Less than a week after assuming office as Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh announced that his government would follow a “zero tolerance” policy on corruption. On Tuesday, he vowed to clamp down on corruption with an “iron hand”. In the past six days, when his government has been embarrassed with allegations of corruption against the state’s irrigation and power minister,
Rana Gurjit Singh, the Punjab CM has had a chance to put his strong words into practice. But, disappointingly, he has not been up to the task. The Punjab government has asked retired high court judge, Justice J.S. Narang, to probe the allegations of impropriety against the minister in last week’s multi-crore sand mining auctions. If the Punjab CM is indeed serious about curbing corruption, he should remove his colleague from his position in order to facilitate a fair probe.
Opposition parties, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have been demanding the sacking of Gurjit Singh for allegedly acquiring sand and gravel mines through benami transactions in the name of his former cook, Amit Bahadur. Gurjit Singh has denied links with Bahadur, who was formerly employed with Rana Sugar, the outfit which successfully bid for a Rs 26.5 crore sand mine in Nawanshahr. The charges against the minister are too serious to be addressed by such disclaimers. The sand mines in question are in the rivers whose upkeep Gurjit Singh is responsible for as the irrigation minister.
And in his election affidavit, the minister had disclosed financial transactions with three companies headed by Bahadur. This conflict of interest should have been apparent to the Punjab CM in the first place. It is unfortunate that he has chosen to maintain a guarded silence even after these facts have come to public light. During the SAD-BJP’s stint in office, Amarinder Singh accused the Badal family of letting the “mining mafia” have a free run, leading to a drain of the state’s resources.
The Congress manifesto in the elections, which brought it to office in Punjab, promised to get rid of nepotism in the state’s administration. After taking over as CM, Amarinder Singh has often emphasised transparency in governance as the key to raising the state’s growth rate, much below the national average. Such lofty words will mean nothing if the Punjab CM cannot ensure a fair investigation into the allegations against Minister Gurjit Singh.