Chandigarh, April 28: The Punjab government today described as 'shameful' the demand for a bribe by a former army officer from the brother of the Kargil war's first casualty, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, to release a grant of Rs 2 lakh to his parents.
Lieutenant Colonel (Retd) S.P. Singh, the deputy director of the Bathinda Sainik Welfare Office, was arrested after being caught red-handed while accepting Rs 40,000 yesterday for releasing two demand drafts of Rs 1 lakh each in the name D.L. Ahuja and Shyama Ahuja, the martyr's parents.
Ahuja's MiG-27 was brought down by a Pakistani missile on May 27, 1999, when he had gone scouting for missing Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa Desai's aircraft. Arrested by Pakistani authorities, Ahuja was allegedly tortured to death. Desai was later released at Wagah.
'It is a shameful incident,' said Brig (Retd) Joginder Singh Jaswal, director of the state Sainik Welfare Department. 'The whole country had plunged into grief when Ahuja's body bearing torture marks was handed over to India. I have no words to express my feelings over the incident.'
Bathinda police said Singh's arrest followed the intervention of Congress leader Maninderjit Singh Bitta.
'Singh had called up Ahuja's parents in Kota, Rajasthan, repeatedly to demand Rs 40,000 to release the drafts. They were told that if they failed to pay up, the grant would be cancelled. The family contacted Bitta, who along with a news channel team, assisted police in nabbing the accused red-handed in his office. The bribe money has been recovered and Singh has been booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act,' the Bathinda senior superintendent of police, Kapil Dev, said.
Jaswal said the Punjab government had last month sanctioned Rs 4.4 crore for the Sainik Welfare Department. 'The grant is mainly for the parents of married martyrs. We had identified 220 families. Earlier, the grants were distributed from the Punjab War Heroes Welfare Fund.
'Once the money in the fund, which was a private one, was disbursed, we approached the government for grant as there were more aged parents who needed to be helped. The government was kind enough to sanction more money,' Jaswal explained.
An officer at the Western Command in Chandimandir near here said it was shameful that a former defence officer was trying to make money from families of martyrs. 'It goes to the credit of the Punjab government to understand the plight of parents of married Kargil martyrs as many of them never received any compensation because the wives received the benefits. But it is nauseating to think that those who have served the army can resort to such cheap tactics,' the officer said.
The state government is looking into all grants released by Singh and other welfare officers to find out if a bigger racket in grants exists. 'We will take the strictest possible action against Singh. Nobody will be allowed to play with the sentiments of martyrs' families,' an officer in the chief minister's secretariat said. He was sacked later in the day.