Punjab CM orders judicial probe after mining taint on Minister

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Chandigarh, May 29 (IANS) Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday ordered a probe by a one-man judicial commission of Justice J.S. Narang (retd) into impropriety and other charges against a senior Minister after a media report on sand/gravel mining contracts.

The commission will probe the charges against Irrigation and Power Minister Rana Gurjit Singh in the multi-crore mining auctions in Punjab and submit the report within a month.

The terms of reference for the inquiry commission, formed under the Commission of Inquiry Act, will be notified soon, a spokesman for the Chief Minister said here on Monday.

“The Minister has, meanwhile, offered to resign to ensure free and fair investigation. The Chief Minister has, however, asked Rana Gurjit to continue till the outcome of the judicial probe,” the spokesman said.

Rana Gurjit, a billionaire Minister with business interests in sugar, liquor and other sectors, found himself in the middle of a major controversy last week after it was revealed that three employees of his private company, including his cook, had bagged multi-crore contracts in the mining auctions.

“Amit Bahadur, a cook allegedly working with the firm, successfully bid for one of the most expensive sand and gravel mines in the state. He outdid 32 bigwigs to bag a quarry at Saidpur Khurd village in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar (Nawanshahr) for a whopping Rs 26.51 crore,” a Tribune newspaper report said.

The Minister defended himself, saying the three persons were formerly with his company and that he had no association with them now.

“Though Rana Gurjit denied any links of his company, Rana Sugars Limited, with the auctions, and categorically said his company has no stake, direct or indirect, in the sand mining business, the Chief Minister decided, in the interest of ethics and propriety, to get the matter probed at the highest level to ensure total transparency,” the spokesperson added.

Rana Gurjeet Singh welcomed the setting up of the judicial commission but the main opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) termed the proposed probe a “farce”.

“The belated inquiry appears to be a tailor-made exercise to absolve the Minister. If Rana Gurjit continues to be in the Cabinet, the inquiry can never be free and fair. He must resign or should be dismissed, pending the inquiry, or else the entire exercise will appear to be meaningless and a farce,” AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira said.

The Shiromani Akali Dal dubbed the judicial inquiry as “too little, too late” and demanded the Minister’s immediate sacking.

“Rana Gurjit has admitted that his Nepalese cook, who earns a few thousand of rupees, 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,” former Education Minister and SAD spokesman Daljeet Singh Cheema said in a statement.

He said the charges against Rana Gurjit were “as good as proved”.

“It is a clear case of corruption, benami deals, and possibly even hawala transactions. It would have been in the fitness of things if the Chief Minister had handed over the case to the Enforcement Directorate, besides involving the Income Tax authorities.”

–IANS

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