What seems like a damage-control exercise by the SAD-BJP government after the infamous drug racket took a toll on its poll fortunes had the potential of being a bigger jolt had it burst before the recent parliamentary elections. The enforcement directorate was closing in on the son of jails minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur, who resigned from the Parkash Singh Badal cabinet last week, as early as February in the multi-crore synthetic drug racket.
But the danger was averted owing to the income tax department raiding the firms of Goraya-based businessman Chunni Lal Gaba, a close confidant of Phillaur, before the ED could and later a long “impasse” between the two on the exchange of the seized documents.
Arrested druglord Jagdish Bhola, in a signed statement to the ED, had accused Damanvir Singh, son of Phillaur, as the one who introduced Delhi-based arrested drug dealer Varinder alias Raja to Gaba. His statement said Gaba, who owns a pharma unit at Baddi, Himachal Pradesh, and a cold storage, supplied pseudo ephedrine to Varinder.
According to ED sources, they had joined the links and were all prepared to raid Gaba’s premises to unearth the money trail. But before they could do so, the IT department sleuths raided Gaba’s firms on February 18. The correspondence between the ED office in Jalandhar and the IT commissioner’s office shows the ED wrote to them on February 20 requesting for the documents and bank details recovered from Gaba’s premises.
The income-tax commissioner’s office wrote back to the ED asking them to apply through the requisite format. On February 23, it had issued the first summons to Damanvir, who did not receive them on the plea of being in Dubai. While as per rules, one summons is enough for the ED to arrest the accused, it issued two more summons, both of which were served to Damanvir but he did not appear before it. Nor was he arrested as the ED, too, dragged its feet. What helped matters was that all this while the income tax department, too, did not furnish the seized documents to the ED.
Last nail in coffin
Curiously, a day after the parliamentary elections concluded on May 12, the ED moved the special Patiala court which is looking into the money-laundering aspect of the Bhola drug racket (May 13). On May 20, the Patiala court directed the IT department to hand over the requisite documents to the ED. This was the proverbial last nail in the coffin of the Phillaurs. A day later, the beleaguered minister was in New Delhi to hand over his resignation to chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and deputy CM Sukhbir Badal who were camping in the national capital for a cabinet berth.
ED sources blame the IT department — they are both under the union finance ministry — for the delay in questioning of Damanvir. “We were ready to raid Gaba but the IT department did it before us. Later, they dilly-dallied in handing over the seized documents. We will finally get the documents on June 4 as per the court’s order. A final summons has been issued to Damanvir to appear for interrogation. The charge-sheet against the other accused, too, will be filed soon. The new government in Delhi is also keen to bust Punjab’s drug mafia,” ED sources said.
Bhola had also named Punjab revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who played a key role in getting BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley to contest from Amritsar. Though Jaitley lost, he is now the union finance minister heading both the IT department and enforcement directorate. Jaitley has cited local reasons for his poll loss, among them, anger of people against drug mafia in Punjab.