Less than the two months after he was sworn in, Punjab agriculture minister Tota Singh was today convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act, causing another embarrassment to the SAD-BJP government.
Additional district and sessions judge Rajinder Aggarwal convicted the minister under Section 13 (2) of PCA for misusing the official vehicle in his capacity as education minister during 1997-2002.
The court however acquitted him of charges of owning assets disproportionate to his known sources of income and misuse of telephone.
Having faced trial for about 10 years, the convicted minister was ordered to be granted bail by furnishing bail bonds of Rs. 25,000 and one surety within minutes of the pronouncement of sentence.
"The accused, who was the education minister, had misused the cars of Punjab school education board and caused huge loss to the board. The funds of the board are meant to be spent for the welfare of the students. A minister has to lead others by example. When the person who is at the helm of the affairs conducts himself in such a manner, the others are bound to follow him. Such persons lose authority to control others…." the court said while convicting Tota Singh.
However, taking into consideration that the accused had suffered the agony of a protracted trial for about 10 years, the court awarded one-year rigorous imprisonment along with a fine of Rs. 30,000 on Tota Singh.
Tota Singh later left the court premises in his own car after furnishing bail bonds.
Quizzed if he would resign from the cabinet, he said, "I will resign if the SAD high command asks me to. Party morals are supreme. I will quit if the party asks me to."
"I still have to go through the order and my lawyers will decided on the appeal," he said when asked about his future course of action.
On June 14, 2002, Tota Singh was booked by the Vigilance Bureau under the PCA. It was alleged that as education minister during 1997-2002, he had indulged in irregularities and misused car and telephone belonging to the education board, causing pecuniary loss to PSEB.
The main allegation against him was that by abusing his official position, he had amassed assets running into crores. The vigilance bureau alleged that he had caused pecuniary loss of Rs. 2.35 lakh to the board by misusing official telephone and Rs. 11.35 lakhs by misusing official car of the education board.
Tota Singh was arrested on June 14, 2002, but was later granted bail.