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Friday, August 19, 2022

Graft charges: Former Congress minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot arrested

Sadhu Singh Dharamsot arrested: Sources indicated that during the interrogation, Singh made several revelations of kickbacks in illegal felling of trees against Dharamsot.

Former Punjab cabinet minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot arrested in corruption caseformer Punjab cabinet minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot. (File Photo)

The Punjab Vigilance Bureau arrested former state minister and Congress leader Sadhu Singh Dharamsot along with two others on corruption charges in the early hours Tuesday.

The social welfare and forest minister in the previous Amarinder Singh-led government was arrested from Amloh for being involved in organised corruption pertaining to the issuance of permits for cutting of trees, transfer of officials, purchases, and issuance of no objection certificates (NOC). Dharamsot, however, denied the charges, saying he is being framed.

A Mohali court later sent him to three-day police custody.

Former minister Sangat Singh Gilzian, who was the forest minister in the Charanjit Singh Channi-led Congress government, has also been named in the FIR. Channi became the CM after the Congress removed Amarinder Singh in September last year.

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The other two arrested by the VB include Kamalpreet Singh Kamal, then media advisor of Dharamsot and Chamkaur Singh, retired range officer-cum-OSD to the then minister.

A VB spokesperson said that a district forest officer (DFO), Guramanpreet Singh, and private contractor Harmohinder Singh Hummy were arrested on June 2 for allegedly demanding and accepting bribe from coloniser Davinder Singh Sandhu in lieu of not demolishing farmhouses developed by his company WWICS in the vicinity of New Chandigarh, Mohali.

During interrogation, the duo alleged that a “deep-rooted nexus of organised corruption” has remained prevalent
since 2017 between politicians, their associates and officials of the forest department.

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Hummy disclosed during questioning that he had been maintaining a diary regarding bribes given to senior officers of the forest department, political leaders and their front-men from time-to-time since 2017. The diary has been recovered from his house, the VB spokesperson said.

The perusal and investigation into the contents of the diary revealed the modus-operandi of the culprits which led to their arrests.

Punjab Vigilance Bureau’s chief director Varinder Kumar said during questioning of the contractor and the DFO, it came to the fore that the former minister was involved in corruption.

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Hummy was into the business of cutting and selling of Khair trees after obtaining the mandatory permit from the forests department in the name of his firm Gurhar Associates. He had obtained permit for cutting of approximately 7000 trees for the October-March season for which he had allegedly paid bribe of Rs 1000 per tree, including payment of Rs 500 per tree to Dharamsot, Rs 200 to DFO, and Rs 100 each to range officer, block officer and forest guard.

Investigation revealed that over the time, around Rs 1.25 crore was given to the minister as commission. Kamaljit Singh, a Khanna-based journalist, and Chamkaur Singh, OSD to Dharamsot, used to receive money on his behalf, said Kumar.

Kumar said Dharamsot allegedly used to get bribe of Rs 10 to 20 lakh for the transfer of a DFO, Rs 5 to 8 lakh for a ranger, Rs 5 lakh for a block officer and Rs 2 to 3 lakh for a forest guard through his aides.

Besides, Dharamsot used to get bribes from colonisers, newly installed filling stations, owners of new projects as well as hotels and restaurants for issuance of NOCs in lieu of passage on forests land, alleged the spokesperson.

The VB spokesperson said Hummy had also given Rs 5 lakh as bribe to former forest minister Sangat Singh Gilzian through one Kulwinder Singh for issuance of a permit for felling trees at Nada village, Mohali district. Gilzian had arranged a meeting of Hummy with DFOs in Punjab and had directed that the purchase of tree guards for protection of plants would only be made from one Sachin Kumar, said the spokesperson.

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The cost of one tree guard was Rs 2,800 and out of which Gilzian’s share as bribe was Rs 800. A total of 80,000 tree guards were bought at that time and Gilzian collected Rs 6.40 crore as bribe, said the spokesperson.

Rupnagar DFO Amit Chauhan used to show a lesser number of standing trees on panchayat lands and shared the proceeds of felling of remaining actual number of trees with the contractors, thereby, causing a loss to the panchayats funds.

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The Vigilance, besides Dharamsot and Gilzian, booked IFS officer Amit Chauhan, DFO Guramanpreet Singh, forest guard Dilpreet Singh, Chamkaur Singh, OSD to Dharamsot, Kamaljit Singh, Kulwinder Singh, PA to Gilzian, and one Sachin Kumar.

State Congress chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring described the arrest as “political vendetta” and asked Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann to let the law take its course and not resort to “kangaroo court justice”.

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Several Congress leaders led by Warring, Partap Singh Bajwa, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa reached the Mohali Vigilance office Tuesday evening.

Dharamsot’s arrest came just hours ahead of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Punjab.

The former Congress chief visited the house of Sidhu Moosewala in Mansa on Tuesday to express condolences to the slain singer’s family.

First published on: 07-06-2022 at 08:40:10 am
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