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Punjab CM sacks his Health Minister for ‘bribe’ after ‘sting’

Vijay Singla arrested; sent to 3-day Punjab Police remand

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh |
Updated: May 25, 2022 5:49:28 am
Vijay Singla after his arrest. He alleged a conspiracy. (Express Photo by Jasbir Malhi)

PUNJAB CHIEF Minister Bhagwant Mann said on Tuesday that he has sacked the state’s Health Minister Dr Vijay Singla on charges of corruption for allegedly seeking “one per cent cut in tender allotment and purchase of goods related to the department”. Singla was later arrested by the Punjab Police under the Prevention of Corruption Act, and remanded in judicial custody for three days.

Sources told The Indian Express that the sacking was the result of a “monitoring operation” after a state government official raised a complaint against Singla and his OSD Pardeep Kumar.

At 11.05 am on Tuesday, Superintending Engineer Rajinder Singh, who is on deputation with Punjab Health Systems Corporation, lodged a complaint with the Mohali Police stating that he has an audio recording purportedly of Singla allegedly asking him to pay Kumar “Rs 5 lakh” as part payment in the wake of several demands earlier.

Based on the complaint, the police registered an FIR at 11.38 am against Singla and Kumar under sections 7 and 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Mann’s video message was released to the media at 12.55 pm. After the Chief Minister’s announcement, Singla was arrested and taken to the Phase 8 police station in Mohali.

Mann claimed in his video message that the Minister had “confessed” to the crime. But after being produced in court later in the day, Singla told reporters that the allegation against him “was a conspiracy hatched to defame the Bhagwant Mann government in the state”.

Singla, 52, holds a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) degree, and was among the 10 medical professionals to have won on AAP tickets in the Assembly elections this year. He had contested from Mansa, trouncing Congress’s Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu Moosewala, a popular singer, by 63,323 votes — among the highest winning margins in the election.

Incidentally, days after he was sworn in as Health Minister, Singla had held a meeting of Health officials in Chandigarh, where he said the AAP government had “zero tolerance for corruption”.

In his video message on Tuesday, Mann said that through the action against Singla, he wanted to convey the message of zero tolerance — even if it included the ruling AAP’s “own people”. Welcoming the decision, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal tweeted: “Proud of you Bhagwant. Ur action has brought tears to my eyes. Whole nation today feels proud of AAP.”

Before naming Singla, Mann said in the video: “A case was brought to my notice that a Minister in my Cabinet was seeking one per cent commission for each tender and purchase related to his department. Only I knew about this case, neither the media nor the Opposition knew about it. Had I wanted, I could have covered it up. But had I done so, I would have not only failed my conscience but also lakhs of people who trusted in me. I am taking strong action against him. I am sacking him from my Cabinet and directing the police to take action against him. He has confessed to this crime.”

Describing his move as a “historic decision by AAP”, Mann said: “This has happened for the second time in the country. In 2015, Kejriwal had sacked his Food and Civil Supplies Minister after a video of him seeking a bribe was shown to him. I want to tell everyone that I will not tolerate corruption of even Re 1.”

Pre-empting criticism of his government, Mann said: “The Opposition parties will say that AAP’s Minister was found involved in corruption within two months of forming the government. But I want to tell them that I have taken action and the Opposition did not even know about it… I have not only sacked my Minister but also directed the police to take action against him. We will bring a change in the country.”
With the sacking of Singla, Mann has nine ministers in the Cabinet with a total possible strength of 18.

According to the police complaint filed by the official, Rajinder Singh, he was in his office a month ago when he was called to Room No. 203 at Punjab Bhawan by Singla’s OSD Kumar. It further stated that Singla allegedly told Singh that he was busy and that whatever the OSD conveyed would be on the Minister’s behalf, and left the room.

According to the complaint, Singh was then allegedly informed by Kumar that in March, construction work worth Rs 41 crore had been awarded by his department and that payment of Rs 17 crore was released to contractors. The OSD allegedly sought Rs 1.16 crore as two per cent commission out of a total amount of Rs 58 crore, the complaint stated.

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Quoting from Singh’s complaint, the FIR registered by the police stated: “I told him that I am not able to do this and they may send me back to my original department. After that he kept calling me on WhatsApp…on May 8, May 10, May 12, May 13 and May 23. He kept demanding money and I was threatened that my career would be finished if I did not pay them the bribe.”

The FIR stated: “I prayed to them that I was due to retire on November 30 this year and my career should not be destroyed and I am ready to be repatriated to my department so that they can get someone else posted in my place. After that, on May 20, he told me that I should pay a lump sum of Rs 10 lakh and afterwards, I should pay them one per cent commission in all works.”

Referring to Singla and Kumar, the FIR stated: “I told them that I have only Rs 2.5 lakh in my account and another Rs 3 lakh, so I can pay them Rs 5 lakh to spare myself from the harassment. On May 23 (Monday), I got a call from Pardeep Kumar asking me to come to the Civil Secretariat. I went there and offered them Rs 5 lakh and asked them where I should hand them the money.”

The FIR quotes Singh as saying that he recorded the purported conversation during which Singla asked him to allegedly pay the money to Kumar.

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Punjab Health Systems Corporation was set up for “establishing, expanding, improving and administering medical care” in the state, with over 200 public facilities under its supervision, including district and sub-divisional hospitals, and Community Health Centres.

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