In Punjab, Power Minister's Former Cook Bags Rs 26 Crore Mining Bid

Four of the 89 mines have gone to people linked to Power Minister Rana Gurjit Singh.

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4 of the 89 mines have gone to people linked to minister Rana Gurjit Singh.


Chandigarh: 

Highlights

  1. Rana Gurjit Singh worth 169 cr; richest candidate to contest Feb election
  2. Singh's ex-cook had declared annual income of Rs 92,679 for 2015-16
  3. 4 of the 89 mines have gone to people linked to the minister
In less than a month of coming to power, the Amarinder Singh government in Punjab ordered a crack-down on illegal mining and declared it would go for e-auction of sand mines across the state. The auction of 89 sand mines eventually took place on May 19 and 20. It helped the Punjab mining department generate revenue of nearly 1,000 crores, many of the bids reportedly 20 times higher than previous years.

But the government may not have been the only one to benefit from the e-auction.

Four of the 89 mines have gone to people linked to Power Minister Rana Gurjit Singh. That includes the power minister's former cook, 36-year-old Amit Bahadur. His 26.5 crore bid won him a sand mine in Nawanshahr district, about 100 km from the state capital Chandigarh.

With declared assets of 169 crores, the minister, a sugar baron, was Punjab's richest candidate to contest the state election in February.

Bank statements and income tax returns filed by Amit Bahadur, however, suggest that his former employer's prosperity hadn't rubbed off on him yet. He had declared an annual income of Rs 75,390 for 2014-15 and Rs 92,679 for 2015-16. And on April 1 this year, he had a bank balance of just about Rs 4,840.

NDTV tried to trace Amit Bahadur for days but he wasn't available at his Moradabad address in Uttar Pradesh. NDTV was finally able to reach him this week at the Chandigarh residence of Kulwinder Paul Singh, also a former employee of minister Rana Gurjit Singh. He used to work in the minister's sugar mill, Rana Sugars.

Like Amit Bahadur, this former employee Kulwinder Paul Singh too was the highest bidder for the Mehdipur sand mine, this one in Nawanshahr district. He had bid 9.21 crores.

Amit Bahadur and Kulwinder Paul Singh were quick to distance themselves from the Power Minister and said they were no longer in his service. Their new employer, they insisted, was someone called Capt. JS Randhawa.

But Capt. Randhawa has been known to be close to the Power Minister and has even been his election agent in the assembly elections contested by the Congress minister.

Also, they conceded on camera that the bids were proxies for Capt. Randhawa. 

Amit Bahadur told NDTV that he wasn't a cook anymore and had quit a few days after the elections.

"I left the services of the (power) minister on 14 February 2017 and it is not true that I am a cook. I'm now employed by Capt. Randhawa; it's his money we have bid, and although he hasn't promised me a salary yet, he has reassured that we will be looked after", said Amit Bahadur. 

Kulwinder Paul Singh said: "I am no longer associated with Rana Gurjit Singh. The money we have bid belongs to Capt. Randhawa, we only have a 4-5% share in it, that's it".

The spokesperson of the mine department that reports to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh wasn't available.

Power Minister Rana Gurjit Singh told NDTV the two men were no longer his employees. On Capt. Randhawa, the minister added, "(he) has been the one who has bid for these mines successfully and he has won the bid in a competition, that's all I can say", he said.

Of course, Capt. Randhawa's name does not figure anywhere in the official list of successful bidders in the e-auction reviewed by NDTV. The names of Amit Bahadur, the minister's former cook, and Kulwinder Paul Singh, were there.

According to advocate and RTI activist HC Arora, the loopholes exist in Punjab's mining policy.

"A person whose credibility is almost nil, like Amit Bahadur, should have been rejected by the mines department. Far from encouraging transparency, the mines department accepted his financials thereby creating the grounds for 'benami' transactions and even money-laundering", Mr Arora said.

The activist-lawyer, whose petition had led to the high court cancelling appointment of parliamentary secretaries by the previous Akali Dal government in 2016, told NDTV their financial credentials certainly did not match with their bid. The lawyer has already approached the Enforcement Directorate to probe the e-auction.

But there are other successful bidders linked to the minister as well.

The list mentions one Balraj Singh, also reported to be an employee of Rana Sugars, who won the mining rights in Bairsal, Nawanshahar with his 9.1 crore-plus bid. The other is Gurinder Singh, who is said to be in-charge of cane operations in Rana Sugars, who got the rights to mine in Mohali district's Rampur Kalan, for over 4.11 crores.


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