Naveen S Garewal, Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, May 5. Just as the SAD-BJP government in Punjab was beginning to get out of the embarrassment caused by the conviction of its minister Jagir Kaur by a CBI court, Punjab’s Agriculture Minister Tota Singh was convicted today for misuse of official machinery by a Mohali court.
Tota Singh has been sentenced to one-year imprisonment and Rs 30,000 fine for misuse of official vehicles during his tenure as the Education Minister in 1997-2002 Akali government. Judge Rajinder Aggarwal of the Mohali court has, however, found him not guilty on charges of corruption.One year
The state Agriculture Minister applied for the bail and the court granted him to enable him to approach a higher court to challenge the conviction within 30 days. He also paid the fine immediately to save himself from an additional six-month jail term.
Though not found guilty of corruption, his conviction on a lesser charge is bound to result in his resignation and exit from the Punjab Cabinet. The Punjab Chief Minister, who was in Delhi to attend the chief ministers’ conclave on the NCTC, is expected to ask for his resignation on his return.
The SAD-BJP government in Punjab had sworn in on March 14. Within two weeks, it suffered the first blow when Jagir Kaur was sentenced to a five-year jail term in the Harpreet murder case. But even before the government gets on the track, it has suffered another jolt in the conviction of its agriculture minister.
Tota Singh was booked by the Vigilance Bureau during Amarinder Singh’s regime in 2002 under the Prevention of Corruption Act. He was accused of amassing disproportionate assets to his known sources of income. But the Mohali court did not find much merit and declared that Tota Singh was guilty only of misuse of official vehicles.
The Punjab Cabinet has strength of 18 ministers, including the CM. But after the resignation of Jagir Kaur, the CM has not filled her slot yet. With Tota Singh likely to demit office soon, Punjab is likely to witness a race for the vacant cabinet berths.
Meanwhile, the Congress has launched a tirade against the SAD saying that the courts were catching up with the “misdeeds of the Akalis”. Congress MP Partap Bajwa has said: “Akali Ministers’ past seems to be catching up with them with a vengeance.
After Bibi, another minister in a spot
Tota Singh is the second minister in the SAD-BJP coalition government in the state to be convicted and given a jail term after senior minister Bibi Jagir Kaur. Jagir Kaur was sentenced to five-year imprisonment by a CBI court in Patiala on March 30. She was sentenced recently in connection with a case relating to the mysterious death of her daughter.