A Delhi court has ordered a first information report (FIR) and criminal investigations into allegations that the agriculture ministry had allegedly paid trumped-up bills worth nearly Rs. 14 lakh as legal fees to its standing counsel.
The court said there was evidence to suggest a nexus between the counsel and ministry officials to cause loss to “public exchequer” through “fraud” and “misappropriation of funds”.
The complaint, moved by the All India Federation of Agricultural Associations, had sought probe under the Prevention of Corruption Act against ministry officials and central government standing counsel HK Gangwani. The two cases, in which allegedly excess fees were charged, involve agriculture secretary PK Basu as a party, who was the then additional secretary.
Ordering an FIR, additional sessions judge Virender Bhat stated: “Apparently, there seems to be some collusion between advocate Gangwani and the concerned officials…which needs to be unearthed.”
The complaint said joint secretary in the ministry, Uma Goel, got amounts sanctioned without involvement of the finance wing, while Basu recommended higher fees, which was approved by the law ministry, as is required. According to information obtained separately under RTI, even approval from agriculture minister Sharad Pawar was never sought.
Gangwani denied the allegations.
“This is a bogus case against me. I was not even heard. I will take appropriate steps to get the order set aside,” he said. Agriculture secretary PK Basu, however, declined to comment.
According to the complaint, advocate Gangwani had charged the ministry for 44 consultation sessions in one case, whereas only four were permissible. For each session, he got Rs. 5,500.
The complaint also said fees were charged for 34 hearings, even though only four effective court hearings had taken place. It has been alleged that Rs. 7.5 lakh and Rs. 6.5 lakh had been paid as excess fees in the two civil and criminal case respectively.