Barely five months after being forced to resign as cabinet minister in view of the multi-crore embezzlement of central and state government grants in his constituency (Attari in Amritsar district), senior Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Gulzar Singh Ranike will be sworn in again as cabinet minister on Thursday.
Punjab governor Shivraj Patil will administer the oath to Ranike, government sources said.
While the decision to re-induct Ranike was not officially made public, the state government on Wednesday printed invitation cards and preparations were in full swing at Punjab Raj Bhawan for the swearing-in.
Hindustan Times had exposed the scam dubbed the Ranike rip-off in a three-part series of reports from August 25 to 27, 2012, and then followed it up from September 11 to 13, 2012, with another series that laid bare the ramifications and possible extent of the scam, which is so far believed to be worth at least Rs 2.6 crore. Citing "moral grounds", Ranike had resigned as Punjab's SC/BC welfare minister on September 16.
The vigilance bureau has given the clean chit to Ranike in this scam, while his former personal assistant (PA) Sarabdyal Singh is in judicial custody.
Ranike's resignation was the third major jolt for the SAD-BJP regime, which was sworn in on March 14, 2012, for the second consecutive time. Earlier, senior Akali leaders Tota Singh and Bibi Jagir Kaur had to leave the Parkash Singh Badal cabinet in quick succession due to convictions by court. The chief minister has also kept these two slots vacant.
The maximum strength of the Punjab cabinet, including chief minister, is 18. The total strength of the Vidhan Sabha is 117.
Apart from chief minister Badal and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, the cabinet comprises nine SAD and four BJP ministers.
The chief minister's surprising move to re-induct Ranike into the cabinet comes close on the heels of the Punjab and Haryana high court disposing of a petition on February 27 and not accepting the plea of investigation into the "Ranike rip-off" case by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
The high court division bench comprising chief justice AK Sikri and justice Rakesh Kumar Jain had disposed of the petition after the Punjab government submitted that in this case, "challans have been filed" and that the matter was now listed for framing of charges on March 4 and March 8, respectively, before the trial court.
But the court has left the window open for the petitioner to revive the petition, stating, "…insofar as the present petition is concerned, it has served its purpose... However, since counsel for the petitioner has not put in an appearance, if the petitioner feels that still some grievance remains, it would be open to him to seek revival of the petition."
In this scam, Sarabdyal is accused of collecting grant cheques from the local block development and panchayat office (BDPO) and encashing them via bogus bank accounts opened in the names of beneficiaries from villages of the Attari segment.
Congress takes exception to move
Chandigarh: The Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) on Wednesday took strong exception to the Akali-BJP government's plan to re-induct Gulzar Singh Ranike into the council of ministers, saying that it would lower the dignity of the state cabinet.
Terming the development as unfortunate, senior Congress leaders from Majha said if it were true, it would be a gloomy day for democracy.
"Ranike was given clean chit by the Punjab vigilance bureau (VB), which is a puppet in the hands of the Badals. The court has never given the clean chit to Ranike," senior Congress leaders Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Harpartap Singh Ajnala, Dharambir Agnihotri, along with party MLAs Tripat Rajinder Bajwa, SS Sukhsarkaria, OP Soni and Aruna Chaudhry, said in a joint statement here.
They stated that the entire probe conducted by the VB was a farce.
"The vigilance did the valuation for properties of Ranike's ex-PA Sarabdyal Singh to frame him, but never showed that how much properties Ranike amassed in the past 20 years. Sarabdyal has been made a scapegoat to save him," they alleged.