Chandigarh: Punjab Police have booked senior Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia in a seven-year-old case related to his alleged involvement with drug smugglers.
The move comes at a time when the Charanjit Singh Channi-led state government is facing much criticism and pressure from within the ruling Congress for failing to act against drugs smugglers, just months ahead of assembly elections.
Detractors of former CM Captain Amarinder Singh had used the same issue to target him when he was in power.
Majithia is the brother of former Union cabinet minister and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal, and the brother-in-law of former deputy chief minister and SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal.
The SAD has termed the action against Majithia as “petty vendetta politics”.
Sources in the police said a team is on the lookout for Majithia — who appears to have gone underground — in order to arrest him.
A 49-page First Information Report (FIR) against Majithia was registered at a police station of the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) in Mohali early Tuesday.
He was booked under sections 25 (use of a premises for the commission of an offence with the knowledge of the owner), 27A (financing of production of drugs) and 29 (abetment to an offence) of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotrophic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985.
FIR based on 2013 STF report
The FIR, a copy of which has been accessed by ThePrint, is largely based on a 2018 status report of the Special Task Force (STF) on drug control, submitted to the Punjab and Haryana High Court with regards to Majithia’s alleged role in patronising drug smugglers caught by the state police in 2013.
However, no action was taken on the report, which was submitted in a sealed cover to the high court.
The FIR reproduces a fresh opinion of new Advocate General D.S. Patwalia, stating that there was no bar on the state government opening the sealed cover and taking action on the basis of its contents.
The STF report, submitted by its head Harpreet Singh Sidhu, had said that there was enough evidence on record to conduct investigations into Majithia’s role.
Majithia has been vehemently denying the charges ever since he was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for questioning in the case in 2014. He was then the revenue minister in SAD leader Parkash Singh Badal’s cabinet.
When the issue was raked up in a big way by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ahead of the 2017 assembly elections, Majithia had filed a series of defamation cases against politicians and newspapers.
In March 2018, AAP chief and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal had submitted a written apology in an Amritsar court in a defamation case filed against him, on grounds that Majithia and his family had suffered a lot due to the “false and baseless” accusations against him.
The Congress too had cited allegations against Majithia while campaigning ahead of the 2017 polls, with Captain Amarinder promising strict action against him if his party came to power.
In fact, after he became chief minister, a major bone of contention between Amarinder and his detractors within the party, including now-Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, was that he did not take any action against Majithia despite having promised to do so during the election campaign.
Sidhu announced the lodging of the FIR against Majithia on Twitter Tuesday.
After 5.5 Years of fight against Corrupt System run by Badal Family & Captain and delay of 4 years without action taken on ED & STF Report against Majithia. Finally now, after pushing for credible officers in positions of power and influence first step has been taken !!
— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) December 21, 2021
Amarinder told mediapersons Tuesday that lodging an FIR against Majithia was “wrong”. “How can you catch a person without any evidence?” he asked.
Knew this was going to happen: SAD
After Amarinder was replaced by Charanjit Singh Channi as CM in September this year, the Akalis had alleged that the new dispensation was trying to book Majithia on false charges.
Former CM Parkash Singh Badal addressed the media in Muktsar Tuesday morning, and said “we knew this was going to happen”.
“What was the need to book Majithia? Why not come and book me straight away?” the 94-year-old leader asked.
He alleged the state government was indulging in vendetta politics. “Vendetta politics has never led to anything good. We have never done it against any Congressman. But if they have done it, it is for them to think about it,” the senior Badal said.
FIR lodged after changes in police top rung
The move to book Majithia came soon after changes were made in the top echelons of Punjab Police. Last Friday, the acting director general of police (DGP), I.P.S. Sahota, was replaced by Vigilance Bureau chief Siddharth Chattopadhyaya, considered the blue-eyed boy of Navjot Sidhu.
Sidhu had been objecting to Sahota being DGP ever since the latter was chosen by Channi. Similarly, A.P.S. Deol, the advocate general chosen by Channi, was replaced by Sidhu’s choice, Patwalia.
The in-charge of the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) too has been changed twice in the past few months. Virendra Kumar, who had taken over as its head in October, was replaced by S.K. Asthana last month. However, on 12 December, Asthana proceeded on medical leave, having submitted a detailed communication to the government on why an FIR cannot be lodged against Majithia on the basis of the STF report.
Four pages of Asthana’s communication were leaked to the press last week through social media, leading to huge embarrassment for the Punjab government.
Along with the FIR lodged against Majithia, another FIR was also registered Monday against unknown persons in connection with Asthana’s report being leaked.
The case against Majithia
In March 2013, Anoop Kahlon, an NRI, and five others were arrested by Punjab Police with 26 kg of heroin in Mohali. Olympic bronze medalist boxer Vijender Singh and his sparring partner Ram Singh’s names cropped up during Kahlon’s questioning, and the case made national headlines.
During the course of investigation of the Kahlon case, former Arjuna awardee wrestler and ex-police officer Jagdish Bhola was arrested for his alleged involvement in the international drugs racket.
In 2014, Bhola had told a subordinate court that Majithia — who was revenue minister at the time — was also part of the syndicate. The Punjab Police gave Majithia a clean chit, dismissing Bhola’s claims.
However, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) started its own probe into the drug racket busted by Punjab Police and questioned Majithia in December 2014 on the basis of statements given by Bhola and some other accused, including Jagjit Singh Chahal, Maninder alias Bittu Aulakh, Amrinder Singh alias Laddi, Parminder Singh alias Pindi, and Satpreet Singh alias Satta. Pindi, Laddi and Satta reside in Canada.
By July 2017, the ED had filed six prosecution complaints (charge sheet) in the case against various accused, barring Majithia. The probe against Majithia had almost reached a dead end as the ED awaited extradition of the accused who had named Majithia in the case from Canada.
In November 2017, the probe into the allegations against Majithia was revived after an NGO, Lawyers for Human Rights International (LHRI), moved an application in the high court asking the ED to submit an action-taken report.
The NGO, led by advocate Navkiran Singh, also asked the court to assign the STF to probe Majithia’s role. In February 2018, the STF submitted its status report to the court in a sealed cover.
The FIR lodged Monday night against Majithia quoting the STF report states that according to Bittu Aulakh’s statement given to the ED, Majithia had tried to settle a dispute between Satta and Pindi on one side and Chahal on the other.
The dispute was related to the supply of pharmaceutical drugs containing pseudoephedrine (a raw chemical for creating psychotropic drugs), according to Aulakh’s statement. The report adds that Pindi and Satta were allegedly involved in illegally smuggling pseudoephedrine for non-medicinal use.
The STF report added that according to Chahal’s statement to ED, he had given Rs 35 lakh to Majithia between 2007 and 2012 for use during elections. At the time, Chahal was allegedly involved in tea manufacturing and supply of illegal drugs, it added.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)