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Vigilance Bureau gets nod to probe two ex-ministers and 3 IAS officers in Rs 1,000 crore Punjab scam

Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann

After vacillating for over 5-months, the Punjab government has now granted sanction to the Vigilance Bureau to proceed ahead with the investigation against two former Akali ministers and three IAS officers (now retired) whose names figured in the Rs 1000-crore irrigation department scandal which took place during the 10-year Akali Dal regime.

A senior officer posted in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) disclosed that a letter to the Vigilance Bureau (VB), granting sanction to investigate the matter further against 5 VIPs, was issued last week before Bhagwant Mann left for a visit to Germany.

Now, the way has been paved for the VB to summon the tainted former ministers Janmeja Singh Sekhon and Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, besides bureaucrats Sarvesh Kaushal, KBS Sidhu, and Kahan Singh Pannu, for questioning.

A VB officer said that first of all, the prime accused contractor Gurinder Singh alias Bhappa would be questioned regarding his signed confession made to the VB officers in 2017. He would be also confronted with the video recording of his previous statement, which he had now started denying.

A recent letter written by Kahan Singh Pannu to the Chief Minister claimed that he had got the signatures of contractor Gurinder Singh examined by a handwriting expert. According to the expert, they did not match his signatures on the “so-called” confessional statement given by him to the VB. The letter of Pannu has been forwarded to the VB along with the permission to proceed with further investigation.

One Harmit Singh of Rampura Phul had moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court demanding an early grant of sanction to VB to proceed against the suspects who somehow managed to remain away from the ambit of the law. The matter was posted for the next hearing in October. But with the new development, the public interest litigation has become infructuous, says advocate Baltej Singh Sidhu.

The Congress Chief Ministers, Captain Amarinder Singh, and Charanjit Singh Channi did not grant sanction to the VB to proceed despite repeated requests. The AAP government had come under criticism from the media for sitting over the VB requests for about six months.

Interestingly, an officer of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) presently posted in Chandigarh revealed that the investigation launched by ED in 2018 into the money laundering angle of the Irrigation department scam had found that two other contractors were also involved.

But they, well in time, managed to “hire” the services of a former public relations department officer, known to be very close to CM Captain Amarinder Singh and holding the minister of state’s rank, to escape the dragnet. No investigation was launched against them by the VB. According to this ED officer, the scam could touch the Rs 3000 crore mark, in case tenders allotted to the other two contractors were investigated thoroughly.