PUNJAB: Punjab Health Minister Vijay Singla was sacked from the State Cabinet on Tuesday over graft charges, and was arrested shortly afterwards, with Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann asserting his government has zero-tolerance to corruption.
The Chief Minister himself announced Mr. Singla’s removal from the Cabinet which was sworn-in just two months ago after the Aam Aadmi Party stormed to power, riding on the agenda of corruption-free governance, and other poll promises.
CM Mann said the decision was made after he came to know that Mr. Singla was allegedly demanding a “1% commission” in tenders and purchases of his department.
As he announced Mr. Sinhla’s sacking, CM Mann also said he also directed the police to register a case against the minister.
Soon afterwards, the 52-year-old Mr. Singla was arrested by the Punjab Police, sources said.
Mr. Singla, a dental surgeon, was elected to the assembly from the Mansa seat, defeating Punjabi singer and Congress candidate Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, also known as Sidhu Moosewala.
Official sources said CM Mann came to know about Mr. Singla’s alleged wrongdoings through an official 10 days ago. The CM assured the official that he was with him and that he does not need to fear anyone.
With the help of the official, an operation was conducted after which it came to fore that Mr. Singla and his aides were demanding a “1% commission”.
It is learnt that an audio recording was also made which purportedly implicates Mr. Singla.
“A case was brought to my notice in which one minister in my government was demanding a 1% commission from each tender or purchase of his department. I took this case very seriously,” CM Mann said in a video message on Tuesday.
“I am taking strict action against that minister and I am removing him from the Cabinet. I am also giving directions to the police to register a case against him,” CM Mann said. “That minister’s name is Vijay Singla. He was the health minister.” CM Mann said Mr. Singla has admitted to his alleged wrongdoings.
Asserting that the AAP government has zero-tolerance to corruption, CM Mann said the party convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had also removed his food and supplies minister in 2015 over corruption, and handed over the case to the CBI.
Mr. Kejriwal lauded CM Mann for his decision and said corruption is a betrayal with the country. “We are proud of Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann who immediately removed his minister found involved in corruption.” CM Mann said the decision to oust Mr. Singla was historic. “I will not tolerate corruption of a single rupee. We want to turn Punjab into a corruption-free state.” The Punjab Chief Minister said some rival parties will now try to corner the AAP by pointing out that one of its ministers was found involved in corruption within just two months of coming to power “But only I knew this case. Neither the media nor the opposition knew it. It is me who is taking action,” he said, alleging the Opposition, including his predecessors, has always sheltered and promoted corrupt leaders.
CM Mann said he could have easily buried this matter but by doing so he would have “betrayed” his conscience and broken the trust of lakhs of people.
CM Mann said his government will not allow corrupt practices, and warned that no one indulging in such activities will be spared.
He said people have chosen the Aam Aadmi Party for a transparent and corruption-free system and he is duty-bound to fulfil the aspirations of every Punjabi.
Reacting to the dismissal of Singla from the cabinet, AAP MP Raghav Chadha lauded CM Mann, and said the AAP has zero tolerance towards corruption “Aam Aadmi Party is the only party that has the integrity, courage & uprightness to take action against their own on grounds of corruption. We saw it in Delhi, now we are witnessing it in Punjab. ZERO TOLERANCE FOR CORRUPTION. Commendable decision by CM @BhagwantMann,” said Mr. Chadha in a tweet.
The Aam Aadmi Party had bagged 92 of the 117 seats in Punjab, decimating the Congress, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bahujan Samaj Party combine, and the BJP-Punjab Lok Congress-SAD (Sanyukt) alliance in the 2022 state assembly polls.