A local court on Thursday acquitted senior Akali leader and former rural development and panchayat minister Nirmal Singh Kahlon in an 11-year-old case pertaining to the purchase of 103 JCB machines.
This is the second case in which Kahlon has been acquitted as the Punjab vigilance bureau (VB) failed to prove the allegations.
The VB had in May 2002 booked Kahlon along with JS Kesar, secretary of the rural development and panchayat department, Baldev Singh, who was the chief engineer at that time, and JCB company employees Amit Sood and Anil Bhatia. All accused stand acquitted.
"The case registered against me was politically motivated. The JCB machines were purchased as per rules and regulations, but a false case was slapped against me owing to political vendetta," Kahlon told HT after the acquittal.
He added, "The court's verdict has reiterated what I had been maintaining for the past 11 years. I had all these years believed in the judiciary and that truth shall prevail."
In 2011, Kahlon was acquitted in the recruitment scam for lack of evidence. Both cases (JCB and recruitment) were registered by the VB after unearthing a 'scam' in the department of rural development and panchayats during the SAD-BJP regime (1997-2002) when Kahlon was the minister concerned.
The VB had on May 16, 2002, registered a case under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Prevention of Corruption Act against Kahlon and four others in connection with the JCB machine purchase in the department.
As per the allegations, the department had purchased 103 JCB machines at a cost of about Rs 14 crore, but these were not used. Also, the machines were allegedly purchased at an exorbitant price (Rs 3-4 lakh each).
Speaking after the acquittal, Kahlon's counsel Satnam Singh Kler said, "Kahlon and the others were booked in a false case on fabricated grounds by then Congress government. The JCB machines were purchased on public demand and as per rules and regulations. The announcement of the purchase was made during a sangat darshan at Nabha."
He added, "All allegations that the JCB machines were purchased at a higher cost and were not put to use have been proved wrong by us."
Twists and turns
In December 2008, the Punjab vigilance bureau had moved an application seeking the closure of the case against Kahlon. In the application, the VB had said that the investigations into the JCB scam revealed that Kahlon, who was then the assembly speaker (2007-12), had no role in the case.
There were about 60 witnesses who were examined during the trial. Most of them turned hostile and denied any irregularities in the purchase of JCB machines.
May 16, 2002:Vigilance bureau registers case against Kahlon and four others.
December 11, 2008:VB moves application seeking closure of the case
March 3, 2009:Court frames charges in the case, examines about 60 witnesses in trial spread over 4 years
December 19, 2013: Kahlon, four other accused acquitted