Chandigarh: The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) Wednesday staged a walk-out over the Punjab government giving a clean chit to cabinet minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot in the Rs 64 crore Dalit scholarship scam, an issue that led to an uproar in the assembly with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Lok Insaaf Party MLAs joining in.
Raising the issue during a discussion on a bill related to Scheduled Castes on the last day of the three-day session, SAD legislator Pawan Teenu demanded that the Speaker set aside at least two hours to discuss the scholarship scam. Teenu also said they would prove to the house that Dharamsot was involved in the scam.
“We want to discuss the issue threadbare. We can have a discussion on both the findings of the Additional Chief Secretary Kirpa Shankar Saroj (who had in his report indicted the minister) and the chief secretary (whose report gave a clean chit to the minister),” Teenu said.
The MLA also pointed out that the Speaker had not allowed the Akali Dal to move an adjournment motion on the issue despite the fact that it dealt with the future of Dalit students.
When the Speaker refused a discussion, saying it was not a fresh issue, Akali MLAs came to the well of the house to protest and began raising slogans and flashing banners.
While the party MLAs walked out, Leader of Opposition and AAP MLA Harpal Singh Cheema demanded Dharamsot’s dismissal and questioned the government’s clean chit. “It was an important issue but the Speaker was not in a mood to allow anything apart from getting the bills passed,” Cheema told ThePrint.
Lok Insaaf Party MLA Simarjeet Singh Bains demanded a fresh investigation into the allegations.
The SAD also raised the issue of Dharamsot, who is also the minister of forests and wildlife, alleged involvement in the sale of forest land in Noorpur.
CM Amarinder defends minister
Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh said the opposition’s “baseless hounding” of his ministers was “shameful and unfortunate”.
“No irregularity had been found in inquiries conducted into allegations of scams in SC scholarship and Noorpur land issue,” he said.
Flaying the opposition’s attempts to unnecessarily tarnish the image of his ministers and his government, the chief minister said these parties were indulging in petty politics.
Singh further said the alleged scam had been examined by three additional chief secretaries, who found no irregularity in the distribution of funds.
Additional Chief Secretary Kirpa Shankar Saroj had on 25 August submitted a 54-page report to the Punjab government, indicting Dharamsot and several officers in the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment in the multi-crore scholarship scam.
Following the report, CM Amarinder Singh ordered another probe by a three-member committee of senior IAS officers. The committee submitted its report to Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan, who cleared Dharamsot of impropriety.
Saroj was subsequently transferred out of the department.
An analysis by The Print comparing the contents of the report submitted by Saroj and Mahajan found that Mahajan had ignored vital pieces of evidence, resulting in Dharamsot getting a clean chit.