Demands of sacking of Cabinet minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot over the alleged post-matric SC scholarship scam and guarantee of MSP by the state government rocked the final day of the special session of Punjab Vidhan Sabha on Wednesday with SAD, LIP and AAP walking out on the two issues.
After allegations of Rs 64 crore misappropriation in SC scholarship scheme had surfaced, the Chief Minister had directed Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan to conduct a thorough inquiry.
The Chief Secretary’s report, based on the findings of the three-member panel of IAS officers, led by Food Secretary KAP Sinha, had exonerated Dharamsot.
Trashing the clean chit given by the Chief Secretary to the minister, opposition leaders cornered the Congress government on the inaction against Dharamsot. They accused the CM of shielding him.
SAD MLA Pawan Kumar Tinu, Leader of Opposition and AAP MLA Harpal Singh Cheema and Lok Insaaf Party MLA Simarjeet Singh Bains raised the issue during the discussion on various Bills.
SAD MLAs walked out on the issue of Dharamsot’s involvement in the scam, while AAP MLAs did the same on the issue of lack of guarantee by the state government for MSP on crops to farmers.
Cheema later said MLAs were not allowed to speak on various issues. “When state Assembly had Tuesday passed the Bills to counter Centre’s farm laws, we wanted the state government should give guarantee on MSP,” he said.
Earlier in the House, Cheema had a sharp spat with Congress MLAs when he targeted the Speaker Rana KP Singh. Complaining that he was not being allowed to speak, Cheema made pointed comments at the Speaker following which several Congress MLAs rushed into the well of the House.
Speaking later to The Indian express, Cheema alleged that Congress MLAs Inderbir Singh Zira and Kuljit Singh Nagra, among several others, had rushed into the well of the House to target him.
Speaker Rana KP Singh told AAP MLAs that they would not be allowed to speak unless they apologised for Harpal Singh Cheema shouting at him.
Intervening in the issue, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh termed as shameful and unfortunate the opposition’s “baseless hounding of his ministers”.
“They shouted abuses at me and they have been going around claiming that I abused the Speaker. This is totally false. I had only asked the Speaker to be fair as he should be seen as the Speaker of the House and not of any particular party,’ said Cheema.
Cheema added that Congress took benefit of the fact that the live telecast of the House proceedings was disrupted for the media contingent covering the House from Punjab Bhawan.
“This is blatant muzzling of the press by the Congress as they did not want the people of the state to know that the opposition was speaking against them and their Bills,” said Cheema.
In the House, SAD MLAs too shouted slogans and demanded the dismissal of Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot. They also came to the well of the House to protest.
Amarinder said that no irregularity had been found in inquiries conducted into allegations of scams in SC scholarship. Stating that the opposition parties were indulging in petty politics with their unfounded allegations, Amarinder said the issue of SC scholarship scheme has been examined by three Additional Chief Secretaries who have found no irregularity in the distribution of funds. The Chief Minister added that the opposition was unnecessarily targeting the ministers on the basis of media reports which had no substance.
Referring to the “regretful trend” of some opposition MLAs “debasing” the sanctity of the House to gain political mileage, the Chief Minister expressed concern over the impact of such behaviour on the traditions of the Assembly.
Both AAP and SAD have been demanding a CBI probe into the alleged multi-crore post-matric SC scholarship scam. Earlier, both parties had said that the chief secretary cannot conduct an unbiased probe against a Cabinet minister.
Media coverage of House hampered
The media coverage of the proceedings in the House could not take place in a satisfactory manner due to disruption in the telecast of the proceedings in Punjab Bhawan. Due to Covid restrictions, the press has not been allowed to enter the Punjab Vidhan Sabha in the special session of the House and arrangements had been made to enable the coverage from Punjab Bhawan through internet link.
Almost all major developments in the House could not be witnessed by the journalists due to the non-availability of telecast. Complaints were made to the Speaker, Rana KP Singh, and the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Brahm Mohindra, who assured to look into the matter.
A senior official of the Punjab Department of Public Relations (DPR) rejected the insinuation that the breakdown was deliberate and attributed it to a technical glitch on part of the NIC, stating that it falls under the Union government. She added that it was a matter between the Vidhan Sabha and the NIC and that that DPR was in no way involved in it.
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