Days after recovery of huge amount of cash from the premises of Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s rephew in ED raids, Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia Saturday launched a a scathing attack accusing the Congress leader “patronizing” illegal sand mining in his constituency Chamkaur Sahib and Rupnagar district and demanded a CBI probe into it.
Channi, however, termed Majithia’s allegations as “baseless and frivolous” and dared him to present even a single proof that indicates his involvement in sand mining anywhere in Punjab.
“I have never denied my relationship with my nephew Bhupinder Singh Honey and being a relative he might be present at some of my functions. It is not a crime if I get clicked with my relatives at my son’s marriage or some other functions,” the chief minister said while categorically denying any link in Honey’s money laundering case investigated by the Enforcement Directorate.
Channi was reacting to a purported video of a sting operation on alleged illegal mining on forest land involving his close aide and a purported CCTV footage of his Honey moving with a security detail in a car sporting an ‘MLA’ sticker shared with the media by Majithia, who is currently out on bail in a drug case.
Honey and Channi are in the eye of a storm following ED raids on former in connection with a 2018 illegal mining case and recovery of Rs 10 crore from various persons, including Rs 8 crore from premises linked to CM’s nephew.
Hitting out at the Congress for filing a complaint with the Election Commission of India against the ED raids, Majithia said, “Instead of complaining to the poll panel over the misuse of central agencies, the Congress should have explained how a huge sum of money was seized from the premises of Channi’s nephew”.
He questioned why the Congress party came out in defence of Honey, who was allegedly running the illegal mining racket.
Referring to the deletion of name of prime accused Kudratdeep Singh from the 2018 FIR registered by Punjab Police, which forms the basis of ED raids, the Akali leader alleged that it was done by then Nawanshahr SP (D) Balraj Singh. The officer, now an Assistant Inspector General, was initially made the head of an SIT formed to probe drugs case after Majithia was booked.
Stating that “Channi, Honey and money” were “inseparable” and that “three Cs — Congress, Channi and corruption” were synonymous, Majithia sought to show Honey’s proximity to the CM through various purported photographs, including one where they were sharing stage during a Republic Day function.
“Why is Channi coming in defence of Honey? What is the threat? There is MLA sticker on (Honey’s) car. How did he get MLA’s sticker? How come there were commandos and a gypsy,” asked Majithia as he released a purported CCTV footage, which he claimed was of January 16, two days before the ED raid, showing CM’s nephew moving in security cover in a vehicle bearing an “MLA sticker”.
Majithia said that with the CM also holding charge of the mining and environment departments, this was a case of conflict of interest and “he did not have any moral right to continue in office”.
He also demanded a probe into the illegal sand mining in Channi’s home constituency Chamkaur Sahib including that on forest land. He also released the video of a purported sting operation to show that the CM and his nephew were partners in the illegal sand mining business.
He alleged that Salapur village sarpanch Iqbal Singh and his son Binder were carrying out illegal sand mining business at the instance of Channi.
The video was made by one Darshan Singh who was present with Majithia during the press conference.
In the video, Iqbal is seen bragging about his proximity with CM while talking about mining on a land over which a forest guard had initially raised objections. The sarpanch is also heard saying that guard was causing “disturbance” and subsequently got a phone call that he was being transferred to Bathinda following which he tendered an apology. The sarpanch purportedly also says in the video that DFO also said that he may be contacted over phone in case there is any problem.
Darshan Singh told media that he feared for his life. “They can kill me,” Darshan alleged, adding that if something happened to him, Channi, Punjab Police, Honey and Rakesh Kumar Chaudhary should be held responsible. He claimed that had farm land near the place where “illegal mining” was being carried and that he “befriended these people” since he was concerned about the environment of Punjab, which was “already very fragile”.
Contacted, Iqbal Singh, contacted, said, “This is all political… the aim is to defame CM Sahib… Chaudhary is carrying out the work. We have provided machines on rent, that’s it.”
On remarks about forest guard’s transfer, Iqbal said, “He (the guard) himself gave application for change of place of posting. He had been asking for a transfer for long.”
Iqbal added, “Honey is a relative [of CM] and that cannot be denied. He (Channi) has nothing to do with it. It [the allegations] is politically motivated. Who is more infamous than Akali Dal? Is there anyone?”
Ropar Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Naresh Mahajan said said there was “no illegal mining” on forest land. “The mining was taking place at an approved site. They carried out mining in three to four acres of land belonging to forest department. We had written to [concerned] police station and to the SSP for registration of a case. Subsequently, we had deployed PESCO guards. After that no mining happened in that area.”
Asked if an FIR was registered, Mahajan replied in negative. Asked if any reminder was sent, Mahajan said, “Yes”. On the transfer of the guard, Mahajan said he was not aware of the matter. “Earlier, the range officer was posted out in routine.”
Ropar SSP Vivek Sheel Soni said, “Forest department had only written for demarcation of land as a legal desilting site also exists there. Since it was a revenue department job, we wrote to the concerned SDM to get it demarcated following which pillars were put up”.
Meanwhile, terming the recovery by ED as “just a drop in the ocean”, Majithia said the total scale of the “loot was likely to be upto Rs 1,000 crore”.
In a statement, Channi lashed out at Majithia for “the slanderous and misleading” campaign against him. The Congress leader said Majithia is “dancing on the tunes” of the BJP government and is trying to take revenge from him for booking him in the drugs case as earlier former chief minister Amarinder Singh, who is “in cahoots” with the SAD and the BJP, had “covered up his sins”.
Channi said, “Let me remind Majithia that he was investigated by the ED for his relations with drug peddlers and a drug kingpin named him for sheltering and facilitating smuggling of drugs. Majithia’s photos were with them, does it mean he knew them and sheltering them?”
Calling the ED raids a “political vendetta” ahead of the Punjab Assembly polls, the chief minister said, “The BJP is using central agencies to take revenge from me after PM Modi’s fiasco and the opposition is now playing politics over the issue in Punjab.”
Reacting to recordings of Iqbal Singh and his son Binder naming him, Channi said if a person is taking his name being CM for personal gain, it doesn’t mean that he is associated with them.
Earlier, state Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu too had hit out at Majithia saying while pointing fingers at others on illegal sand mining, the Akali leader he should not have forgotten 10 years of SAD rule in Punjab. “How could a person accused of drug trafficking point fingers at others” Sidhu asked.