Chandigarh, June 26, 2022- The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)has been in power in Punjab for a little over three months and in an unprecedented action Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann himself announced the sacking of his Cabinet colleague from the council of ministers and his subsequent arrest for alleged corruption.
The action to get him arrested came after Mann, a firm believer in zero tolerance against corruption and illegal practices, came to know that Health Minister Vijay Singla, 52, a first-time legislator and a dentist by profession, was allegedly demanding a one per cent commission in tenders and purchases of the department.
Singla, who was arrested on May 24 and whose plea is that the entire case revolves around the allegation of demand based solely on a purported audio conversation, is in judicial remand that has now been extended till July 8.
Mann, whose party won a landslide mandate, is toeing the line of Delhi Chief Minister and AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal, who had sacked his food and civil supplies minister Aseem Ahmed Khan in 2015 on corruption charges and had ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe.
His anti-graft crusade has led to a rash of arrests of politicians and government functionaries, besides contractors and middlemen.
The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau, whose head Ishwar Singh appointed by the previous Congress government, was replaced with Varinder Kumar on May 31, arrested Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, a five-time former legislator who was the forest minister in the Congress regime, this month for his alleged involvement in issuance of permits for cutting of khair trees.
As Social Welfare Minister, Dharamsot’s name also surfaced for misappropriation of funds under the Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme for students belonging to Scheduled Castes.
His successor Sangat Singh Gilzian has also been booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act for alleged wrongdoings in his department.
Days after the arrest of Dharamsot, another high-profile political crackdown was the arrest of former legislator Joginder Pal for alleged illegal sand and gravel mining on the Ravi and Beas riverbeds in Pathankot district.
After his arrest, Mining Minister Harjot Singh Bains in a tweet said: “Those who looted Punjab and exploited our Mother Earth would not be spared. Joginder Pal was kingpin of mining mafia in Pathankot. It’s just a beginning; no one from mining mafia will be spared.”
Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, who has condemned the “arbitrary” arrests of his party leaders, has also been caught in the eye of a storm.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on Friday asked the Chief Minister to order a CBI probe into the Rs 60-crore bus purchase and bus body building scam allegedly committed by Warring when he was transport minister under Chief Minister Charanjit Channi.
In a statement, former minister Sikander Singh Maluka said the corrupt activities of Warring had been thoroughly exposed through an RTI.
Asserting that a scam of around Rs 30 crore had been committed by Warring in the bus body building as well as purchase of 840 buses, Maluka said the entire case should be handed over to the CBI for a free and fair probe.
As per official data, the government has arrested 45 government officers and others on charges of corruption till June 21.
From Day 1 after assuming office, the Chief Minister had promised a corruption free, transparent and clean administration to people for which a number of initiatives have been taken, an official statement said.
He has released an anti-corruption helpline number to facilitate people to lodge complaints against corruption through WhatsApp. This helpline has worked miracles as people are using it as an effective tool in their fight against corruption, it said.
The police have registered 28 first information reports (FIRs) against the corrupt.
The vigilance department has arrested one Sub-Inspector of Police, eight Assistant Sub-Inspectors, three head constables, one constable, two ‘patwaris’, one clerk, the Principal of the Government ITI in Mohali, one medical officer, one Divisional Forest Officer.
Likewise, 17 people in a mining case, four assistants to ‘patwaris’ and a forest contractor have been arrested for corruption. In total, 45 people have been arrested.
The statement quoting the Chief Minister said this is just the beginning and the entire system will be cleaned by weeding out the corrupt officers and employees.
Mann said people have bestowed a huge responsibility on him and he is duty bound to fulfil the aspirations of the people by giving them a clean, transparent and responsive administration.
The government is also tightening the noose around senior government functionaries for demanding bribes.
Acting on the complaint of a Karnal-based government contractor, the Vigilance Bureau last week arrested IAS officer Sanjay Popli and his aide, Sandeep Wats, for demanding a one per cent kickback for clearance of bills of Rs 7.30 crore for tenders allotted for laying a sewerage pipeline in Nawanshahr town in the previous regime.
According to vigilance officials, Popli was seeking Rs 3.5 lakh from the contractor, who recorded his phone calls and complained on the anti-corruption helpline.
The bureau is now scrutinising all tenders and payments of the board when Popli, who was presently posted as the director, pensions, was heading it and is also investigating two other complaints against him.
Political observers told that with the AAP managing to eradicate corruption in Delhi, only time will tell whether its second government will end corruption in Punjab, which records one of the highest rates of bribery in India. (Agency)