The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) will be holding its first Sadbhawna rally scheduled for November 23, on 100 acres of land owned by the controversial Pearls group here. And thanks to the long-standing “association” of the SAD top leadership with the group, the party does not have to pay a penny to use the land.
The party has been making arrangements for the rally at the undeveloped housing project -- Pearl City -- situated on Bathinda-Kotkapura road, 8 km from here.
Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has a long-standing association with Pearls group, which made headlines in 2014 with its infamous ponzi scam. The group sponsored four editions of the kabaddi world cup, the deputy chief minister’s pet sporting event, in Punjab for four consecutive years before giving it a break last year.
The CBI had, in February 2014, booked Pearls group MD Nirmal Singh Bhangoo in a Rs 45,000-crore scam for allegedly duping investors. In April this year, the Supreme Court cleared the decks for the sale of all assets of the company across the country to pay back its almost 6 crore investors.
A senior Akali leader said there is no better location to hold the rally; therefore, they finalised it after taking senior leaders into confidence. “There is no question of paying the company for holding a rally,” said the Akali leader. The organisers intend to use 40 acres of land for parking and 25 acres for the rally.
On Tuesday, Sukhbir, who visited the venue to take stock of the arrangements, said, “It is the perfect location to hold a rally. Make it a permanent SAD rally ground.” Meanwhile, when asked if it was justified to take land from the controversial company, cabinet minister Sikander Singh Maluka said the party is not buying the land; it is lying vacant so they decided to hold the rally there. “We have nothing to do with the controversies related to the company as the matter is being investigated at the central level. The controversy would be only if we help them sort out their issues,” Maluka said.
He said, “Even the company was reluctant to give land for rally purposes, but later, we managed to insist them.” The minister said the party also considered other venues, but it is the only feasible location to hold such an event.
At a time when SAD leaders and ministers are facing public wrath, the boundary wall around the venue is expected to help police restrict the entry of unwanted guests. The SAD expects a gathering of at least one lakh people at the rally, which is first in the series of rallies that will continue till December.