But later says his remarks were quoted out of context by media

The Samajwadi Party, which captured power from Mayawati’s BSP just five months ago on the anti-corruption plank, landed in trouble on Friday, with a senior Minister reportedly giving PWD officials the “sanction” to steal.

Shivpal Singh Yadav, younger brother of SP president Mulayam Singh, who heads the Public Works Department, Cooperation and Irrigation Ministries, is reported to have made the remarks at a meeting of the District Planning Committee at Etah on Thursday. Maine to usi din PWD walon se keh diya that agar mehnat karoge to thhodi Barhut chori kar skate ho, dacoity nahin daloge (I had told the PWD men that, ‘if you work hard you can steal a little, but stealing should not become loot, you should not commit dacoity’.”)

The meeting was attended by senior officials and public representatives.

The Minister, however, acted swiftly to contain the damage after the news was flashed on Friday. He said his remarks were quoted out of context by the media. But the Opposition cornered the government.

At a hurriedly-convened press conference, he reiterated his party’s stand against corruption. He said the entire clip of his meeting was not shown. The media was not invited for the meeting, he said, implying that journalists had gate-crashed into the venue.

In a statement, he said the officials who attended the meeting were told that good workers would be rewarded and strict action would be taken against those who indulged in loot and corruption. In contravention of the Press Council of India norms, television channels presented a distorted picture, sending out a wrong message to people.

The Minister said he had suspended 125 PWD, Cooperation and Irrigation officials on graft charges in the past four months.

Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Swamy Prasad Maurya of the BSP said the Minister’s remarks betrayed the Samajwadi Party government’s motive.

Senior BJP leader Lalji Tandon said the remarks, coming as they did from a Minister, amounted to a “licence to steal.”

Mr. Shivpal Singh Yadav’s comments come at a hard time for the party.

At a meeting of MLAs, MLCs and Ministers here on July 31, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav himself expressed anger at the performance of his son’s government. Again, on August 4, this time at the party’s State executive committee meeting, he asked the Ministers to pull their socks up.

And Mr. Shivpal Singh Yadav is no stranger to controversies. Visiting Noida in January 2007 as Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s PWD Minister, he termed the Nithari killings a routine law and order issue. This statement came at a time when the government was battling hard to stem the strong anti-incumbency factor. Within five months, the SP regime was ousted by Ms. Mayawati.