₹2,500 Cr Punjab Food Scam: Ex-Cong Mantri’s Men Used Glamour Bikes, Activas, Indica Cars To Ferry Rice Sacks

An investigation into ₹2,500-crore scam involving the procurement of crops by the Punjab government, by the aides of then Congress minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu in 2020, has disclosed that 2 & 4-wheelers were used to ferry sacks of food grains between mandis and flour mills and billed to the state treasury against mandatory commercial vehicles.

CHANDIGARH/LUDHIANA/NEW DELHI | Updated: 23 August, 2022 7:06 pm IST

A mega investigation into ₹2,500-crore scam involving procurement of crops — wheat and paddy — by Punjab government by aides of then Congress minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu in 2020 has disclosed that motorcycles, Activas and Indica cars were being used to ferry sacks of food grains between mandis and flour mills and billed to state treasury against mandatory commercial vehicles.

The New Indian has accessed the list of vehicles that were deployed by private contractors who were hired by the Punjab government for transportation of food grains for 2020-21 season. The alleged irregularities took place while Congress MLAs had joined hands with farm outfits to raise a banner of protest against the then three farm bills between 2020 and 2021.

The sensational scam, being probed by Punjab’s vigilance bureau (VB), has detected that these vehicles were deployed by at least three private contractors following the tenders floated by the department led by Ashu, who held the portfolio of food, civil supplies and consumer affairs.

A Glamour motorcycle, bearing registration number PB 10 CE 3573, transported 400 sacks of crop weighing around 37.5kg each from Cheema Rice Mill in Ludhiana. The registration number was given as the gate pass dated September 22, 2020.

Similarly, an Indica car bearing registration number PB 10 BR 0473 was used to transport 400 sacks of crops weighing around 37.5 kg each from the same mill in Ludhiana. The registration number was given as the gate pass dated October 27, 2020.

Likewise, an Activa Scooty, bearing registration number PB 13 AT 7641 was used to transport 300 sacks of crop weighing around 37.5 kg each from Baba Ratan Rice Mill in Sangrur. The registration number was given as the gate pass dated October 29, 2020.

Each year, Punjab government opens tender for procurement and transportation of foodgrains.

These vehicles were allegedly used by a contractor Telu Ram in Ludhiana in connivance with arhtiyas (brokers). The list of 20 such vehicles has surfaced as the investigations are now spreading across Ropar, Bathinda, Ferozepur, Tarn Taran and Amritsar.

The internal note, accessed by The New Indian, on this probe has found direct links between the contractors and Ashu.

“During investigation, accused Telu Ram, who was arrested earlier, revealed that he met Bharat Bhushan Ashu through his PA Meenu Malhotra for getting tenders for the season 2020-21, who asked him to meet Rakesh Kumar Singla, Deputy Director, Food & Civil Supplies. RK Singla was Chairman of departmental Chief Vigilance Committee for tenders and acted at the Minister’s behest,” the note has said.

“In Ludhiana, Telu Ram had four clusters, namely Jodhan, Mullanpur, Raikot and Payal which contained 34 grain markets. Apart from this, Telu Ram also had clusters at Talwandi Bhai in district Ferozepur and district Ropar,” a top VB official told The New Indian.

“These numbers were required to be verified and subsequently, the technical bid was also required to be rejected by the District Tender Committee. However, tenders were allotted despite these shortcomings due to connivance of the contractors and department officials,” the internal note has further said.

VB officials said Telu Ram was given ₹25 crore by Ashu’s department for the said work. “In order to complete the transportation, the lists of vehicles submitted by the accused contained registration numbers of cars, scooters, motorcycles,”

“It is just impossible on earth or heaven to transport sacks of wheat meant for public on scooties, Indicas, and motorcyles. But the officers from Ashu’s department were directly involved in this scam,”said a top official.

The original complaint was submitted by one Gurpreet Singh contractors used by food department are Telu Ram, Jagroop Singh and Sandeep Bhatia, besides the owner and partners of Gurdas Ram and Company. All of them have been booked.

The internal VB note has futher said that “Singla, a close aide of the minister was the chairman of the departmental Chief Vigilance Committee for tenders and was acting at the minister’s behest. Singla demanded ₹30 lakhs from Telu Ram on behalf of Ashu, and he gave ₹20 lakhs as a bribe to Singla, ₹6 lakhs to Malhotra as well as money to other officers.

During the investigation, it came to light that Telu Ram purchased about 20 acres of land, while accused Malhotra, who is at large, has also acquired a number of properties

“The modus-operandi of the scam was that cluster-wise tenders were invited wherein ‘A’ group of mandis, as well as work of all procurement agencies, was allotted for the cluster,” a top VB official has said.

Despite repeated attempts, neither Ashu’s aides or his family members responded to the calls by The New Indian.

Earlier in the day, CM Bhagwant Mann said that evidence are being analysed by the VB without any prejudice.

“The matter was brought to notice before the VB by officials of the same department and probe is based on evidence alone. There’s no vendetta,” Mann told reporters.

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