gulab Bagh and petitioners were responsible for charge of Gulab Bagh godown.
He informed the court that from January 2005 to July 2007, 167238 bags have been sold to M/S Qazi Nazir, and as per balance book 59 lakh gunny bags were dumped in Gulab Bagh store for which tenders were invited in March 2005 and in December 2005.
The auction was finally conducted on March 29, 2006 and March 29, 2005. But the AG informed the court that around 48, 91,930 gunny bags should have been available in the Gulab Bagh store on January 31, 2007.
The court after perusal of records and hearing of arguments observed that the whole matter requires to be thoroughly investigated so that all persons who are directly or indirectly involved in it be brought to book and losses could be recovered.
The court admitted the petition for hearing with directions to the advocate general to file counter affidavit within six weeks.
The court however stayed the order of debiting an amount of over Rs 3.50 crore from the petitioners personal account and directed the CAPD to register an FIR within one week with the Crime Branch.