A Punjab and Haryana high court bench, comprising justice SK Mittal and justice HS Sidhu, hearing the Rs 6,000-crore Bhola drug racket case recused itself from hearing the petition.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) was to file an affidavit about the replacements of its key official Niranjan Singh, who has been transferred from Jalandhar to Kolkata on Wednesday.
Soon after the petition came up for hearing before the bench, it ordered that the case be referred to some other bench of which justice HS Sidhu was not part, with the approval of acting chief justice on March 20. Niranjan Singh himself, key officials with the drug probe, Punjab advocate general, Ashok Aggarwal and assistant solicitor general, Chetan Mittal were present when the court order of recusing from the case came. The stay on the transfer would continue till March 20.
The transfer of Singh looks imminent. The ED on March 12, had given two officers names to the court, who are to take over the investigations from Singh. Names given by ED were Rajiv Kumar, an officer from the Srinagar office of the ED, and Ajay Singh from New Delhi office, both working as assistant directors.
Niranjan, an assistant director with the ED’s Jalandhar office, was transferred by the directorate to Kolkata on January 16. He was leading the ED team that was probing money laundering allegations in the drug racket and had quizzed Akali cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia, among others. The officer’s transfer had triggered a political storm as it was seen as a ploy to keep him away from the drug probe.
A lawyers’ group had filed an application, questioning the timing of the government move (transfer order), following which the HC had stayed the transfer on January 21.