Chandigarh, Jan 26: Investigators looking into Rs. 700 crore Philips-Signify plot scam, have found vital evidence connecting two IAS officers, heading separate corporations meant to promote industry and generate employment in Punjab, and the Industries Minister in-charge, for their collusion in corruption.
According to sources in the Vigilance Bureau (VB), the Punjab State Industrial Development Corporation (PSIDC) headed by C. Sibin IAS, issued a no-objection certificate (NOC) on November 17, 2020, for transferring 25 acres of a prime industrial plot in Mohali to the Punjab Small Industries and Export Corporation (PSIEC) and allowing Philips-Signify, the occupants of the plot to sell it further as per their choice.
Sources maintain that the NOC violates clause 20 of the sale-deed registration of the plot dated May 27, 1987, which states that the company shall use the said land exclusively for establishing its industrial project or any other purpose as the government approves and for no other purpose.
Clause 20 further says that if the unit falls sick or becomes bankrupt, it will be returned to the government i.e. the PSIDC. "In case of a breach of a condition of allotment, this Corporation will have the right to take back the possession of the plot, and the building and also forfeit all amount paid by the company," the allotment agreement states.
Apart from the violation of clause 20, the PSIDC feigned ignorance about the payment of Rs 27.29 crore by a prospective buyer Gulmohar Townships Limited in 2 installments dated August 13, 2020, and October 22, 2020. It showed that the companies, Philips and Gulmohar had PSIDC's prior clandestine unwritten consent that a NOC will surely be issued.
On the contrary, Abhay Kumar Gupta, a manager in the PSIDC objected to the move and sent a detailed note saying the freehold plot could not be transferred to PSIEC or any other 3rd party citing different rules and notifications of the Punjab government. The transfer policy of 2017 did not cover the Philips industrial plot, Gupta wrote.
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Over-ruling the advice of Gupta, MD C. Sibin, in a terse note said that as PSIDC did not have an establishment, a NOC should be issued for the transfer of the plot to PSIEC (read for sale to the Gulmohar Townships).
Assistant Labour Commissioner, Ms Monapuri too wrote Philips management telling them that the factory cannot be closed with the approval of the government as 1,500 workers employed. But as everything seemed "set," her objection was pushed under the carpet.
Once the NOC was issued, on March 3, 2021, M/s Philips, (also called M/s Signify Innovations) entered into a sale agreement with real estate company M/s Gulmohar Townships. The PSIEC approved the move losing no time without any project report about the purpose for which the plot was being sold to a company primarily engaged in real estate business.
The PSIEC, in violation of the clause 20 of the registry, changed the conditions allowed use of the plot for multiple purposes, including housing. This eventually turned an industrial project to a real estate project.
The rocket-speed with which an application of M/s Gulmohar, seeking permission from PSIEC to bifurcate the plot into smaller ones, showed all were serving to each other's personal interest, not of Punjab.
On March 16, 2021, Gulmohar's Jagdeep Singh sent an application for bifurcation of the 25-acre plot to PSIEC. On March 17, 2021, the Industries Minister ordered MD PSIEC to send by March 18, 2021, a list of all bifurcation cases pending till March 16, 2021, the day when M/s Gulmohar made a request.
On the same day, MD Neelima constituted a 10-member committee to advice. On March 19, the committee met in the office room of S.P. Singh. March 20 and 21 were holidays as it was Saturday and Sunday. On March 22, SP Singh submitted the report of the committee to the MD. On March 23, the MD Neelima put her signatures of approval on the bifurcation request. And on March 24, an approval letter was issued. Everything got dealt with within 6-working days.
Now, the VB has found out that issuance of bifurcation letter on March 24, 2021 was just an eyewash. M/s Gulmohar had sold 24 small-sized plots earning Rs 17.55 crore, much before the approval was granted. The payment from the buyers were accepted through banking channels that proves that all key officers of PSIDC, PSIEC, M/s Philips and M/s Gulmohar were acting in tandem to fleece the state.
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