The Punjab Police Wednesday arrested former Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s close confidant and former sarpanch of Salapur village Iqbal Singh in an alleged case of illegal mining on forest land. This comes close on the heels of state Vigilance Bureau arresting former forest minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot and booking his successor Sangat Singh Gilzian in a corruption case. While Dharamsot was minister in Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress government, Gilzian was part of Channi-led Cabinet.
Iqbal Singh was arrested in an FIR registered against him at Chamkaur Sahib police station on January 25 under sections of Mines and Minerals (Regulation) of Development) Act 1957 on the complaint of local Range Officer. Ahead of this year’s state polls, SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia had accused Iqbal Singh and his son Binder of “carrying out illegal sand mining business at the instance of Channi”, and allegation that the then CM had dismissed as “baseless and frivolous”.
Chamkaur Sahib Station House Officer Rupinder Singh said Iqbal Singh was on Thursday produced before a court in Ropar which sent him to judicial custody.
An official spokesperson said that as government led by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann “has adopted a zero tolerance policy against the illegal mining, the Rupnagar police have arrested a man for illegally excavating sand from the notified forest land in Jindapur village in Chamkaur Sahib.”
“Iqbal Singh was also accused of damaging plantation carried out by the forest department. Moreover, sections of the Indian Forest Act and Forest (Conservation) Act were enforced on this Forest Land,” the spokesperson said, adding that the police have also impounded a JCB machine and a Poclain machine used by the accused to carry out illegal mining.
“The Forest Range Officer, Chamkaur Sahib, in the FIR stated that when staff from the forest department tried to intervene, accused persons, terming the forest land as owned by them, refused to stop illegal mining,” said the spokesperson
“Pertinently, illegal mining was being carried out in the constituency of the then CM Channi,” the spokesperson noted.
A police officer, involved in the ongoing investigations, however, said, “The investigations carried out so far have not established any role of Channi in the case.”
A mining contractor Rakesh Chaudhary was allotted mining site near the forest land where alleged illegal mining was taking place and the forest department had flagged the issue in writing to Ropar police in November 2021 also. Channi as CM had visited Iqbal Singh’s house in October last year.
Sources claimed that the police were also investigating if the mining department while allotting the land to mining contractor for excavation had “also included khasra numbers which were part of forest land”.
Ropar SSP Sandeep Garg, when contacted, said, “The investigations are on. We are in the process of procuring records from both the forest department and the mining department.”
Meanwhile, sources said Ropar police are leaving no stone unturned to make a “water tight” case against Iqbal Singh. It was learnt that police have also procured a statement of a driver who worked with Iqbal and later went to Bahrain where he is currently living.