The Gujarat High Court on Thursday sought details from the state government about the recovery of money from the implementing agency after hearing a PIL accusing Union Minister and Rajya Sabha MP Smriti Irani of misusing her MPLAD fund.
The division bench of Acting Chief Justice A S Dave and Justice Biren Vaishnav also sought to know the status of the investigation conducted so far by the government in the case.
The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against Irani was filed in July 2017 by Gujarat Congress chief and MLA from Anklav constituency in Anand district, Amit Chavda.
When government pleader informed the high court that the Anand district collector had in February 2018 issued an order to recover over Rs 4 crore from an implementing agency accused of misusing Irani's MPLAD funds, the court sought latest details about the actual recovery made so far.
The matter will now be heard on March 26.
As a Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat, Irani has adopted Anand as the nodal district. On the basis of an audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), Chavda had alleged in his PIL that Irani was involved in "corruption and misuse of funds in collusion with other state and non-state actors".
He said in the plea that the implementing agency for her MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), the Gujarat State Rural Development Corporation (GSRDCL) continued to receive funds even after it was closed down by the government in August 2015.
An MP receives Rs 5 crore annually as MPLAD, which is released directly to the district authority of the nodal district of the MP.
The petitioner said that the GSRDCL allotted works to Sharda Majoor Kamdar Sahkari Mandli (SMKSM), Kheda, "without following any proper procedure and in complete violation of the MPLADS guidelines".
The MPLADS guidelines prohibits an MP to select an implementing agency and the task is given to the district authority, the petition said.
"But the District Planning Officer had replied to the audit officer that works were awarded to that Mandli as per the instruction received from Irani's PA over phone," it alleged.
The GSRDCL received Rs 23.5 lakh to construct 'Panchayat Bhavan' even after being declared defunct, it said.
"MPLADS guidelines prohibit such an activity, as MPLADS is meant for creating durable assets and for utilities meant for direct public use," the plea had said.
"SMKSM was also granted Rs 45.2 lakh in 2016 through defunct implementing agency for construction of protection walls in crematorium and schools. Not a single brick has been laid even when the fund was released," it said.
The Anand district collector had written a letter dated June 20, 2017 to the deputy secretary of the General Administration Department (GAD), pointing out irregularities and fraud being committed under the grants received under MPLAD fund, the PIL had mentioned.
The PIL sought the high court's direction for a high-level committee to investigate the subject matter, and to the DGP to file an FIR and recover misappropriated money.
Addressing a press conference in Delhi, Congress leaders Randeep Surjewala and Shaktisinh Gohil accused Irani of "fraud and bungling" in MPLADs funds in Gujarat while citing a CAG report and demanded her immediate sacking from the Narendra Modi government and lodging of a case against her.
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