Leader of Opposition in Punjab Assembly Harpal Singh Cheema on Wednesday accused the committee of IAS officers which probed alleged irregularities in plot allotment by the Punjab Small Industries and Exports Corporation (PSIEC) of conducting a “shoddy investigation” that gave the “real culprits a clean chit”.
Demanding a CBI probe into the probe report submitted by the committee on September 10, Cheema alleged that Rahul Bhandari, former Managing Director of PSIEC and an unnamed advisor in the chief minister’s office had attempted to shield the real culprits.
The AAP MLA said while the state vigilance bureau had sought government’s permission for prosecuting several individuals for irregularities in plot allotments, the state government constituted a committee which had “deliberately watered down the vigilance probe and recommended only departmental action against two officials of PSIEC”.
“If the government fails to hand over investigation of the Rs 1500 crore scam to CBI by October 10, AAP will knock the doors of the Punjab and Haryana High Court,” Cheema warned, and released the closure report submitted by the three-member committee headed by Bhandari at the party headquarters here Wednesday.
The AAP leader said that the investigation report submitted to the government by the vigilance bureau had named PSIEC Chief General Manager S P Singh, General Manager (Planning) Jaswinder Singh Randhawa, Estate Officer Amarjit Singh Kahlon, Senior Assistant Vijay Gupta, consultant Darshan Garg, SDO Sabtej Singh and dozens of members of their families.
He said that on January 30, the joint director of the vigilance bureau had sought the government’s go ahead to file a case against the officials named in the report under relevant sections, which was not granted, and the government instead set up a parallel “dummy” three-member committee of IAS officers headed by Bhandari to investigate the report submitted by the vigilance bureau.
Cheema said that the said committee gave a clean chit to S P Singh and others, while only Jaswinder Singh Randhawa and Swatej Singh were chargesheeted in the case. “The committee has indulged in a complete cover-up exercise to downplay the scam. The chargesheeting of Randhawa and Swatej Singh in its report is an mere eye wash,” he said.
Cheema alleged that the role of a “close aide” of CM in scuttling the vigilance report cannot be ruled out. Cheema also sought dismissal of officials of PSIEC named in the investigation report.
Our report was unanimous: Rahul Bhandari
Rahul Bhandari, IAS, now serving as secretary, NRI Affairs, Home Affairs and Justice, told The Indian Express he did not know why Cheema had named him in his statements. “I was not chairman of the committee. Nowhere is it mentioned in the orders constituting the committee that I was the chairman. It only says that a three-member committee will be formed,” he said, adding the report was unanimous after examining all evidence and witnesses.
“The committee’s report had gone to Vinni Mahajan, additional chief secretary, industries. She examined it and sent it to the industries minister. He examined it and submitted it to CMO whereupon it was approved. I do not know why the allegations are being made against me,” he further said.
The PSIEC ‘SCAM’
AAP has alleged that the ‘scam’ dates back to several years, through the Congress government in 2002-07 and the subsequent 10 years of SAD-BJP rule. A vigilance inquiry was ordered in 2018 by the present government.
It is alleged that the modus operandi was to deposit earnest money for purchase of several well-located industrial plots so as to block their sale. These plots were then allegedly allotted by PSIEC officials to their friends and relatives some years later at old rates when the prices had appreciated considerably. In some instances, during the probe, it was found that the allotees under whose names the plots were in official records denied being owners, thus raising questions on the real ownership. It has also been alleged that in many instances, payment for several plots was made through a single bank account which has been traced to a relative of a PSIEC official.