Congress leader Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa Monday said he will file a defamation suit against Bhagwant Mann, a day after the Punjab chief minister said he will recover Rs 55 lakh spent in legal fee by the previous government on holding gangster-politician Mukhtar Ansari in Ropar jail. Randhawa, who was then the jails minster, said Rs 17.60 lakh was spent on retaining a senior advocate in Ansari matter and dared Mann to issue him a recovery notic instead of issuing threats on Twitter.
Reacting to this, Mann again took to Twitter and shared an official noting according to which the money spent on engaging the advocate in defending Ansari be recovered equally from Randhawa and former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh.
Addressing media, Randhawa said the jail department was not the petitioner but the respondent in the Ansari case. He said as jails minister, he had no role to play in the case as a Senior Superintendent of Police interrogated the Ansari following a complaint and the judiciary sent him to Ropar jail. “The jails department is the just the custodian,” he added.
Reiterating that he had no role in Ansari’s stay in Ropar jail, Randhawa said he had issued standing orders in November 2018 as per which transfer cases of prisoners were to be dealt by Additional Chief Secretary (Jails)-level officer, without any need to take the minister in the loop.
He added that he had no role in engaging the lawyer. “As per the procedure, Advocate General writes to the respondent department and then the file goes to the CM”.
Randhawa said senior advocate Dushyant Dave was hired in the Ansari matter and his fee was Rs 17.60 lakh and that Mann’s claim of Rs 55 lakh spent on legal fees was false.
“Character assassination has become his (Mann’s) habit. I will file a defamation case against him and I will ask him to prove the allegations. I will not tolerate such humiliation. I will approach the court,” said Randhawa.
The Congress leader, who is currently the party in-charge for poll-bound Rajasthan, said, “I challenge him to send me the notice of recovery. Instead of tweeting, he should have sent me a notice and I would have replied to that,” said Randhawa, adding that he, as then jails minister, had put a noting in file to stop the payment to the lawyer in the Ansari matter.
“When no payment was ever made, what is this recovery about,” he asked.
Mann, while saying that he would recover the amount of Rs 55 lakh from Amarinder and Randhawa, had also said that if the former CM, who is now a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, and the Congress MLA, do not give the money, then their pension and other benefits will be stopped.
Ansari was in the Ropar Jail from January 2019 to April 2021 in an extortion case registered in Mohali, before the Supreme Court directed the Punjab government to give the gangster-turned-politician’s custody to the Uttar Pradesh Police. The apex court had also noted that the custody was being denied to the UP Police on trivial grounds under the guise of medical issues. Ansari was subsequently moved to a jail in Banda in Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, Mann shared the July 1 file noting in which it was stated that engaging Dave for defending Ansari was not required “as no public interest or the interest of the state of Punjab was involved” in that case.
“So, the public money of the state of Punjab cannot be utilized for meeting out such expenditure. The expenditure so incurred may be recovered equally both from Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, former Jail Minister and Capt Amarinder Singh, former Chief Minister as they had proposed and approved, respectively, to engage Dushyant Dave as an Advocate for this case.” it read.
Earlier, Amarinder, who is now BJP national executive committee member, had asked Mann to learn the process of law and investigation before issuing such statements.
On Sunday, Amarinder said Ansari was brought to Punjab and detained here under due process of law for the investigation. “Where does the CM or for that matter the jails’ minister come into the picture,” he had asked Mann.
Incidentally, while hearing the UP government’s plea seeking custody of Ansari in March 2021, the Supreme Court had noted that the former MLA from Mau was involved in several cases of attempt to murder, murder, cheating and conspiracy apart from offences under the Gangsters Act lodged in Uttar Pradesh.
The court was also informed by the UP government that between February 14, 2019, and February 14, 2020, Ansari’s custody was denied to the state police by the Punjab jail authorities 26 times mainly on medical grounds referring to diabetes mellitus, skin allergy, hypertension, backache and throat infection.