Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Wednesday announced that the government would conduct a high-level probe into the embezzlement of development funds in Attari assembly constituency of Amritsar district represented by animal husbandry minister Guljar Singh Ranike.
“The Amritsar SSP, who is inquiring into the matter, has been told to expedite the probe. To make everything crystal clear, the government is planning to conduct a high-level probe,” the chief minister told reporters when asked about the role of the minister in the scam.
He, however, refused to give details saying the law would take its course and whoever was found guilty would not be spared.
The chief minister rejected the Congress demand for Ranike’s resignation.
Badal was in this village of Patiala district to participate in the Shradanjhali Samaroh organised in memory of Satwant Singh Kaleke, who was killed in the firing incident at Oak Creek Gurdwara in Wisconsin in the US last month.
Badal refused to comment on state Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh’s statement that financial emergency be declared in the state.
“State finances have been running smoothly and the broad level of development being undertaken by the SAD-BJP government is its proof. I will reply to all questions by Amarinder, but let him first become a permanent state Congress chief,” Badal said, advising Amarinder to first save his position in the party and then comment on the functioning of the state government.
He said Amarinder did not have an agenda for the people and the Congress leaders were issuing illogical statements to divert people’s attention from the development agenda of the SAD-BJP government.
Reacting to Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s remark that Sushma Swaraj was the “only deserving” prime ministerial candidate in the BJP, Badal said, “All this is premature. When it is not clear how many seats each party would contest or bag, it is wrong to predict the PM candidate.”
He, however, made it clear that the SAD was with the BJP and “any decision taken by them will be binding on all of us”.
Earlier, paying tributes to Kaleke, the chief minister announced installing Kaleke’s statue at his native village, naming the government senior secondary school after him, construction of a stadium and a grant of Rs 20 lakh for development works.
Last month, HT had exposed the rural grants scam under Ranike’s watch as rural development minister in the previous SAD-BJP government.
The three-part series had documented how the grants worth more than Rs 1.15 crore were embezzled through fake bank accounts in the names of the village panchayats of Amritsar district.
On June 25, the Amritsar police registered an FIR against the minister’s private secretary Sarbhdyal Singh, the main accused, and others under Sections 406, 409 (embezzlement of public money), 419, 420, 467, 468, 471 (cheating, forgery, fabrication of documents) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.
The Amritsar police commissioner set up a three-member special investigation team (SIT) to probe the scam with political overtones. But, two days later, the inquiry was undermined and virtually reduced to a farcical exercise. The SIT was discarded and instead the probe was entrusted to SSP (Amritsar rural) Pritpal Singh on the orders of director general of Punjab police Sumedh Singh Saini.
Curiously, Saini’s action had come after Sarbhdyal reportedly met him a day after being booked and pleaded innocence. On July 7, the SSP handed over the entire case file to the SHO for a fresh inquiry, which remains inconclusive so far. Pertinently, while Sarbhdyal has since been absconding, the police are yet to question Ranike.