Punjab’s Irrigation and Power Minister Rana Gurjit Singh is in the middle of a controversy after sand mining contracts were bagged by some of his former employees. Speaking to Man Aman Singh Chhina, the minister defends his business interests and dismisses allegations of conflict of interest.
Despite your denials, several links have now emerged which show you had dealings with firms in which Amit Bahadur is a director. How do you explain that?
Everything is on record and there is no attempt on my part to hide anything. Bahadur left the employment of my company long time back and has been pursuing his own business interests. That is perfectly legitimate. What is wrong in that?
But records show that you have even had financial dealings with the three firms in which Amit Bahadur was a director. How can you deny any links with him?
The very fact that I have produced all these dealings in black and white and have made these declarations part of my election affidavit shows that my hands are clean. It is routine in business to take loans and give loans. I have taken loans and advances and I am not hiding that fact.
When you are so closely linked with the ex-cook and the firms in which he is director, how can you say you have no connection with his sand mine bid?
First of all it is totally incorrect to say that he was a cook. This is a figment of someone’s imagination. When he worked for me, he was a contractor as well as a liaison man. And as far as his sand mine bid is concerned, he is free to do what he wants when he no longer works for me. In which capacity can I stop him from doing anything?
But Bahadur’s I-T returns show that he was not in a position to bid for anything like a Rs 26 crore sand and gravel mine. How do you explain that?
As I said, he had started taking contracts on his own and was working independently with another firm. I do not know about his I-T returns as that is his business. All I know is that he did not take part in the auction on my behalf or on behalf of any company of mine. Had I wanted to take part in the auction, I would have done so under my own name. If tomorrow, my son were to have taken part in the auction, can he be legally stopped from taking part in a legitimate business activity? It is an open auction, an e-auction, everything was transparent unlike during the Akali-BJP rule when bidders were arm-twisted into lowering bids.
If you are so sure of not being in the wrong, why did you not resign from the cabinet pending an inquiry?
I did offer to resign, but CM Captain Amarinder Singh said there was no need and asked me to carry on. He said if the inquiry found me guilty, he would not even need my resignation and would drop me straightaway from the cabinet.
But there are also allegations that the judge who is conducting the inquiry has links to your family and that his son was the advocate for your nephew. Your comments.
I do not think such things matter. I know so many advocates. Tomorrow, if one of them becomes a judge, does that mean he is close to me?
AAP leaders led by Sukhpal Khaira have demanded a CBI inquiry into the matter and alleged you are involved in the sand mine auction. How do you respond?
Sukhpal Khaira should first explain how he has amassed crores. I have a legitimate business and declared assets worth Rs 170 crore. I also have loans standing against my name and my companies. What has he done? What is his family history? The people of Punjab know all about him and I do not want to get down to his level.
But the question of conflict of interest also arises as you hold the power portfolio and also supply power to Punjab State Power Supply Corporation Limited through your sugar mill. AAP demands that your portfolio should be changed.
It is correct that I hold a stake in the sugar mill, but have I set it up after I came to power? It has existed for the past 22 years. I am in no position to benefit that sugar mill as the power rates are frozen for the next several years, well beyond my tenure as minister. In any case, tariff is fixed by the Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission, an independent body. Now if the CM has agriculture land which produces wheat and if he gets the Minimum Support Price of wheat to be increased, does this constitute conflict of interest? The opposition is just doing petty politics.
It is said that you are more of a businessman than a politician.
I have been in politics now for 17 years. This is the first time I have become a Minister with God’s grace as well as Capt Amarinder’s. I and my immediate family members have won six out of the seven elections that we contested. As far as my business is concerned, I worked hard to reach where I am. I set up a business in Punjab at the peak of militancy. I have not achieved success overnight like some people.