Explained: What is the Ludhiana City Centre ‘scam’?https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-what-is-the-ludhiana-city-centre-scam-5987646/

Explained: What is the Ludhiana City Centre ‘scam’?

The Indian Express explains the corruption case that has continued to haunt Punjab CM Amarinder Singh and his family for twelve years.

Explained: What is the Ludhiana City Centre ‘scam’?
The City Centre project in Ludhiana. (Express photo: Gurmeet Singh)

Lok Insaaf Party MLA Simarjit Singh Bains recently said that Punjab CM Amarinder Singh got him booked for ‘misbehaving’ with Gurdsapur DC Vipul Ujjwal because he had challenged the closure report filed by the Vigilance Bureau in the alleged Rs 1,144 crore Ludhiana City Centre Scam in which Amarinder Singh is one of the accused. The Indian Express explains the corruption case that has continued to haunt CM and his family for twelve years.

What was Ludhiana City Centre Project?

Started during Captain Amarinder Singh’s previous tenure as the Punjab CM in 2005-06, the multi-crore infrastructure project proposed to build a ‘City Centre’ including shopping mall, residential towers, helipad, multiplex etc on a site measuring 25-acre located on Pakhowal road of Ludhiana, which currently lies in ruins. The project was to be executed by Ludhiana Improvement Trust (LIT), a body under local bodies department of the Punjab government.

Who are the accused and what have they been charged with?

The accused in the case include Captain Amarinder Singh, his son Raninder Singh, son-in-law Raminder Singh and 33 others. They were booked for alleged corruption and cheating under the Sections 420, 409, 465, 467, 468, 471, 201 and 120-B of IPC and sections 7,8,9,13 (1), 13(2) and 14 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), 1988. Of 36 accused, five of them — Chaudhary Jagjit Singh (then local bodies minister), Paramjit Singh Sibia (then LIT chairman), Malkeet Kaur, Vijay Kumar Parti and Sunil Kumar Sharma died during the proceedings. There are 152 witnesses in the case.

How has the probe progressed?

The probe in case was marked to Vigilance Bureau by CM Amarinder Singh-led Punjab government on September 19, 2006 after reports in media claimed irregularities in the project. However, the FIR was registered by Vigilance Bureau on March 23, 2007 after SAD-BJP won Punjab polls in 2007. The FIR was registered on the orders of then Director, Vigilance Bureau, Sumedh Singh Saini and later chargesheet was filed in a local court on December 12, 2007 against 36 accused.

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What are the allegations against Amarinder and others?

The Vigilance Bureau in its inquiry alleged that Amarinder in connivance with LIT officials and others caused a loss of at least Rs 1,144 crore to the exchequer by ‘favouring’ private company M/S Today Homes and awarding it the contract by ‘tampering bids’. It was also alleged that the Congress party wanted the funding of at least Rs 100 crore from this project for 2007 polls and therefore the then CM and others received ‘bribe money’ of Rs 100 crore from owners of M/S Today Homes in return of awarding them City Centre contract.

In its first probe report on the basis of which SSP Kanwarjit Singh Sandhu filed the FIR, the Vigilance says, “Prima facie the wrongful loss to state exchequer and wrongful gain to M/S Today Homes is estimated to be between Rs 1,500 to 3,000 crores… A source report from an SP (VB), which has been put in sealed cover in the enquiry report has stated than an amount of over Rs 100 crores has been paid as bribe by M/S Today Homes to Captain Amarinder Singh, Sibia, Jagjit Singh and others for implementation and allotment of this illegal project…”

Further, VB said that Captain removed then LIT chairman Ashok Garcha as he refused to give nod to project smelling the rat and ‘fit-in’ his close aide Sibia. Later, the Vigilance Bureau also claimed recovery of Rs 40 lakh ‘bribe money’ from then LIT executive officer Dyal Chand Garg. Vigilance had claimed that a pen drive was also recovered from another accused Chetan Gupta of Delhi which contained details of alleged ‘hawala’ transaction of at least Rs 21 crore credited by M/S Today Homes in the accounts of Captain and his son, Raninder Singh. The Vigilance Bureau probe said that LIT officials allegedly ‘tampered’ bids on night of May 10-11, 2005 sitting at Hotel Park Plaza of Ludhiana where Today Homes representatives were also present — five days before bids were officially opened on May 17, 2005.

Ten years later, how did the case take a complete U-turn in 2017?

Just three days before results of the 2017 Punjab polls were announced on March 11, one of the accused Chetan Gupta filed an application with the Bureau demanding ‘re-investigation’ in the case. Taking a surprisingly usual than swift action on the application, VB conducted a ‘re-investigation’ and filed closure report (under Section 173(8) of CrPC) within five months, in the Ludhiana court of sessions judge Gurbir Singh on August 19, 2017. The report gave a clean chit to all accused and said that there was no scam at all. Even after 12 years, charges have not been framed against the accused in court.

How the Vigilance Bureau flayed its own 2007 probe in closure report?

The closure report (copy with The Indian Express) concluded that “there is no proof or fact to substantiate any scam in the project” and that “Captain Amarinder Singh never had any ill-intention in the execution of the project”.The report also says that “there is no proof of any bribe money exchanged”. The report concluded that “no evidence has been found against any of the persons named and neither there is any proof of any bungling or scam in Ludhiana city centre”. “All allegations are just kalpanik (fictional) and sambhavit (doubtful),” it says. The fresh report by Vigilance, at several places, says that its own officials “did not investigate properly earlier” and now in the “wake of new facts, documents and proofs”, it has been found that “there is no documentary proof of any irregularity in the project” and “none of the persons named in the FIR had any ill-intention”.

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So, has the closure report gone unchallenged?

No, in fact, since closure report has been filed there have been four applications challenging the clean chit to accused including the two by then senior most Vigilance investigators — but all dismissed. First, the local court dismissed applications by LIP MLA Simarjit Singh Bains and an architect S K Dey. Later, applications of then SSP Vigilance Kanwarjit Singh Sandhu and former Punjab DGP (then Director vigilance) Sumedh Singh Saini were also dismissed. Both cops had appealed that court should hear them once before accepting closure report and expressed to share some ‘case facts’ in ‘sealed envelope’.

Now, an appeal by MLA Bains is pending in the High Court. Even the Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed separate FIR in 2013 for alleged money laundering in the case against Captain and others and their appeal to get chargesheet copy is also pending in the High Court. Then there is a third case which LIT is fighting against M/S Today Homes, opposing the compensation of Rs 1,100 crore awarded to the company as per orders of sole arbitrator Justice R C Lahoti in 2017. Ironically, local bodies department is taking an opposite stand from Vigilance Bureau in this case and saying that private firm is not innocent.