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Punjab drugs haul: Two ministers face the heat (Punjab Newsletter)

Posted on Feb 27 2014 | IANS

By Jaideep Sarin, Chandigarh, Feb 27 : Two ministers, one of them a close relative of Shiromani Akali Dal president and Punjab's powerful Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, are facing the heat of their alleged involvement in the multi-million dollar international drugs trade operating from Punjab.

The recent interrogation of drug racket kingpin Jagdish Singh Bhola by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has linked the names of Punjab Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia and Jail Minister Swaran Singh Phillaur to the drugs racket. Bhola told his interrogators that Majithia and Phillaur's son, Damanvir Singh, had helped him in the synthetic drugs trade.

Though Majithia and Phillaur have blamed the controversy on political vendetta at the behest of the Congress, the fact that the ED, after the latest disclosures by Bhola, is likely to summon them for questioning has stirred up a new controversy in Punjab.

If the questioning does happen, it's likely to become an embarrassment for the Parkash Singh Badal government.

Majithia is the brother-in-law of Sukhbir Badal, with his sister and Bathinda MP Harsimrat Badal being married to the deputy chief minister. Majithia is also the president of the Youth Akali Dal and is considered one of the most powerful in Punjab's ruling circuit.

In his written statement to the ED, Bhola, a dismissed Punjab Police deputy superintendent of police (DSP) and a former international medal-winning wrestler, claimed that Majithia and Damanvir allegedly helped him procure synthetic chemicals and precursors from owners of pharmaceutical units in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

Bhola, according to the Punjab Police, is the kingpin of the multi-crore racket run from Punjab and with links in several other countries. The Punjab Police, which busted the racket in the last six months, has so far made exposures of over Rs 6,000 crore (Rs.60 billion/USD 967 million).

Ever since the controversy over Majithia's name came up, the Punjab Police seem to have gone slow on its investigations. With the general elections round the corner, any more disclosures on this front would be highly inconvenient for the Badal government.

In all this, the opposition Congress leaders seem to be having a good time gunning for Majithia and the Badal government. They are unlikely to give up on this controversy - at least not till the general elections are over.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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