More than 200 people have been arrested so far in Punjab for corruption after the AAP government came to power early this year. The government set the ball rolling by arresting its own Health Minister, Vijay Singla for seeking bribe. Subsequently, the axe has fallen on three former ministers of previous Congress government, writes Rajendra Khatry
A crusade against corruption has been carried out by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab ever since it came to power early this year. Strict action in this regard has been taken against several politicians and government officials. Such has been the sustained effort in this regard by the ruling party that it has not hesitated to take action against its own leaders if found guilty of any misdemeanour.
AAP has taken certain measures to check corruption in the state. More than 200 people have been arrested so far in Punjab for corruption since the AAP formed the government in March this year. The vigilance bureau arrested 135 government officials as well for accepting a bribe. AAP also started an anti-corruption helpline in Punjab and has taken several other measures to check graft.
Complaints in the helpline alone led to the arrest of 61 persons and the registration of more than 40 FIRs. The government received 4135 complaints with audio/video recordings.
In its move against corruption, AAP did not spare politicians either. So far the axe has fallen on three former ministers in the previous Congress government, namely Sunder Sham Arora, Bharat Bhushan Ashu and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot.
Last year Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA and the then leader of opposition in Punjab assembly, Harpal Singh Cheema had asked chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi to register cases against five former ministers who were embroiled in controversies during the previous Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress government in the state.
Cheema had said that the AAP has been seeking action against cabinet ministers Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, Balbir Singh Sidhu, Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, Bharat Bhushan Ashu and Sunder Sham Arora on corruption charges. But the ruling Congress government paid no heed to Cheema’s request. But with AAP in power now, three of those five leaders that Cheema had named have been arrested so far.
For a change, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann did not even spare his own cabinet Health minister Vijay Singla and sent him to jail on corruption charges. Mann first dismissed Vijay Singla, the health and family welfare minister from the Punjab cabinet on charges of corruption, got him arrested and sent him to jail. It is alleged that there was concrete evidence that Singla was demanding one per cent commission from officials for getting the work done
Bhagwant Mann’s action against his own minister earned praise from many quarters., Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal said, “Proud of you Bhagwant. Your action has brought tears to my eyes. Whole nation today feels proud of AAP.”
But the excessive zeal shown by Bhagwant Mann led the AAP government to prove that it was in a hurry to act against corruption in Punjab also backfired when he tried to get arrested former AAP leader Kumar Vishwas and BJP leader Tejinder Pal Singh Bagga.
AAP government in Punjab had filed an FIR against BJP leader Bagga. The complainant alleged that Tejinder Pal Singh Bagga had made provocative statements. He also spread rumours and tried to create religious and communal enmity. It was also said that Bagga allegedly threatened Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal during a protest on March 30.
Both Kumar Vishwas and Bagga went to the High Court which dismissed the FIRs filed against them. This came as a jolt to the AAP government in Punjab. Not that it dampened the spirit of AAP to carry on with its crusade against corruption.
Former Punjab minister Sham Sunder Arora was arrested by the state vigilance bureau for allegedly offering a bribe of Rs 50 lakh to one of its officers to “settle” the ongoing inquiries against him. In fact this was a rare case of a ‘reverse trap’ in a corruption case.
Generally persons offering bribes are immune to prosecution, while officials accepting it are prosecuted. But in reverse trap cases, persons offering bribes are arrested and prosecuted but the bribe receivers are exempted from prosecution and this is what happened in the case of Sham Sunder Arora, a former Punjab minister in the Congress government under Capt Amarinder Singh. After the Congress went out of power in Punjab earlier this year, Arora quit the party to join the BJP.
Earlier, the Aam Aadmi Party’s claims to have freed Punjab of corruption in just 20 days was pooh-poohed by the opposition as well as the general public in Punjab alike. Political experts have pointed out that out of the AAP’s 92 winning candidates in the 2022 Assembly polls in Punjab, as many as 57 per cent have criminal cases registered against them.
Sunder Shyam Arora was arrested on charges of offering Rs 50 lakh bribe to AIG Vigilance Manmohan Kumar Sharma. He is now facing a disproportionate assets case. Arora is also accused of committing some serious irregularities during his tenure as the commerce and Industries minister in the Captain Amrinder Singh-led Congress government.
Incidentally, Arora had been under vigilance scanner for the alleged irregularities in the allotment of industrial plots of the Punjab Small Industries and Export Corporation and the sale of a 32-acre of the commercial plot of JCT Electronics Limited in Mohali to a realty firm when he was the industries minister in the previous government.
According to reports, Sunder Sham Arora had contacted AIG Manmohan Kumar Sharma and requested him to help him clear his name in the corruption inquiries. He reportedly offered a bribe of Rs 1 crore to him and promised that Rs 50 lakh would be paid first and the balance amount later.
Senior Congress leader and former Punjab minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot was arrested on corruption charges. The Social Welfare and Forest Minister in the Amarinder Singh government was arrested by the state’s Vigilance Bureau from Amloh.
Another Punjab minister and Congress leader Bharat Bhushan Ashu was arrested by the Punjab Vigilance Bureau in August in connection with the alleged food grains transportation tenders scam. He was remanded to police custody for a week.
Meanwhile, presenting the report card of seven months performance of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab, Cabinet minister Aman Arora claimed that the government has ushered in a new era of politics. He claimed this has been done by eliminating the corruption and mafia culture which was patronised by previous governments in Punjab.
The Punjab Housing and Urban Development Minister Aman Arora castigated the previous Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and BJP governments for pushing Punjab into a debt trap. Arora alleged that most of the leaders of those parties indulged in rampant malpractices. He said the AAP government has now adopted a zero-tolerance policy against corruption to bring back lost glory of the state.
Keen to spread its wings in other states namely Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat, AAP wants to showcase Punjab as an exemplary state for honesty and good governance.. However, many of AAP leaders, including Satyendra Kumar Jain, Manish Sisodia and Punjab’s Horticulture Minister Fauja Singh Sarari have been facing corruption charges.