September 30, 2021 7:25:56 am
The re-induction of former minister Rana Gurjit Singh in the Punjab Cabinet is being seen as one of the reasons behind state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu tendering resignation from his post. Six Congress MLAs from Doaba region and one former minister had written to Sidhu on Sunday morning, hours before the swearing-in ceremony of the new Council of Minister, demanding that Rana Gurjit Singh’s be dropped from the Charanjit Singh Channi-led Cabinet. The letter cited his alleged involvement in infamous ‘sand mining’ contract scam during his first stint as minister in 2017.
What happened in 2017-18?
It was Rana Gurjit’s proximity to former Capt Amrinder Singh and his family’s record of retaining of an otherwise SAD stronghold, Kapurthala Assembly seat, since 2002 that got him a berth in the Cabinet when Congress formed government in 201. He was made Irrigation & Power Minister. But soon after, the three-time MLA was found embroiled in a sand mining scandal. Though his name was cleared by a probe panel formed by the Amarinder Singh-led government, Rana Gurjit had to resign in January 2018 under pressure from the party high command. For Amarinder Singh government, loss of the richest MLA in the state barely nine months into power, was a big blow. This was more so as illegal sand mining was one of the major issues in the run up of the 2017 Assembly elections and Congress had promised a clean-up to the electorate.
The sand mining scam
When the Punjab government conducted auction for 94 sand mines on May 19-20, 2017, barely two months after the government was formed, at least four employees of Rana Gurjit, including his personal cook Amit Bahadur, secured two mines after depositing Rs 26.13 crore in village Saidpur Khurd and Mehadipur in Nawanshahr. Other personal staff members of Rana Gurjit who were part of the mining bid, included Kulwinder Paul Singh, Gurvinder Singh and Balraj Singh. Amit Bahadur and Balraj Singh were also found on the list of directors of three companies which belonged to Rana Gurjit.
Probe panel, and a clean chit
Soon after unearthing of this scam on May 25, 2017, a one-man commission of Justice J S Narang – considered close to Amarinder Singh – was set up to investigate the alleged irregularities. Justice Narang submitted his report on August 10 to the then Punjab CM in which it was suggested that there was no loss of revenue in the sand mining auction, which was carried out in a transparent manner through e-tendering process. The report also said that the government earned much more in auction as compared to the earnings during the previous SAD-BJP government. Opposition attacked the government saying that it was a bid to save the minister. Also, they said that the report did not reveal about the source of the money paid by Amit Bahadur and others.
On the recommendation of the commission, the then chief secretary of Punjab, Karan Avtar Singh, recommended the cancellation of mines allotted to Rana Gurjit’s staff.
This was not all, the company, Rajbir Enterprises, which had deposited money for sand mining bid, had accepted Rs 5 crore gratification from a contractor, Gurinder Singh, who is in jail currently in the Rs 2,0000crore irrigation scam which was unearthed by Congress government in August 2017, but dated back to 10 year SAD-BJP rule from 2007 to 2017. It was alleged that the money transferred by Gurinder was used to partly fund the successful sand mine auction bid of Rajbir Enterprises.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is also looking at these cases of Gurinder Singh and what were the sources of the money paid to Rajbir Enterprises.
However, there was no court case filed in this alleged mining scandal.
But despite getting clean chit from Narang Commission, Rana Gurjit was not included in the Cabinet again as there were unanswered questions about source of huge funds paid by his staff for the bids. And what are the reasons that bid money has not been returned to the company till date, asked Congress leaders.
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