Punjab Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh divested of key charge after altercation with ministers over excise policy

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Updated: May 13, 2020 3:14 PM

The altercation between Punjab Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh and ministers was first reported on Friday after the Chief Secretary sent the amendment in the excise policy hours before the Cabinet meeting.

Punjab Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh.

Punjab Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh has been divested of the additional charge of Financial Commissioner Taxation, days after ministers and the top bureaucrat locked horns over an amendment to the excise policy in a bid to provide relief to liquor contractors in the state. According to reports, Singh was divested of the additional charge just before Chief Minister Amarinder Singh approved the Excise Policy, 2020-21.

Principal Secretary Water Resources A Venu Prasad will now hold the additional charge of Financial Commissioner Taxation, according to an order issued by the government. Prasad is on leave till May 20. The order said Principal Secretary Anirudh Tewari will look after the work of the post in addition to his present assignments.

The altercation between Karan Avtar Singh and Punjab ministers was first reported on Friday after the Chief Secretary sent the amendment in the excise policy hours before the Cabinet meeting. The ministers protested that there was too little time to study the lengthy document and the meeting was postponed till Saturday. As per rules, the Chief Secretary also serves as the Cabinet Secretary. Besides, Karan was also Financial Commissioner Taxation and the administrative secretary of the Excise Department.

At Saturday’s pre-cabinet meeting over the revision of the excise policy, Cabinet minister Charanjeet Singh Channi objected to the relief being given to the liquor contractors at the cost of the state exchequer, triggering a heated argument between Karan Avtar and Channi. State Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, Channi and others then walked out of the meeting.

On Monday, when the CM summoned the ministers for a Cabinet meet, they categorically stated that they will not participate in any meeting attended by the Chief Secretary. The CS then proceeded for a half-day leave. The meet was attended by Home Secretary Satish Chandra, the next senior most IAS officer after Karan Avtar.

At the meeting on Monday, the ministers authorised Amarinder Singh to take a call on the excise policy amendment. The CM approved the Excise Policy, 2020-21 on Tuesday evening.

The liquor contractors have been allowed compensation for nine days. The business was hit due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown which came into effect on March 25. The option of allowing home delivery of liquor has been left to the contractors.

Meanwhile, liquor contractors have agreed to open shops after the approval of the policy. There are 5,800 liquor vends in the state. While shops in Mohali and Ropar were opened on May 7, contractors seeking renewal of licence or going for fresh contracts had opted not to do business.

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