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Mizoram govt faces graft fire

Silchar, May 28 : Mizoram anti-corruption watchdog Prism today slammed the Congress-led Mizoram government for allegedly shielding "corrupt officials" involved in the mini-hydel projects' scam.

Vanlalruata, president of People's Right to Information and Development Implementing Society of Mizoram (Prism), said the government should stop protecting corrupt persons and implement a "strong" lokayukta in the state to combat corruption.

The allegation comes as the Mizoram anti-corruption bureau is preparing to begin probe into the alleged embezzlement of funds in the construction of two mini hydel projects in south Mizoram.

The anti-graft agency will have to complete the investigation by September this year, according to a Supreme Court directive.

Earlier, Gauhati High Court had directed the agency to probe the scam on the basis of a PIL filed by the Prism.

The state government then filed a petition, challenging the high court order but the Supreme Court dismissed the state government's petition, paving the way for the probe.

A member of Prism said the Mizoram government challenged the high court's decision in a bid to protect the engineers but the Supreme Court rejected the government's petition. "According to the decision of the high court, the engineers are to be booked within this year," he added.

Prism had lodged an FIR on October 3, 2008 with the anti-corruption bureau against the state power and electricity department, which had constructed the two mini hydel projects, alleging "misappropriation of funds" in the construction of both projects.

According to the complaint, the estimated cost for Kau-Tlabung mini hydel project was revised twice - in 1997 to Rs 2,519 lakh and in 2001 to Rs 3,253 lakh - against the original estimate of Rs 482 lakh in 1994. According to government documents, the project was stated to have been completed in 1997.

The estimated cost for Tuipanglui mini hydel project escalated from Rs 980 lakh in 1992 to Rs 3,721 lakh in 2001. But the project was stated to have been completed in 2000.

The initial inquiry report stated that the allegations of misappropriation of funds in the construction of projects were "prima facie established". The state government then referred the matter to the vigilance department for clarification on certain aspects.

Later, the vigilance cell also conducted a probe and found prima facie evidences of misappropriation of funds with reference to the logbooks and other books of accounts and the absence of buildings and other permanent infrastructure.

The anti-corruption bureau named 17 officials for being involved in the scam.

The state government then ordered to register criminal cases against the guilty. But, the government again issued a letter on July 2, 2010, directing the anti-graft agency to withdraw the case against the officials with immediate effect.

This decision prompted Prism to file a PIL in Gauhati High Court, Aizawl bench, on August 25, 2010. The PIL was accepted on February 15, 2011 and kept for hearing at the high court's principal bench.

On March 17, 2015, the high court asked the anti-corruption bureau to undertake the investigation and complete it by September this year.

Challenging the decision of the high court, Mizoram government filed a petition before the Supreme Court, which considered the case on May 11, 2015, but rejected it later.