The Income Tax Department has started an inquiry into the mining contracts allegedly bagged by four former employees of Punjab minister Rana Gurjit Singh, even as the state government ordered a judicial probe in the matter today.
While opposition parties, including the AAP and the Shiromani Akali Dal, demanded sacking of Gurjit Singh, the state irrigation and power minister, pending inquiry in the case, he exuded confidence of coming out clean in the probe.
Questions were being raised over the allotment of mining contracts to Amit Bahadur at Saidpur Khurd village in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar for Rs 26.51 crore, Kulvinder Paul Singh at Mehadipur in SBS Nagar for Rs 9.21 crore, Gurinder Singh at Rampur Kalan village in Mohali district for Rs 4.11 crore and Balraj Singh at Bairsal village for Rs 10.58 crore.
“An inquiry into the mining contract awarded to four persons whose names have appeared in newspaper reports, has been initiated but it is at preliminary stage now,” an income tax official said today.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also ordered setting up of a judicial commission to probe the allegations of impropriety against the state irrigation and power minister in the multi-crore sand mining auctions held recently by the state government, an official spokesman said.
The one-man commission would include Justice (Retd) J S Narang and would submit the report within one month.
The terms of reference for the inquiry commission, formed under the Commission of Inquiry Act, would be notified soon, an official statement said.
Rana has offered to resign in order to ensure a free and fair investigation into the matter, however the chief minister asked him to continue till the outcome of the judicial probe, a decision decried by opposition parties, it said.
The chief minister announced his decision to set up the commission after taking suo motu cognisance of media reports accusing the minister of acquiring certain mines in the names of his company’s staff, the statement said.
Rana has denied any links of his company, Rana Sugars Limited, with the auctions and has said his company has no stake, direct or indirect, in the sand mining business.
“There was no question of allowing any deviation from the government’s policy of clean governance,” Amarinder Singh said, adding he would take all steps to ensure that there was no violation of the trust reposed by the people in his government and the Congress.
In a statement issued here, Gurjit Singh welcomed the probe and said he has full faith in the judicial process and expressed confidence that he will come clean.
Opposition parties, the AAP, the SAD and the BJP, have been demanding immediate sacking of Rana for allegedly acquiring sand and gravel mines through “benaami transactions in the name of his former cook and staff”.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has demanded the minister’s resignation or dismissal from state cabinet pending inquiry, arguing that otherwise the entire probe would appear to be “meaningless and a farce”.
“The belated inquiry ordered by Amarinder Singh into the mining scandal appears to be a tailor-made exercise to absolve the accused minister, Rana Gurjit Singh. We are of the firm opinion that if Rana Gurjit Singh continues to be a member of cabinet, the said inquiry can never be free, fair and impartial,” AAP leader and MLA from Bholath Sukhpal Khaira said in a statement here.
The party said it would stage a sit-in protest outside the the residence of the Punjab chief minister to press for its demands.
The AAP also sought to remind the ruling Congress of its “double standards” saying it had vociferously rejected the Justice Jindal Commission which was tasked to probe role of former education minister in NDA government in state, Sikandar Singh Malooka, on grounds that he had not resigned from the cabinet.
“The Congress had also staged a ‘dharna’ to pressure the then Badal government to sack the minister but why different yardsticks now,” Khaira asked.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) termed the judicial inquiry ordered by the government as “too little too late” and demanded immediate sacking of the minister to ensure a free and fair probe.
“Rana has admitted that his Nepalese cook who earns a few thousand made a successful bid for a Rs 26 crore sand and gravel mining site. Other employees of Rana have also bagged mining sites taking the total amount of investment by the employees to Rs 50 crore. The minister has agreed to all this but has come out with a lame excuse that the employees left his service recently. This is unbelievable,” party spokesman Daljeet Singh Cheema said in a statement.
“This is a clear case of corruption, benaami deals and possibly even hawala transactions. It would have been in the fitness of things if chief minister Amarinder Singh had handed over the case to the Enforcement Directorate besides involving the Income Tax authorities,” he added.
These agencies would have been able to investigate and bust the money trail which allowed paupers with few pennies in their name to acquire sand mines, he said.
“Obviously all this was done at the behest of Rana Gurjit. If the minister is not sacked it is likely he will be able to influence key witnesses and a fair investigation of the case would not be possible,” he alleged.
The BJPs youth wing in Punjab sought a CBI probe in the matter pertaining.
BJP’s Punjab unit secretary Vineet Joshi issued a statement demanding the government order a CBI probe to inquire into the mining contracts allegedly bagged by four former employees of the Punjab minister.
The two two-day sand auctions related to 50 mines and they have generated a revenue of nearly Rs 300 crore, leading to the highest ever earnings from the mining sector for the state government.
Another 56 mines would be put to auction on June 11 and the government is expecting to generate another Rs 300 crore from them. The state government’s revenue from the mine auction last year was merely Rs 40 crore.