The synthetic drug racket linked to ex-cop Jagdish Bhola brought embarrassment to even the Akalis' central ruling partners on Monday when enforcement directorate (ED) officer Niranjan Singh alleged in the Punjab and Haryana high court that Punjab revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia was behind his transfer order that would have derailed the money-laundering investigation.
Majithia is brother of Union minister for food-processing industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal. ED, a central government agency, had defended the transfer order, stating the reasons to be administrative. Last December 26, Niranjan had summoned Majithia for questioning, and this January 16, he was shifted from Jalandhar to Kolkata before the high court stayed that on January 20.
After hearing the ED officer on Monday, the high court continued the stay on his transfer, and since he said he also required the help of special public prosecutor Suresh Batra, his transfer, too, was stayed. Batra was moved to Bengaluru earlier this month. "The only reason I was transferred was that I summoned Majithia," submitted Niranjan Singh.
During the hearing on the transfer of Batra, senior advocate Anupam Gupta submitted on behalf of Niranjan Singh that there was a pattern in the transfer of both officers "to weaken the investigation". Countering the ED averments, Gupta said the officer had given him the go-ahead to say so. Earlier, he argued that in this "no small case by any yardstick", substantial part of the investigation was pending. "The PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) is a complicated law with international implications. Drug lords involved in the case are sitting abroad. This case needs strong shoulders… if transfers are allowed, the entire effort will come to a naught," Gupta argued.
Assistant solicitor general Chetan Mittal, who appeared on behalf of the ED, defended the transfer of Batra as necessary to fill an urgent vacancy in Bengaluru. Officers associated with the investigation could not be allowed to continue at the time of prosecution, Mittal submitted, producing the officer's transfer record. After about an hour of argument, the high court special bench of justice Surya Kant and justice PB Bajanthri observed that Batra would continue to be of service in the money-laundering investigation into the Punjab synthetic drug racket until further orders.
Replies sought from MHA, CBI
The high court also sought reply from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) based on an application by advocate Navkiran Singh, who had cited a Border Security Force (BSF) report calling for extradition of drug traders, besides extra vigilance along the Pakistan border in Punjab to check drug smuggling.
Notice to Haryana Chandigarh as well
The high court also issued notice to Haryana and Chandigarh on the allegations of former Punjab director general of police (prisons) Shashi Kant in a public-interest petition that drug menace had aggravated in both territories, requiring them to be made parties. Their replies are sought by the next hearing on September 23.
Punjab advocate general Ashok Aggarwal said similar applications were being filed every now and then, but the hearing was for matters related to Punjab. Shashi Kant and Aggarwal had a heated debate when Kant referred to the long list of drug dealers he had given to the government in his tenure and on which it was yet to take action.
The bench had to calm down both parties. "The PIL is not an adverse litigation," it said, adding that any information in public interest could be brought to the court, and observed that there was no harm in including Haryana and Chandigarh as parties