Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh Wednesday hosted a luncheon for a minister and some legislators who have been objecting to alleged “impudence” of Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh and have blamed him for excise revenue loss.
The CM, it was learnt, backed the chief secretary, who, he said, had already apologised to Finance Minister Manpreet Badal and is set to retire in two months.
Those who attended the lunch meeting included Jails Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Gidderbaha MLA Amrinder Singh Raja Warring and Urmur MLA Sangat Singh Gilzian — both also advisors to the CM — and Jalandhar Cantt legislator Pargat Singh. Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar was also present in the meeting that came a week after the ministers and the Chief Secretary sparred over excise policy.
Jakhar and Randhawa have been seeking removal of the Chief Secretary for his alleged “impudence” and “misbehaviour” with the ministers over amendment in excise policy.
As the party leaders broached the topic of Chief Secretary and excise loss, the CM is learnt to have told them that Karan Avtar Singh had “apologised to Manpreet Badal soon after the FM had walked out of the meeting The CM is also learnt to have told the leaders that the “Karan Avtar Singh was due to retire in two months only, and he will be gone.”
On shortfall in excise collection target, the CM is learnt to have told them that he was “aware of the smuggling and the participation of several party leaders in the whole process” and said he would take action, one of the leaders told The Indian Express.
After coming back from the meeting that lasted three hours, Randhawa said, “We told the CM about how Chief Secretary misbehaved with us. He asked us for some time. The ball is in CM’s court now.”
About the involvement of some party leaders in smuggling, Randhawa said, “We told the CM that he should take action. He should not spare anyone, whether the person be an officer or a politician. Whosoever is responsible should be punished.”
On whether he would go to Cabinet meeting if Chief Secretary is present, Randhawa said, “No comments as of today. Time will tell.”
Raja Warring, who had been tweeting for several days about Rs 600 crore shortfall in excise collections and seeking a probe, said, “We strongly and yet politely raised the issue as to how the Chief Secretary has been behaving with elected representatives for past three years. The CM has asked us to wait. We will see.”
On whether he would stop his Twitter campaign, Warring said, “I will continue to raise my voice. There is a democracy within the party. I will bring it to the notice whenever something goes wrong.”
Jakhar said, “We all had a pleasant meeting over lunch. All were cordial. The CM heard everybody out. We raised several issues starting from the party to the government and the current pandemic.”
The row had erupted last week when Chief Secretary was briefing the cabinet ministers about proposed relief to liquor contractors amid curfew. He and ministers had a showdown following which Manpreet Badal, Charanjit Channi and Randhawa besides other ministers had walked out of the meeting. Later, the ministers told CM in a subsequent Cabinet meeting that they would not attend any meeting with Karan Avtar Singh being present. But on Monday, three ministers Balbir Sidhu, OP Soni and Bharat Bhushan Ashu attended a meeting that was attended by the Chief Secretary too.
Sources said Amarinder had called up Randhawa for a luncheon meeting and the latter is learnt to have told him that he would not come alone. Amarinder invited Jakhar also and both took along three MLAs.
Sources said Randhawa wanted to take Channi along but he was not a part of their strategy meetings that continued throughout the day on Tuesday. Channi kept them waiting, it is learnt. Sources close to Channi said he did not accompany them as he did not get an invite from the CM. Manpreet Badal is yet to get back to Chandigarh after his father’s death last week.
Pargat is learnt to have raised Bargari sacrilege but the meeting could not reach any consensus. Pargat, a former Indian hockey captain, also said there was no harm in setting up a corporation for excise if the state’s revenue goes up with it.
Pargat, a few days ago, had reportedly lashed out at his own government, demanding setting up of excise corporation to boost excise revenue and stop liquor smuggling.
Later, a government statement said CM invited five leaders over lunch to discuss Covid situation. It said the party leaders raised the issue of CS and the alleged excise revenue losses, to which the CM responded that he was apprised of the issue and was personally looking into it.
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