The opening day of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha’s monsoon session saw a heated exchange of words between Cabinet minister Harjot Singh Bains and former minister and Congress MLA Pargat Singh on the issue of illegal mining.
Bains also said that he was “ready to undergo a polygraph or narco test”, and dared Pargat Singh to furnish evidence to back his allegations.
It all started with Pargat taking a dig at Bains, while alleging rampant “illegal mining” in Anandpur Sahib, the minister’s constituency. Bains, who currently holds the school and higher education portfolios, was the first mining minister in the Aam Aadmi Party government.
Pargat also hit out at the ruling AAP while referring to alleged illegal mining on a land attached by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the Jagdish Bhola drugs case. Bhola, currently lodged in jail, is said to be one of the partners who own the land in question in Nangran Kalmot village in Ropar district.
The Congress also referred to the purported suicide note of assistant professor Balwinder Kaur, saying that “the note had name of Harjot Bains”, but “police showed such a hurry that they registered a case against the deceased’s family”.
Kaur allegedly died by suicide last month by jumping into Sirhind canal. She was among 1,158 assistant professors and librarians who have been protesting to get appointment orders for postings in Punjab’s government colleges.
Bains, after he requested, was allowed to respond even though Speaker Kultar Singh Sandhwan pointed out that it was not incumbent for the minister to respond on any issue raised during the zero hour.
Refuting the illegal mining allegations, Bains said Punjab earned “highest revenue” when he had the mining portfolio.
For the uninitiated, in the nearly 20-month rule of AAP, the mining portfolio has changed hands thrice. While Bains was the first to hold the post, in a reshuffle it has handed over to Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer. Last week, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann effected a reshuffle amid allegations of continuing “illegal mining in the state”, and handed over the portfolio to Chetan Singh Jauramajra.
Bains, training guns at the Shiromani Akali Dal, said that a person arrested in connection with the illegal mining on land belonging to Bhola was close to Akali leaders.
Bains said that his constituency Anandpur Sahib bore the brunt of construction activity across the state as “70 percent of sand and gravel” was mined from there for the same.
He then went all guns blazing against Pargat Singh, alleging that the previous Congress government initiated the process for the recruitment of 1,158 assistant professors and librarians in 2021, days ahead of imposition of model code of conduct for 2022 elections.
“GNDU (Guru Nanak Dev University) V-C (vice-chancellor) had given a dissent note that recruitment process was wrong,” Bains said, adding that in July last year, the Punjab and Haryana High Court pointed out “illegality” in the process and after he (Bains) took over as higher education minister in January this year, a letter patent appeal against the decision was filed.
The hearing in the LPA is listed on Wednesday (November 29).
He accused Pargat and previous government of “ruining the life of 1158 aspirants”.
On the contrary, he said, he held around 50 meetings with the aspirants who were protesting for 80 days. “I have all the audio and video recordings of those meetings,” Bains said.
Amid the war of words between Bains and Pargat, Leader of the Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa proposed that a House Committee should be constituted to look into the allegations of illegal mining across the state. “Serious aspersions have been cast by the high court. Let a House Committee comprising of representative of all parties be formed and visit the sites,” said Bajwa, seeking a threadbare reality check on alleged illegal sand mining.
Meanwhile, Akali MLA Sukhwinder Kumar Sukhi sought a probe into the firing incident in Sultanpur Lodhi by the CBI or a sitting judge of the high court. A home guard Jaspal Singh was killed when a group of ‘Nihangs’ resorted to unprovoked firing in Sultanpur Lodhi in Kapurthala a few days back.
The incident took place when policemen tried to get Gurdwara Akal Bunga Sahib in Sultanpur Lodhi vacated from a faction of Nihangs.