Four days before the e-auction of sand mines in Punjab, in which a former employee of Minister for Power and Irrigation Rana Gurjit Singh bagged a Rs 26 crore contract, the government changed the rules of the auction to keep the names of the bidders secret. The sand mine contract to Amit Bahadur, who was a cook with Rana Gurjit’s firm Rana Sugars, has triggered demands by opposition parties for the minister’s resignation. Rana Gurjit has sought to distance himself from Bahadur saying that he left his employment in February this year.
The e-auction for the sand mines, which saw aggressive bidding, took place on May 19 and 20. While introducing the e-auctioning system, the Congress government had said it would ensure total transparency in issue of contracts and end the reign of sand mafia as well as other illegalities. On May 3, in the first announcement of the auction — notice number GLG/Pb/G-1/Auction 1085/Auction 2017/734-B — Para 8 stated that the list of prospective bidders would be posted on the website of the Department of Industries, http://www.investpunjab.gov.in, after scrutiny of their documents and payment of earnest money.
But on May 15, the department issued a corrigendum stating that para 8 of the earlier notice stood deleted and the list of prospective bidders would be kept “secret”. No reasons were given. The corrigendum was signed by Director, Mining, Amit Dhaka. Speaking to The Indian Express, Dhaka said the names were kept secret to avoid cartelisation during the auction process. “Para 8 was deleted to prevent cartelisation as it was a progressive bidding system,” he said.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who is the Minister for Industries and Commerce, under which the Department of Mining falls, has not made any public comment on the controversy so far. However, Congress sources told The Indian Express the party high command has conveyed to the CM that he must ensure that the state government “maintains a clean image”. Within the Punjab Congress too, there is unease over the government’s silence on the allegations against a senior Cabinet minister.