Facing confiscation of their property worth more than Rs 100 crore by the enforcement directorate (ED) in the Bhola drug racket case, Goraya-based multimillionaire businessman Chunni Lal Gaba and his family’s financial rise is not less than a miracle.
Gaba, better known as Lala because of his huge wealth and closeness to high-profile Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) as well as Congress leaders, used to sell vegetables on a pharhi (makeshift shop) under a banyan tree in Goraya till early 90s. As per documents available with the ED, today he owns more than 115 ultra-prime properties worth more than 200 crore across north India, including various business establishments.
Gaba and his three sons also own businesses worth more than 100 crore, as per assessment by the central agency, including a cold storage chain in Doaba and fibre, real estate and ice-manufacturing businesses besides pharmaceutical business in Una and Baddi of Himachal Pradesh, which landed them in the ED net.
These units were allegedly used to make pseudoephedrine, a chemical used in illegal synthetic drugs. People who have witnessed the family’s rise say ever since Gabas started the pharma business a few years ago, their wealth has jumped manifold.
By the end of 90s, when Gaba, an illiterate, became rich by making entry into ice manufacturing and property dealing, he planned using his financial clout to make inroads into politics and exploited his old association with former minister and SAD’s state legislator from Kartarpur Sarwan Singh Phillaur.
As per some senior citizens of the region, Phillaur, who was a teacher before joining politics, used to take a bus from Goraya, which is close to his native village Chakk, and spent some time at Gaba’s pharhi situated opposite the State Bank branch.
Gaba and Phillaur are now very close and “cooperate” with each other in various businesses. This was the reason drug lord Jagdish Bhola informed the ED that Gabas had introduced Delhi-based smuggler Varinder Raja to Phillaur’s son Damanvir Singh, following which a political storm erupted and Phillaur had to resign as a cabinet minister in May 2014. The former minister and his son have also been investigated by the ED in the drug case.
The businessman’s relationship with former minister and Congress leader Amarjit Singh Samra had always remained “sweet” and when the leader was the MLA from Nakodar, his party office used to run from Gaba’s office.
Finally, family preferred SAD
SAD insiders said because of the family’s association with Phillaur, the party suited the business family more. The family’s clout also helped Gaba’s elder son, Gurmesh, become the vice-president of the Goraya municipal council.
The family is now very close to SAD MLA from Phillaur and chief parliamentary secretary Avinash Chandar. Chandar has also been interrogated by the ED in the same case. Though Gaba family is facing serious charges in the drug case, Gurmesh is still seen with the local MLA and sits in his office in the council, even as his term in the council has expired.
Many who know the family shared that though they behave like naives, but when it comes to business they can mint money by selling ash as well -- only by using their high profile links. An all-important diary obtained during an income tax survey of the family, which is now in the possession of the ED, has revealed that Gabas used to note each and every penny spent on political leaders. The diary accessed by the HT has revealed that even if the Gabas had paid for the meal of a security guard of any SAD leader, they used to make a note in the diary, like “Mantri di security di roti - Rs 450”.
These days Gaba is out on bail.