A day after Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh reminded his bete noire Partap Bajwa of bitumen scam, the latter on Sunday called it a wrong comparison and demanded a probe by an independent agency into alleged scholarship scam.
In a statement, Bajwa said the CM has attempted to draw a false equivalence between the Post Matric Scholarship Scam and allegations against officers from five different departments of Punjab 16 years ago while he was the PWD Minister of Punjab. “There is no comparison whatsoever between the two situations: Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, the Minister for Social Justice, Empowerment and Minorities, was charged (sic) by his own officer Kripa Shankar Saroj of being involved in the scam in an enquiry.”
The actions of the minister and certain officers within the Ministry of Social Justice, Empowerment and Minorities in withdrawing Rs 248.11 crore for disbursal to colleges/institutions has been reported to be done under questionable circumstances. The department has not been able to furnish records for Rs 39 crore. These facts of the case have been revealed in an internal report of the department. It is not another allegation made from the comforts of a television studio during prime-time debates, Bajwa said.
“Furthermore, it must be noted that the Minister reinstated Parminder Singh Gill as the Deputy Director in-charge of the scheme. In December 2019, Gill was suspended by the former Chief Secretary of Punjab, Karan Avtar Singh. It is ironic that the actions of the former Chief Secretary, who had the fullest support of the Chief Minister on every issue, even against the Cabinet of Punjab, are now being ignored. The actions of those involved were known to the Chief Secretary of Punjab as early as December 2019, who had ordered an enquiry into the working of the department.”
Bajwa added that on the other hand, the bitumen scam covered various departments and their engineering wings like the PWD, PUDA, Mandi Board, Ludhiana Municipal Corporation and PSIEC, and came to light on the basis of a diary recovered by an income tax officer. While the scam came to light in 2004, the period it covered was of the previous SAD regime (1997-2002) and did not involve the Congress government of which Bajwa was a part.
“An FIR was registered by the Vigilance Bureau in 2004 in which 63 officers were named and 31 officers from the above departments were arrested. My name did not figure at any stage of investigation, directly or indirectly. After passing through various stages of investigation, the Vigilance Bureau filed the closure report during the tenure of S. Parkash Singh Badal (SAD) as Chief Minister in July 2014 before the competent court and court accepted the closure report,” he said.
The CM should keep in mind that “I have asked for the resignation of Sadhu Singh Dharmsot for the duration of the investigation by an independent authority. I do not believe an impartial investigation can be conducted while the accused individual remains in a position of power with the potential to influence the course of the investigation. It is clear that there are systemic issues within the department, and an investigation must be conducted by an Honourable Justice of the Punjab & Haryana High Court in a time-bound manner, to ensure maximum transparency”.
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