Kejriwal sacks Delhi Food Minister over graft charges

In an unprecedented move, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal expelled his Food Minister Asim Ahmed Khan on charges of corruption, making the announcement at a highly dramatic press conference; Imran Hussain, a first time MLA from Ballimaran in Old Delhi, will replace Khan

New Delhi: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal yesterday summarily sacked Environment and Food Minister Asim Ahmed Khan for allegedly demanding a bribe of R6 lakh from a builder and recommended a CBI probe into the case. The sudden announcement of Khan's sacking by Kejriwal came at a press conference which was called at short notice.

Arvind Kejriwal with Deputy CM Manish Sisodia addressing the press conference at Delhi Secretariat in New Delhi on Friday. Pics/PTI
Arvind Kejriwal with Deputy CM Manish Sisodia addressing the press conference at Delhi Secretariat in New Delhi on Friday. Pics/PTI

'I dare you, BJP'
The Delhi CM said Khan was removed as part of AAP's zero-tolerance policy towards graft and dared BJP to sack Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Madhya Pradesh's Shivraj Singh Chouhan, both of whom have been accused of corruption.

Cabinet gets a new face
He said Imran Hussain, a first time MLA from Ballimaran in Old Delhi, will be the new face in his Cabinet. Khan is the second minister to get the boot in the last eight months. In June, the then Law Minister Jitender Singh Tomar had to resign over the fake degree row.

“The government will not tolerate corruption, be it by any MLA, Minister, official, Manish (Sisodia) or even by my son. If Manish commits corruption, I will take action, if I commit corruption Manish will take action against me," said Kejriwal.

First time
Khan, on his part, called it a “big conspiracy” against him by the Opposition.

The Chief Minister claimed that it was for the first time in the history that a minister has been sacked taking suo motu cognizance of graft charges, adding, “BJP should also sack Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Singh Chouhan for corruption charges against them.”

The proof
The decision to remove Khan was taken after he and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had gone through a one-hour-long audio clip on Thursday night containing purported telephonic conversation between the minister, a mediator and the builder over the last one month, he said.

The audio was given to Kejriwal by a senior AAP leader yesterday who was approached by a complainant whose identity has not been revealed, sources said.

Elaborating on the complaint against Khan, Kejriwal said, “Khan had allegedly demanded R6 lakh from the builder to continue construction of an illegal building in his constituency of Matia Mahal in Old Delhi. We received a complaint last night that a building was being built in his constituency. Its construction was stopped and money was demanded from the builder, who paid the amount. There was a mediator between the MLA and the minister,” the Chief Minister said.

Kejriwal and Sisodia listened to the audio clip three-four times last night to ascertain its veracity and concluded that prima facie there was a strong case against Khan. He was summoned this morning and when confronted with the audio clip, Khan confessed to his wrongdoings, sources claimed.

The Chief Minister later held a meeting with senior AAP leaders including Ashutosh and Kumar Vishwas. After the meeting, Kejriwal decided to remove Khan though some of the party leaders were of the view that his portfolio should be changed.

Strong message
The ruling AAP said Kejriwal had set a new benchmark in propriety and asked the Modi government and Chief Ministers of other states to follow his example.

“There will be no compromise with corruption. The decision has been taken with a heavy heart as there was a lot of trust involved. He's been removed till CBI probe is on,” Kejriwal said.

The Chief Minister said a strong message has gone that AAP government will not tolerate graft. While the AAP said Khan's sacking reflected Kejriwal's strong resolve to fight graft, opposition parties questioned the integrity of the Delhi cabinet.

Voices
Sheila Dikshit, Former Delhi Chief Minister
Sheila Dikshit
You cannot just accuse somebody. Our question is that, if there is some proof, then the step that he has taken is correct, but if there is no evidence and just information then I don't think it is fair.

Ajay Maken, Congresss Delhi unit president
Ajay Maken
The party (AAP) that has been formed to fight corruption is finding itself in such a position. What about the files that he (Asim Ahmed Khan) has signed over the past eight months?

Prashant Bhushan, Former AAP leader
Prashant Bhushan
Why did Kejriwal not show same promptness in sacking former Law Minister Jitendra Singh Tomar, who was held in the fake degree case? Instead of taking credit, he shouldn't have given tickets to such elements.

Sambit Patra, BJP spokesperson
Sambit Patra
One of his ministers has been caught red-handed taking a bribe and there was no option but to sack him. Faced with a situation like this, what Kejriwal is trying to do is make it count.

'Big conspiracy against me'€™

New Delhi: Hours after he was sacked from the Delhi cabinet over corruption charges, a "surprised and shocked" AAP MLA Asim Ahmed Khan yesterday said there was a "big conspiracy" against him which prompted the government’s move.
Without elaborating further, Khan promised to "expose the conspiracy" today. Claiming innocence, Khan, who held the Food and Supplies portfolio, said that the purported audio clip featuring his conversation with a builder may have been around "issues of business".

Food Minister Asim Ahmed Khan

"There is a big conspiracy against me by the Opposition. I am a businessman and the conversation, which I have not heard yet, may have been on issues of trade," he said.

Denying the reports of being sacked, Khan said that he tendered his resignation when the government asked him to do so around 3.30 pm, pending probe into the allegations. "I do not have all the details but I am surprised and shocked by the decision. Our party’s image is clean and it takes action against persons who have allegations against them," he said.

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