On March 23, days after he was sworn in as Health Minister in the Bhagwant Mann-led Cabinet, Vijay Singla, 52, held a meeting of health officials in Chandigarh, where he said the government would have zero tolerance for corruption.
Exactly two months later, Singla was dropped from the Cabinet on charges of corruption – the first minister to be sacked by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that came to power in Punjab on the promise of “badlaav (change)” and a corruption-free regime.
Making the announcement through a video message, Mann said Singla was sacked for allegedly seeking a “one per cent cut” in tender allotments and purchase of goods related to the department.
“A case was brought to my notice that a minister in my Cabinet was seeking 1 pc commission for each tender and purchase related to his department. Neither the media nor the Opposition knew about the case…Only I knew about it. Had I wanted, I would have covered it up. Had I done so, I would not only have failed my conscience but also that of lakhs of people who placed their trust in me. I am sacking him from my Cabinet and directing police to take action against him. He has confessed to me,” CM Mann said.
Singla, 52, was among the 10 medical professionals to have won on AAP tickets in the Assembly elections earlier this year.
A Bachelor of Dentistry Surgery (BDS), Singla joined the AAP in 2016 and, soon after, was made joint secretary of the party’s trade wing in the state.
In the 2022 elections, the AAP put up Singla from Mansa, where he trounced the Congress’s Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu Moosewala, a popular Punjabi singer with millions of fans, by a margin of 63,323 votes – among the highest winning margins in the election.
Sources said the party favoured Singla over other AAP ticket aspirants primarily because Mansa has over 60,000 Hindu votes. In 2017, too, Mansa had elected an AAP MLA, Nazar Singh Manshahia, but he defected to Congress in April 2019 ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
While his win was attributed to the AAP wave ahead of the elections, Singla’s induction in the Cabinet came as a surprise as he was chosen over many senior names such as Baljinder Kaur from Talwandi Sabo and Aman Arora from Sunam.
According to the affidavit that he submitted at the time of filing his nomination, Singla has Rs 6.48 crore as his assets and Rs 27 lakh as liabilities. He did his BDS in 1992 from Patiala’s Punjabi University. While Singla’s dental clinic continues to be in Mansa, he no longer practises because of his political engagements. His wife is an Ayurveda practitioner.
Singla’s removal came as a surprise to many, with sources saying there was no hint of any impending action against the minister. Over the last few days, the minister had been going about his engagements as usual.
On May 21, Singla was in Mansa distributing relief funds to families of five farmers from the district who died during the farm agitation against the three farm laws.
On April 3, he ordered a crackdown on adulteration in milk and milk products, following which raids were held in Ludhiana, Sangrur, Fatehgarh Sahib and Patiala.
On March 31, he warned owners of private de-addiction centres of penal action if they are found misusing drugs at their centres. “The old days of making empty claims are over; our government is committed to making Punjab drug-free,” he had said.