PL Punia, the Congress MP from Barabanki, speaks on UP elections and more
Yash Vardhan Shukla | January 18, 2012
Mayawati’s once all-powerful, favourite officer is now her bête noire. PL Punia, the Congress MP from Barabanki and the chairman of national commission for scheduled castes (NCSC), served the BSP supremo as her principal secretary over her three tenures as the chief minister. An accused in the Taj Heritage Corridor scam, Punia was later given a clean chit by the CBI. Yash Vardhan Shukla talks to Punia ahead of the crucial assembly elections in the state.
How do you see the Taj Heritage Corridor scam?
The project aimed at connecting all the monuments in Agra through a corridor. Along this corridor, vending of tourist essentials and curios in temporary structures was to be allowed. The corridor was meant to be a solution to the heavy traffic on the city roads. But Mayawati, who was the chief minister then, her environment minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui and the then environment secretary RK Sharma gave the project a go-ahead without having a detailed project report, and without obtaining necessary financial sanction from the union environment ministry. This was not a legitimate start. On paper, the project was awarded to the national project construction corporation, a PSU under the union water resources ministry. However, work was actually awarded to their favourite contractors. Mayawati illegally sanctioned Rs 17 crore for the project. There were plans to connect four major monuments, including the Taj Mahal, through a corridor to facilitate tourists. Polluting industries were to be shifted from the area.
A CBI probe was ordered by the supreme court. It gave a clean chit to the then chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, DS Bagga. The investigating agency also cleared the union environment secretary in the scam as well. The CBI submitted its report to the supreme court which asked the central vigilance commission to report on the scam. CVC findings upheld the CBI report. CBI was asked to prosecute Mayawati, Naseemuddin Siddiqui and RK Sharma, the then state environment secretary. The probe agency filed a chargesheet in the court which asked for the governor’s approval. But the then governor of the state refused to sanction their prosecution. On this ground, the special CBI court refused to proceed on the matter. Now, a PIL on the scam has been filed in the high court which may order the prosecution.
Today, as a political opponent, you are opposing Mayawati over the corruption she is accused of. How did you manage when you were her principal secretary?
Before 2007, the BSP had never been in a position to get an absolute majority in the UP assembly. There was always a coalition government in the state, due to which there were certain pressures on the government. In 2007, Mayawati got a free hand to do whatever she wanted in the state. When I was the principal secretary to the chief minister all the tainted BSP leaders and bureaucrats would wait for me to leave the office. All the tainted BSP leaders, including Babu Singh Kushwaha, Naseemuddin Siddiqui and other politicians, and bureaucrats feared exposure in front of me. She loved making such deals even then but she avoided being involved in them in front of me because she knew I was very close to Kanshi Ram. At many times, the departed leader asked me about her behaviour and the deals she made. Now, nobody in the party can question her. The party is now a bunch of spineless leaders. Nobody other than Maya has any voice or any importance.
The Uttar Pradesh government is trying to reopen few cases against you. How do you react to this?
Mayawati finds me a direct threat to her. We both belong to the Jatav community and she does not want a strong Jatav leader in her rival Congress party. She tried to book me under fake charges in bogus cases. However, she was unsuccessful in taking me down. But let me make one thing very clear: I am not afraid of her threats. During my government service, I always worked with total dedication and honesty. Mayawati could never find any fault in my working. If you check my election records, you will find that after winning the parliamentary elections, I have spent most of the time in my constituency (Barabanki). She ordered her few trusted bureaucrats to involve me in a few fake cases, but their attempts were unsuccessful. With the dates for the UP assembly elections out, she can’t do anything against me, at least for the time being. She has missed her chance this time and very soon she going to be out of power.
After being expelled from BSP, Babu Singh Kushwaha had knocked at your party's doors first, wishing to join your party. You know him closely as you were once close to BSP leader Kanshi Ram. Why, then, did your party refuse to take Kushwaha in?
Yes, it is true that when Babu Singh Kushwaha was expelled, he first contacted the Congress party. Actually, his motive in wishing to join the Congress was different. He wanted political shelter. He also thought that he could manage the CBI probe against him after joining the Congress. But Rahulji had clearly instructed the party that no support should be extended to the tainted Kushwaha. Earlier, on several occasions, Rahulji had said that Kushwaha will land in jail for his corruption. He needs to be punished for what he has done.
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