After sustained pressure over embezzlement of central and state government grants in his constituency, Attari, Punjab minister and senior Shiromani Akali Dal leader Gulzar Singh Ranike resigned from the state cabinet on "moral grounds" on Sunday.
The Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes welfare minister submitted his resignation to chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. His former personal assistant, Sarbhdyal Singh, is accused of misappropriating discretionary funds and border area grants.
This is the third jolt for the SAD-BJP regime, as two senior Akali leaders — Tota Singh and Bibi Jagir Kaur — have already been forced to leave the cabinet after court convictions.
HT Chandigarh had exposed the scam — dubbed the "Ranike rip-off" — in a three-part series of reports from August 25 to 27. A follow-up series in September had laid bare the extent of the scam, which is so far believed to be worth at least R2.6 crore.
The CM had ordered a vigilance inquiry after HT reported that FIRs registered in the matter were gathering dust.
According to the police, Sarbhdyal collected the cheques for various grants from the local block development and panchayat office and encashed them via bogus bank accounts opened in the names of beneficiaries from villages of Attari segment in Amritsar district. Sarbhdyal is on the run.
A police source said the role of the minister's son, Gurinder Pal Singh Lalli, in the scam was also being probed.