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Phone to pen, minister to cop: Complaints of graft soar in Punjab

Official data show that from March 23, when CM Bhagwant Mann announced an anti-corruption “action” phone line, till July 11, a total of 2,94,670 complaints were received.

Dr Vijay Singla (Express file photo)

An Apple watch, a pen camera, a camera inside a mobile phone charger. These are among the gadgets used by complainants in Punjab against a range of targets — from politicians to bureaucrats and other government officials — after the AAP government launched a massive anti-corruption drive after coming to power in the Assembly elections in February.

Official data accessed by The Indian Express show that from March 23, when Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann announced an anti-corruption “action” phone line, till July 11, a total of 2,94,670 complaints were received. Of these, 3,751 complaints were received with audio or video recordings, 1,862 were about various government departments and 1,740 were found to be irrelevant or non-specific in nature.

Explained

A message in numbers

There is a message behind the action against an AAP minister, a senior bureaucrat, a police officer and a top civic functionary, among several others. The AAP government in Punjab is going all out to cement the party’s image as the citizen’s ally against graft.

“We are following the mandate of the state government and the Chief Minister. There is zero tolerance for corruption. Anyone found to be indulging in corruption will not be spared,” Chief Director of Punjab Vigilance Bureau Varinder Kumar said.

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Among the complaints received during the period for which data was available, 149 with audio or video recordings were sent to the Vigilance Bureau, which filed 33 FIRs and arrested 52 persons, including 24 civilians, 15 police officials and 13 from government officials.

The most famous of these complaints led to the sacking of the AAP’s own Health Minister Vijay Singla two months ago. Singla and his OSD Pardeep Kumar, who is also his nephew, were arrested on May 24 after being booked in a corruption case related to an alleged demand for two per cent commission against payments made to contractors for work under the Punjab Health Systems Corporation (PHSC).

The Indian Express has learnt that the complainant Rajinder Singh, an executive engineer on deputation with PHSC, recorded several conversations between him, Singla and Kumar, including at least one using an Apple watch.

Consider some of the other key complaints, cases and arrests under this anti-corruption drive:

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June 2: Mohali Divisional Forest Officer Guramanpreet Singh and contractor Harmahinder Singh were arrested in a corruption case. IFS officer Vishal Chauhan was arrested more than a month later, on July 7, under sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The complainant, World Wide Immigration Consultancy Services director Davinder Singh Sandhu, alleged that Rs 1 crore in monthly installments of Rs 10 lakh, and Rs 5 lakh in sale of land, were demanded by the accused for clearance of his project in Masol and Tanda villages of Mohali.

Sandhu alleged that on refusal to pay the bribe, a “false case” was registered against his father Colonel B S Sandhu (retd) for allegedly causing damage to forest flora. The complainant used a camera installed inside a mobile phone charger to record the accused.

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The questioning of contractor Harmahinder Singh in this case also led Vigilance sleuths to book Congress leader and former Forest minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot and nine others, including his party colleague and successor at the Ministry Sangat Singh Gilzian, IFS officer Amit Chauhan and DFO Guramanpreet.

The second case was registered on June 6 after a diary allegedly belonging to the contractor and containing details of corruption totalling crores of rupees in the Forest department was recovered. On July 13, Vigilance arrested Gilzian’s nephew Daljit Singh Gilzian for allegedly acting as a middleman in the case.

June 20: IAS officer Sanjay Popli was arrested by Vigilance on a complaint from Karnal-based contractor Sanjay Kumar on the action line. Popli is in judicial custody.

Kumar alleged that Popli, during his stint as Chief Executive Officer in the Punjab Water Supplies and Sewerage Board, demanded a kickback of one per cent for clearing bills related to a Rs 7.3-crore contract for laying a pipeline at Nawanshahr, and accepted a bribe of Rs 3.5 lakh and Rs 5,000.

On June 25, Popli’s son Kartik Popli was found dead inside their Chandigarh house when a Vigilance team arrived to recover 12 kg of gold and other valuables allegedly accepted as bribes. In this case, the complainant used a pen camera to record a junior government official accepting the bribe in a car allegedly on behalf of Popli.

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June 28: Vigilance in Amritsar arrested Pathankot Drug Inspector Bableen Kaur for allegedly demanding a bribe of Rs 90,000 from a local resident for the online grant of a license to open a medical store.

July 6: Congress leader and former chairman of Amritsar Improvement Trust Dinesh Bassi was arrested in a Vigilance case for alleged irregularities, mainly in the allotment of a plot at a throwaway price to a woman after the death of her father, who had unsuccessfully tried to gain ownership of the property through litigation. According to investigators, the plot was later put up for sale at market price.

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July 6: The police arrested Faridkot Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Lakhvir Singh for allegedly accepting Rs 10 lakh as bribe from a drugs peddler for “not nominating him in the FIR registered under NDPS Act in Tarn Taran”. The case has been transferred to Vigilance.

First published on: 26-07-2022 at 04:30:54 am
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