Thursday, February 28, 2002, Chandigarh, India


P U N J A B    S T O R I E S



Hard tasks ahead for new CM
P.P.S. Gill
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 27
After prayers by Sikh and Hindu priests, the new Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, entered his office on the second floor of the Civil Secretariat here today, a holiday, but otherwise an auspicious day being the birth anniversary of Guru Ravidas.

He had driven straight to the gigantic, desolate structure from Punjab Raj Bhavan with the echo of “zindabad” slogans fading away as also many a marigold and rose petals trampled under the feet of over enthusiastic supporters and seekers.

He has in one stroke changed the state Chief Secretary (Mr N.K. Arora) and brought in Mr Y S Ratra as also the Director-General of Police (Mr Sarbjit Singh) and appointed Mr M.S. Bhullar in his place. His new Principal Secretary is Mr S.K. Sinha.

Besides forming a council of ministers with the approval of “Madam” in New Delhi, awaiting the new chief political executive are hard tasks ahead (identified by the Punjab State Expenditure Commission)-a grim financial scenario, mobilisation of additional non-tax revenue, disinvestments, reduction in subsidies, identification and cutting down on unproductive expenditure and shutting off transfers of money to autonomous institutions (public sector undertakings).

Apart from these weighty matters, Capt Amarinder Singh is keen to give a new thrust to agriculture commensurate with the WTO regime and changing food security requirements within the country, besides, of course, dealing with the key subjects of power (electricity board), education, health, cooperation, the police and vigilance. The last because in its present form it is neither able to perform nor is dysfunctional. The vigilance wing using will require a complete overhaul if politico-bureaucratic corruption is to be rooted out as promised. In fact, having come to power on the plank of eradicating corruption, Capt Amarinder Singh has already hinted at the appointment of a new Lok Pal and requesting the Chief Justice of the high court for sparing the services of a judge for a judicial commission on corruption.

Though the Expenditure Commission is now expected to submit its report by April-end (its term has been extended), the Department of Finance is ready with the broad contours of the state of finances.

May it be the Expenditure Commission or the report of the National Council of Applied Economic Research or monthly review of the Punjab economy by the Centre for monitoring the Indian economy, all point to the “grim situation” likely to persist and prevail till 2006. Unless some “unpopular” decisions are taken right away to improve housekeeping rather than merely ensuring that the employees get their salaries for March will not help. Punjab needs to move ahead quickly on fiscal reforms.

Together, all reports make one point: There is no dearth of ideas to improve the fiscal health of the state. The real issue is implementing the suggestions. It is here that all energies should be focused. What are the suggested pointers? The Special Secretary, Planning, Mr H.I.S. Grewal, says Punjab has two options: 1. raising additional non-debt resources; and 2. reduction in expenditure. There has to be strict tax administration and/or reduction in tax incentives and exemptions. There will have to be new user charges and rationalisation of the existing ones.

Public sector undertakings are a big drain. The Expenditure Commission, headed by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy Director, Dr Ashok Lahiri, has suggested disinvestment in this sector. The dismal performance of PSUs is well known. Against an investment of Rs 2042 crore, the rate of return is zero.

Mr Grewal, quoting from reports, said that the tax rate revenue vis-à-vis state domestic product per cent was very low: 6.38. However, the debt percentage against state domestic product was high: 40.01. Thus, even interest payments were high. The deficit, as a per cent of the gross state domestic product was (-) 5.47 for the 2001-02 budget estimates.

There is a strong feeling that in view of the existing fiscal imbalances requiring structural changes, Punjab should observe a “plan holiday”. No new projects should be taken up for at least two years that involve state finances. If there has to be an Annual Plan, it must be realistic and commensurate with the state’s own resources and not a Rs 4,200 crore decorative document. Also, the new set-up will have to look into the returns from investment in the social sector in terms of user charges.

The new government, it is learnt, proposes to set up two regulatory authorities-one for industry and the other for agriculture. There is already one for Power. Similarly, in view of the high percentage of litigation, involving employees who have gone to the high court and lower courts, the government is considering the constitution of a high-powered commission to settle service matters, thereby reducing the rate of litigation as well as expenses besides saving on time consumed by such litigation.

The Congress will have to find means from within to meet the commitments made during the poll campaign and encourage public-private partnership on services delivery. The composition of the ministry and placement of the right bureaucrats in next few days will indicate how the new Chief Minister succeeds in achieving what he has promised.

The expected tinkering the Congress does with a score of boards of directors, involving 180-odd elected representatives in the cooperatives, constitution of the Punjab State Electricity Board, appointment of the chairmen and managing directors of autonomous boards, etc., involves a massive politico-bureaucrat exercise. That, too, will show how the state is governed.


Royal challenge for Capt Amarinder
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

Patiala, February 27
Patiala, which has been relegated to the sidelines much like its royal family, whose scion Capt Amarinder Singh has made a comeback from political wilderness to head the state, is eagerly looking towards him to stem the rot which has ruined its cultural heritage and made it one of the most industrially backward zones in the state.

The district, which has generally suffered after independence in terms of development, was badly hit during the past five years of Akali rule. The feud between former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and former Shiromani Committee Chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra led to the district being neglected by and large during the Akali-BJP reign in the state.

Discrimination, for Patiala, began after the formation of the Akali-BJP government five years back. An ambitious programme set to bring the city on the international tourism map, as well as to revive the lost glory of the Quila Mubarak, the fort founded by the rulers of the Patiala royal family, was jettisoned at the last minute, allegedly at the behest of Mr Tohra because the programme, was being organised by the then Patiala Commissioner S.K. Sinha, who was known to be very close to Capt Amarinder Singh. The programme involved inviting noted qawwali artist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to the city, besides arranging of international participation for collecting money to restore the Quila Mubarak. It also intended to revive the handicraft industry of the city.

The restoration of the fort under the leadership of Mr Sinha and being carried out by PCS officer R.S. Randhawa was also cut short subsequently. Today, the ASI had taken up work on restoration of one of the buildings in the Quila following action taken by the courts in this regard, but the Quila is by and large crumbling with each passing season. Of special concern is the steady deterioration of the painted chambers in the Quila Androon.

Besides the Quila, other buildings of historical interest are also in bad shape. An erstwhile palace in the Baradari gardens, which houses the Archives of the state is also in bad shape. Instead of restoring the building, the Cultural Affairs and Archives department has preferred to shift most of the Archives out of the building to Chandigarh. Besides this, the Medals Gallery in the Sheesh Mahal, which houses one of the biggest collection of medals in the world, is yet to find home of its own. People feel that if the restoration of the Quila Mubarak is taken up in earnest, along with other historic monuments, a major tourism triangle involving Chandigarh-Patiala-Sirhind could be evolved.

On the industry front, Patiala has lagged so far behind that even small towns on the national highway have more industry than it does. Though not being on the main railway line has its drawbacks, yet no effort has been made to develop it on the industrial front. The local industrial area has more sick industries than those doing business with there being a major recession in the cutting tool industry. Besides, this lack of large factories in the city has ensured that there are no ancillary units in the city. There is only one big operator in the government sphere in the form of the Diesel Components Works (DCW), which was also brought to the city by Capt Amarinder Singh when he was earlier a Congress MP, but that too was not able to develop to a full-fledged unit as envisaged by its planners.

Even on the simple question of connectivity, the city is lacking severely. It has only one big train (Dadar) going to Mumbai which is more like a passenger train, besides an Inter City train going to Delhi and a Haridwar-Ganganagar connection. The people of the city want that a junction should be created at Patiala to make its presence felt on the industrial map. They also want a direct connection to Chandigarh to facilitate daily commuting, besides a direct link to Amritsar.


GND varsity recasts probe panel
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, February 27
The sexual harassment case in the Guru Nanak Dev University took a fresh turn when the university authorities re-constituted the Commission for Women Cell after the resignation tendered by its chairperson Dr Balwinder Arora. Dr Jaswinder Kaur Dhillon, a senior professor of Guru Nanak Studies has been nominated as the new chairperson of the cell.

It may be mentioned here that one of the victims of sexual harassment had raised serious objection over the proceedings of the case. Ms Ratna, General Secretary of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee and an educationist, has also been included in the inquiry panel. The panel will submit its report latest by March 31 against the Director of one of the departments of the university who had allegedly made advances to the woman lecturer of his department.

When contacted Dr S.P. Singh, Vice-Chancellor, claimed that the committee has been constituted as the university wanted to probe the matter as per the satisfaction of the complainant.

Meanwhile, the victim who had registered herself for Ph.D degree under the Director has also written to the Vice-Chancellor for the cancellation of the same.

It is learnt that the Commission for Women had also expressed concern over the proceedings of the case which has allegedly been on at a snail's pace.

Earlier, in a communication to the Vice-Chancellor, the victim had sought the cancellation of the Ph.D registration with immediate effect. She stated that she had enrolled herself for Ph.D on January 13, 1999. However, she alleged that when she was about to submit her thesis, her guide tried to sexually harass her which was reported to the authorities concerned. She further said she had applied for change of her guide but no action had been taken regarding this.


Villagers prefer quacks to hospital
Forced by poor economic condition, health services
Chander Parkash
Tribune News Service

Bathinda, February 27
Most of the patients of Sooch village of the district, who have been suffering from hepatitis-B, seem to have doubly cursed as they first got infected due to the use of recycled syringes by unregistered medical practitioners and now they have been forced by their economic conditions to get treatment of same from quacks.

Though the Civil Hospital authorities have sent five medical teams from here to Sooch village after Jarnail Singh died of hepatitis-B, most of the patients still prefer treatment from quacks.

Balwinder Kaur, hepatitis-B patient of Sooch village, who is in critical condition, has been getting treatment from a quack from Jalalabad. The Civil Hospital authorities failed to persuade her attendants and family for shifting her to the hospital here for better treatment.

Villagers have been getting treatment from unregistered medical practitioners as the rural health services being provided by the state government are in a bad shape.

Mr R. Venkat Ratnam, Deputy Commissioner, who visited the village, said the district administration had sealed two shops of quacks. He added that quacks who had fled the village would be arrested whenever they returned.

Dr H.S. Dhillon, Civil Surgeon, when contacted, said attendants of Balwinder Kaur refused to shift her to the Civil Hospital on the pretext that their economic conditions did not allow them to get her admitted to a hospital.

He pointed out five medical teams under his supervision and the Senior Medical Officer (SMO) had started working in the village round-the-clock for the treatment of 11 patients of hepatitis-B.

He said the vaccination of villagers would start tomorrow and be completed the next day.

Mr Ratnam said Rs 1 lakh had been released for the vaccination programme. He added that volunteers of a youth club of Sooch village had been given the funds for cleaning the area.


Hailstorm destroys crops worth crores
Tribune News Service

Kotli Khurd (Bathinda), February 27
Even as crops in more than 2700 acre of various villages falling in the Talwandi Sabo sub-division worth crores have been damaged due to hail-storm two days ago, Mr Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu, newly elected MLA of same segment, today urged the Punjab Government to make arrangements for providing compensation to the affected farmers.

Mr Sidhu who toured the affected villages today, said the farmers should be paid adequate compensation and if the concerned authorities failed to do it at the earliest, he would raise the matter in the Vidhan Sabha.

Mr Sidhu, who addressed the affected farmers in a number of villages, said he would be going to Chandigarh immediately after meeting district officials in this connection. He said until crop insurance scheme was implemented in the state a standing committee to look into the interests of the farmers should be set up.

Talking to mediapersons, he said the former Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, has failed to protect the interests of farmers as his government has failed to introduce crop insurance scheme in the state.

He alleged that now by raising the demand of introduction of crop insurance scheme in Punjab, Mr Badal was shedding crocodile tears. He added that Mr Badal should tell people why his government failed to compensate those farmers whose paddy and cotton crops were damaged due to various natural calamities in the past five years.

He said that on the other hand, the farmers had to buy the fertilizers from the cooperative societies at much higher rates than prevailing in the open market. He said that Congress government should make an inquiry into the matter.

Mr Malkit Singh, sarpanch of the village said that standing crops in about 2760 acre had been damaged. He added that most of the affected farmers had small land holding ranging between three acre and eight acre and were in deep debt.

Sukhwinder Singh another farmer of the same village said wheat, sarson and fodder but even a few shrubs of ‘bers’ that he had grown, had been destroyed by the hailstorm.

The affected farmers said that a senior official of the district administration visited the affected areas and assured them they would be compensated for the loss. They added that they were apprehensive that it would take a long time before they could get any compensation.

Badal to press govt for crop insurance
Tribune News Service

Kotli Khurd (Bathinda), February 27
Even as the recently defeated SAD-BJP government had failed to introduce crop insurance scheme during its five-year rule, former Punjab Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, who met affected farmers of the village today said his party would press the state government to introduce the same. Mr Badal said the SAD-BJP government had stated in its election manifesto that if voted to power again, it would introduce crop insurance scheme, but the people willed it otherwise. He said the leader of the Opposition was almost as powerful as the Chief Minister and he would make every effort to get compensation for the affected farmers.

Mr Badal predicted due to the internal dispute among senior Congress leaders, its government would not complete full term.


Fill vacant posts, urge JEs
Our Correspondent

Bathinda, February 27
Junior Engineers (JEs) working in the electrical branch of the operations (O) and maintenance (M) wing of the Guru Hargobind Thermal Plant at Lehar Mohabat have urged the authorities to fill the vacant posts in their wing so that the load of work could be reduced.

In a press note issued here yesterday by Mr Gurmail Singh, secretary of the thermal wing of the Council of Junior Engineers, PSEB, said there were 21 posts sanctioned in the ‘O’ and ‘M’ wing and two posts were those of Additional Assistant Engineers. But out of these 23 posts, only 16 were filled.

He said due to vacant posts they had to work more than 12 hours which affected their performance. He said they had to look after many offices. He alleged that the management of the plant was deliberately keeping the posts vacant in order to harass them.

He said they had to undergo mental tension due to the present situation. He alleged that the council had met the concerned authorities on various occasions but to no avail. It had also been suggested the authorities, he said, to transfer JEs from the construction wing to the O and M wing as there was not much work at present.

He said when work in the construction wing started, the JEs could be sent back there.

Mr Gurmail Singh further alleged that the situation had been prevailing for the past one-and-half year due to the adamant behaviour of a senior official. He alleged that the official concerned was not following the rules and regulations of the PSEB.

Chief Engineer of the O and M branch could not be contacted. However another senior official of the thermal plant said that it was not possible at present to transfer JEs from the construction branch to the O and M branch as very soon some work would start in the thermal where the JEs would be given duties. He said the vacant posts could be filled as per the rules and regulations of the PSEB.


Court order on arms licences alarms brokers
Our Correspondent

Mansa, February 27
With the passing of the order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to the CBI to investigate the issuance of arms licences to persons belonging to other areas by the District Magistrate, Ferozepore, there is panic among the brokers who got such licences in the names of local residents by giving their false addresses and such arms licence holders.

Inquiries made reveal that there are some persons, including some arms dealers of the district, who used to charge Rs 7,000 to Rs 20,000 for bringing such licences from Ferozepore district in the names of persons belonging to Mansa district by giving their false addresses.

In some cases, these arms licence brokers managed to change the addresses of such licence holders in connivance with the staff concerned of the local District Magistrate.

After obtaining such licences these brokers charged a huge amount to provide weapons from Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan states. The persons desirous of getting licences had to approach these brokers after they failed to get licences from the authorities concerned of the district as such licences were only issued on the recommendation of senior Akali leaders.

On coming to know that the investigation has been handed over to the CBI, such arms licence holders are approaching these brokers to know the fate of their arms licences and these brokers have been telling “not to worry”. There is a person among these brokers who was previously involved in a criminal case relating to arms licneces, registered by the Sirsa police of Haryana.


Traders resent public toilets
Our Correspondent

Amritsar, February 27
Shopkeepers of the Nehru Shopping Complex are up in arms against the proposed construction of the public toilets near the entry point of the Complex by the trust authorities.

Although the Trust Chairman, Mr Bakshi Ram Arora, has assured that the new toilets will have attendants and built at a cost of Rs 8 lakh, the Nehru Plaza Welfare Society of more than 60 shopkeepers who have paid lakhs for their shops, are undeterred in their protest.

The society lodged a strong objection to the trust in this regard, stating that the existing common toilets constructed by the trust were already in a deplorable state. It was pointed out that the block where these toilets were to be built had the provision of private toilets.

The opposite block, however, had no toilet facility and the construction plan should be mooted there. 


Decision to amend labour laws decried
Tribune News Service

Ferozepore, February 27
The employees of the Northern Railways have criticised the decision of the Union Government to amend labour laws. Mr Raja Ram Patel, president of the Northern Railways Employees Union, demanded that the move should be immediately taken back. He alleged that the government had recommended that there was no need to get formal approval from the union government to shut down industries with 1,000 employees.

The employees have further alleged that this would increase unemployment in the country. He also criticised the policy of the government to privatise the railways. 


Milkmen resent Army’s ban orders
Our Correspondent

Bathinda, February 27
Milkmen supplying milk to the local cantonment area are facing difficulties as the Army authorities have banned their entry there.

In a press note issued here today Mr Sohan Singh, president of the cantonment unit of the Dodhi Union, said while the other civilians, including those selling curd, shopkeepers, labourers and junk dealers were being allowed entry into the cantonment the milkmen were being denied entry since January 8.

He said not only the suppliers of milk but also the consumers were facing difficulties as they had to travel to the entrance gates of the cantonment to fetch milk.

He further said they had the entry cards issued by the authorities concerned which were necessary for any civilian to gain entry into the cantonment. He said at least 85 milkmen were being made to suffer due to the behaviour of the Army authorities.

He further said because of this they were not able to sell the milk they collected from nearby villages. He added that they had been doing the business since the Army cantonment was established here as their agricultural land was acquired for the purpose.

He added that if the situation continued for some days then most of them would be rendered jobless. Sohan Singh said the Army authorities were not giving any reason for banning their entry into the cantonment. He further said the officials concerned said the orders had been received from senior officials. 


Ravi Dass Jayanti celebrated
Our Correspondent

Amritsar, February 27
A large number of devotees participated in a shobha yatra taken out in the city on 625th birth anniversary of Guru Ravi Dass here today. The procession headed by several religious political leaders, including Mr Ravi Shanker, president of the SC/ST cell, was started from the Guru Ravi Dass temple. Langar was also arranged at several places.

PHAGWARA: The Parkash Purb of Guru Ravi Dass was celebrated today with religious fervour. A huge congregation was held at the historic shrine at nearby village Chak Hakim. The place wore a festive look. Diwan, kirtan, langar was held. Another function was held at Guru Ravi Dass Gurdwara on the Palahi road. Devotees illuminated their houses.

Amarinder releases book
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 27
On assuming charge as Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh today released a book "Relevance of Guru Ravidas's Philosophy in the Present Millennium" on the life and teachings of Guru Ravidas, edited by Dr Usha Khanna, on the birth anniversary of Guru Ravidas Ji.


A play depicting the life of a ‘Nat Samrat’
Our Correspondent

Patiala, February 27
‘Nat Samrat’, Hindi adaptation of a Sahitya Academy Award winning Marathi play by V.V. Shirvadkar, was today presented by the Kasam Cultural Group in the auditorium of the Central State Library here.

Directed by Sudesh Verma, the script revolves around the life of an aged ‘nautanki’ artiste. Sudesh Verma himself played the role of the aged artiste. Unpopularity of this art form metamorphosis into indifference towards him and his wife by his own siblings. Ignored and maltreated by his children on the pretext that the aged are unable to decipher the style and culture of contemporary society, he and his wife are forced to move from the house of one child to another, but the problem persists as they are ‘embarrassing’ for their own children. Their own daughter forces them to live in the outhouse. This puts a tremendous emotional strain on them and become mentally sick.

Well conceived and directed by Sudesh Verma, the play is supposed to serve as a mirror to the society, but what seemed missing was objectivity. The original Marathi draft portrays problems of modern society and gives balanced treatment to ‘ancient’ and modern viewpoints, but Kasam’s production seems to blame to the present generation for all that is wrong.

The play is a good effort by an amateur group, but the slow pace of the production mars the whole design of the play. Long dialogue are another weak point of the production.


Plea to Vedanti
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, February 27
In a communication to Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, Jathedar of Akal Takht, some Sikh devotees from Nawanshahr and Ludhiana have threatened to take the case of Baba Dhanwant Singh to the “sangat” if transparency is not maintained.

The two-page letter was signed by Mr Sukhdev Singh Bhaur, senior vice-president, SHSAD, and an SGPC executive member, and others.


Patti patients test negative
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 27
The Principal Director, Health Services, Punjab, Mr Rajan Kashyap, has stated that the two suspected plague cases from Patti in Amritsar have tested negative and are most likely patients of tuberculosis.

Meanwhile, the condition of six plague patients at the PGI, Rakesh, Karamjit and Jasbir, continues to be serious. Purshotam who was to be discharged today developed slight fever. Rina Philips is said to be improving while Naveen's condition is said to be stable.


Harbhagwan may be new A-G
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 27
A former President of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association, Mr Harbhagwan Singh, is likely to be appointed as Punjab’s new Advocate-General. His consent has reportedly been taken and formal orders are likely to be issued within a day or so.

Practising in the High Court since 1956, Mr Harbhagwan Singh, has remained Advocate-General of both Punjab and Haryana. He was also a member of the first and second PEPSU Land Commission.

Meanwhile, keeping up with tradition, Advocate-General Hardev Singh Mattewal, along with two Additional Advocates-General and a Deputy Advocate-General, today submitted their resignations.

According to sources, Mr Mattewal handed over his resignation to the Chief Secretary for forwarding it to the Chief Minister. The others to resign include Additional Advocates-General S.C. Sibal and Chetan Mittal besides Deputy Advocate-General H.S. Sidhu. A few other officers are likely to submit their resignations in the coming days.


‘Daire’ impresses students
Our Correspondent

Bathinda, February 27
Students of the local SSD Girls College were spellbound after watching a play, “Daire”, on the prevalence of female foeticide today.

The play was staged as part of a statewide campaign by the National Theatre Arts Society and Union Department of Women and Child Development against female foeticide.

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