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SAD, BJP seek CBI probe into ‘real estate scam’
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 13
The Leader of the Opposition in Punjab and president of the Shiromani Akali Dal, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, has demanded a CBI inquiry into the alleged “real estate scam in Ludhiana” and asked Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, to step down to uphold morality of his office.

Addressing a press conference here today, Mr Badal said the SAD would propose an adjournment motion on the issue when the Vidhan Sabha session started tomorrow.

“It was not the builder, M/s Today Homes, which committed the crime on its own. The money-making in the entire deal was directly linked to Capt Amarinder Singh”, Mr Badal said. The telecast by a private television channel had exposed how the builder of the City Centre in Ludhiana was selling property on black market while pocketing what was supposed to be the share of the Ludhiana Improvement Trust (LIT).

The company and the trust were to share revenue in a 70:30 ratio. The company gave no receipts against the deal, thus causing loss to the trust. The loss to the state exchequer had been accounted to the tune of crores of rupees in that single deal.

Mr Badal, who was accompanied by Mr Sukhbir Badal, Capt Kanwaljit Singh and Mr Manpreet Singh Badal, said reputed builders of the country were ignored while awarding the project, which was billed as one the biggest projects in Punjab.

The Ludhiana City Centre project has a covered area of 45 lakh square feet across 25 acres and it has been allowed to come up without a proper governmental sanction of its plan.

Mr Badal said, “His (Capt Amarinder Singh) interests in the project can be gauged from the fact that he inaugurated the project despite his own government not having sanctioned its plan. Terms and conditions and criteria were changed to favour this company, causing a loss of thousands of crores to the state treasury”.

Even the repeated instructions of the Principal Secretary, Local Bodies, for not opening the bids were ignored and the contract was awarded to Today Homes. The counsel of the government raised 55 serious objections to the deal. The Principal Secretary also raised objections on vital issues, including the absence of bank guarantee and official rate controller to fix the rate of property.

Mr Badal said the company was allowed to sell the space instead of leasing it out. It was allowed to make the payment over a time scale of 24 years, which has never been done in a case involving such a partnership.

Meanwhile, the Punjab unit of the BJP has demanded a CBI probe into the alleged “Ludhiana City Centre scam” .

Terming the scam as a high-level fraud committed in connivance with the state government, the party has demanded criminal cases be registered against the Local Bodies Minister, Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, and the Chairman of the Ludhiana Improvement Trust.

The state BJP president, Mr Avinash Rai Khanna, said: “We also demand that Capt Amarinder Singh should resign from his position owning moral responsibility for the scam”. Party general secretary Vijay Sampla called for scrapping of the deal. 

 

Mega projects: MNCs dictating terms to govts
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 13
The competition between various state governments for wooing investments from top MNCs in their respective states has given an upper hand to these companies. Not satisfied with the tax sops offered by governments for these mega projects, these companies are literally dictating terms by asking for cash investments from the governments.

A case in example is that of German auto major Volkswagen and Indian auto major, Tata Motors, who have asked for cash investment, varying from Rs 500 crore - Rs 1500 crore, from state governments which are interested in inviting them to set up facilities. The companies have also sought free land from the governments, which were interested in inviting these companies to set base in their respective states.

Volkswagen, which is keen on setting up a Rs 1700 crore manufacturing facility in India, has asked for Rs 1500 crore as investment from the Punjab Government. The company is in talks with Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh for setting up its shop. Besides, they are demanding 500 acres of land, free of cost from the government.

On the other hand, Tata Motors, which was being wooed by the governments of Punjab and West Bengal, to set up its small car project, too, had demanded Rs 500 as cash investment from the governments, besides 900 acres of land, free of cost. This is one of the reasons that the Punjab Government lost out on the project, to West Bengal. “We had offered free land to both the companies. In the Tatas’ small car project, they were asking the government to construct the buildings for the company’s unit. Since the company was ready to invest only Rs 800 crore and employ 5000 people, the proposal was not viable,” said a top official in the state government.

Top officials in the Punjab Government informed TNS that though the government was keen to invite these companies, but the sops asked for were financially unviable." Though we offer incentives like electricity duty exemption and stamp duty to all mega projects, but there is a rethink in the government if such glamourous projects should be invited, even though the real term benefit to the state in terms of employment generation would be miniscule as compared to the investment sought,” said a top official in the government. He added that though the two auto majors had demanded Rs 2000 crore investment and free land, but that would have led to employment generation of just 25,000.

Though Punjab has lost out on the Tata small car project, the company officials have again approached the government to set up an ancillary unit for its vehicle project in the state. However, they have not demanded any cash investment for this and a formal proposal regarding the nature of ancillary unit and is yet to be received by the government. 

 

Vidhan Sabha session may be extended
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 13
Bills on the proposed vigilance commission and relief to agriculture indebtedness besides a possible debate on development in the state during the present Congress government are likely to dominate the two-day session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha starting here tomorrow.

Though the programme issued by the Vidhan Sabha Secretariat only indicates obituary references on the first day and legislative business and a motion on adjournment of the House on the second and last day, the chances of the session being extended cannot be ruled out.

The Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, has been repeatedly challenging the Leader of Opposition, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, for a debate on development in Punjab, both during the last SAD-BJP regime and the present government.

The Opposition would not let go any opportunity to get the session extended, even if it is for a debate on development of Punjab comparing during the present regime with the last rule.

Since this session is expected to be the last session of the current Vidhan Sabha, the government would also like to push through some important Bills, especially those relating to the farm sector and agriculture indebtedness.

A massive rally by farmers, owing allegiance to nine organisations, held today and the ongoing dharna by the Bharti Kisan Union (Rajewal group) for the past four days over various issues, including demands for remunerative prices and waiving farm loans, may not be to the liking of the present regime.

The Opposition is likely to take up issues over protests by farmers over forcible acquisition of their land for multinational companies and industrial houses, insignificant or marginal increase in Minimum Support Prices of both wheat and paddy, rising prices of farm inputs and items of daily use besides seeking a possible adjournment motion on Ludhiana land deals.

 

Punjab could be next Florida, says US citrus expert
Maneesh Chhibber
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 13
One of world’s leading experts on citrus fruits, Dr James Keithly, believes Punjab can match Florida (USA) and Brazil, if not outdo these two major orange and other citrus fruit growing centres, in terms of quality and quantity of the citrus produce.

“I am not making a wild guess. I have been coming to Punjab regularly and have studied the climate, soil, location and other factors that are important for citrus cultivation and am sure this state can be the next Brazil and Florida,” Dr Keithly told The Tribune today.

Currently touring Punjab on the invitation of the Council for Citrus and Agro Juicing in Punjab, which is spearheading the latest initiative of the state government in luring farmers in Punjab away from the wheat-paddy cycle to the “more profitable” citrus farming, Dr Keithly said Punjab could be the citrus provider to the world.

“The farmer of Punjab is sitting on a huge opportunity to increase his income over five times. India is at the right time and the right place as far as citrus is concerned,” Dr Keithly,
who is a former Head of Research of Tropicana, said.

Asked for the reason behind his assertion, the expert said there were very few locations around the world that had climatic conditions suitable for growing citrus.

“California and Florida in the USA, Brazil and China are the main contenders for controlling the world citrus market. Of these, the acreage in Florida is declining, while citrus is not a priority for China. Brazil has 80 per cent of the market share of orange juice currently, but its farmers are facing pressure to also grow sugarcane now. As for Punjab, over 80 per cent of the land is climatically suitable for growing citrus,” he added.

Questioned as to why Punjab farmers could be expected to shift from wheat-paddy cycle to oranges and other citrus varieties, Dr Keithly said citrus was a much more paying crop than wheat and paddy.

Mr Himmat Singh, Managing Director, Punjab Agro Industries Corporation, disclosed that the Council for Citrus and Agro Juicing in Punjab had drawn up an ambitious plan to help citrus farmers adopt a scientific method of cultivation and plant the right type of citrus plants.

“The council is geared up to transfer technology directly to farmers and help them create a dominant position for their citrus produce in the world,” he said.

He added that currently the average yield that a Kinnow grower in Punjab got was 7-8 tonnes per acre. “On the other hand, a grower in Brazil gets 30-40 tonnes per acre. In Punjab, we had planted various varieties of citrus in about 1000 acres about four years ago and have just harvested the first crop. The yield and the quality are of international standards and we will be harvesting the first commercial crop next year from these plants. The farmer in Punjab can increase his yield by as much as five times," he said.

Mr V.S. Chimni, CEO, Council for Citrus and Agro Juicing in Punjab, stated that the council had come out with a technology transfer scheme that effectively de-risked the farmer and made it financially lucrative for him to move away from the wheat-paddy cycle and grow citrus instead.

“We are offering two options to the farmer. In option one, the council will take the land of the farmer on rent for 12 years, give sustenance to the land owner based on the soil quality with guaranteed enhancement of the rent at the rate of 20 per cent after every three years. Under option two, the council will take the land on rent for 12 years, pay sustenance based on soil quality for first six years, with guaranteed enhancement at the rate of 20 per cent. For the balance six years, the net profit from the sale of fruits would be shared on 50-50 basis,” he disclosed.

 

Securing the dignity of women
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 13
Come September 29 and Lehra Gaga in Sangrur will have the first taste of self-reliance. After long last, the suicide capital of Punjab will have a chance to turn its destiny around, thanks to the interest Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK) has shown in the well-being of the traumatised belt as well as the state.

Known for empowering women by extending small loans at affordable interest rates, the RMK now plans workshops in Punjab. The objective is to strengthen the voluntary sector engaged in imparting skills to women who have consolidated themselves into self-help groups (SHGs). Not yet on the micro credit financing map of the country, the state will finally have its share, confirms Ms Snehlata Kumar, Executive Director of the National Credit Fund for Women, better known as the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK).

In Chandigarh today to oversee preparations for the launch of RMK services in Punjab, Ms Kumar spoke to The Tribune about the significance of the National Fund which is the government’s most crucial instrument for poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment. Having been with the Fund for over a year, Ms Kumar has given it a new lease of life by introducing novel loan facilities like working capital term loan and family loan. Not just that, she has been at the heart of significant decisions, including a concessional micro-credit financing package for the north-east and a special micro-credit package for disaster prone areas of the country.

But right now, Punjab is on Ms Kumar’s mind as she says, “We extend small loans through our intermediaries which can be government bodies or reputed NGOs. The idea is to meet India’s demand of Rs 65000 crore of micro credit in the informal financial sector. We start by appointing our intermediaries who then extend the finance to SHGs. In Punjab we have appointed Bisnauli Sarvodaya Gramodyog Sewa Sanstha as our front office. The NGO has a reputation in livelihood management. Its formal appointment will take place on September 29 at Lehra Gaga. The Minister for Women and Child Development, Ms Renuka Choudhary, will also grace the function.”

As regards RMK and its profile in micro-credit financing — the body has sanctioned Rs 190 crore since it was first established in 1993. “The Fund was set up with an initial corpus of Rs 31 crore and it has been revolved five times over. We are now expecting an additional grant of Rs 10 crore from our ministry. As far as actual disbursement goes, it has been about Rs 152 crore since the time of establishment,” said Ms Kumar, who has to her name several credits as administrator.

A celebrated bureaucrat, she is most respected for her roles in saving the lives of Sikh families settled in Katni where she was posted as the district collector when the anti-Sikh riots broke out.

Now as in charge of the Fund, Ms Kumar is setting high standards of discipline and integrity among her partner NGOs. As a result, several NGOs which have been partnering RMK in extending micro finance have also been selected as business associates by MNCs like ABN Amro. These MNCs are meeting their obligation of extending credit through RMK’s intermediaries.

As regards RMK, it enjoys a high rate of loan recovery — a whopping 91 per cent. Ms Kumar explains, “Our recovery rate is high because we follow strict guidelines to maintain our standards.” The RMK has blacklisted 100 NGOs for various omissions and commissions and is always on the lookout for skilful partners.

 

Copter was placed at govt disposal a month ago
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 13
The AS-365 Dauphin helicopter carrying the Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, which crash-landed yesterday was placed at the disposal of the Punjab Government just about a month ago.

The aircraft belongs to commercial helicopter operator Pawan Hans, from which the Punjab Government has been leasing a helicopter for VIP use. The earlier Dauphin helicopter being used by the state government had been sent for scheduled maintenance and overhaul.

Stated to be one of European manufacturer Eurocopter’s most successful designs, it is widely used as a corporate transport, police, emergency medical services and search and rescue helicopter. It is also in the service of several military forces and coast guard organisations, including that of India. It was designed as a replacement for the French Alouettee-III helicopter, which is still in Indian service as the Chetak. About 650 Dauphins have been produced.

It is a twin-engined helicopter with a load carrying capacity of 1,900 kg and can seat 10 persons. Punjab Government sources say the helicopter which crashed yesterday was the newer “N” version, which has a higher payload capacity than some of its other versions.

 

Polytechnic staff threaten stir
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, September 13
The Punjab Government's decision of forming societies to run government polytechnic institutions will be a disastrous step in the interest of the institutions, said Gurbakhsish Singh, president of the Punjab Polytechnic Staff Association.

Addressing the media here today, he said the polytechnic institutions were making good profit and there was no reason to hand it over to private hands. Moreover, it was the state's responsibility to impart education among students and monetary benefits should not be the main motive.

Gurbakhsish Singh said they would try hard to save the government institutions and they would even go for fast in case the government did not listen to them.

"We will demonstrate and organise road march against the government's action to handover the institutions to societies as the government's decision is not in the interest of students, teachers and the future of the institutions," said he.

Mr Singh said there were more than 40 per cent posts vacant in the polytechnic institution and the government said it did not have enough funds to hire more staff. The Chief Minister, Capt. Amarinder Singh, had said the state had Rs 25,000 crore funds then why his government was reluctant to hire more staff for the institutions, questioned Mr Singh.

Another office-bearer S.P Singh said every institute was making a profit of Rs 80 lakh per annum then why the government was interested in handing over the institutions to private hands. These institutions were made on lands that poor farmers of the state had donated in the interest of the children so that they could get good quality education, said Mr Singh.

The office-bearers said the result of the government institutions were better than those of the private institutions. They also appealed the Chief Minister to look into the matter and save the government institutions from the private hands. 

 

Ex-MLA booked on ‘flimsy’ ground
Jupinderjit Singh
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, September 13
In a shocking case of police negligence that smells of political victimisation, a former Health Minister during the SAD-BJP regime has been booked on the basis of a certain order of the Punjab State Commission for Scheduled Castes. However, the commission order has not said anything against the leader.

The revelation came to the fore on Tuesday when The Tribune got a copy of the order on the basis of which former MLA Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal was booked for allegedly passing casteist remarks to a band master of Nankana Sahib Public School. He was booked at the Sadar police station along with Ms Inderjit Kaur Chawla, acting Principal of the school.

The order has only recommended registration of a case against the Principal and has nowhere mentioned the name of the politician.

Mr A.S. Rai, SSP, said the police was examining the order. He insisted that the order said the case had to be registered on the basis of the application of the complainant, which was put up before the commission and carried Mr Grewal’s name.

However, the copy of the order with The Tribune does not mention anything about the application.

Mr Grewal said he was seeking legal opinion on the matter.

Interestingly, the police had booked him on the commission order only. But, two previous inquiries against him found him not guilty.

The order said that the Deputy Commissioner, Ludhiana, who was appointed the inquiry officer by the commission in the case, had said that the allegations levelled by the complainant, Mr Chamkaur Singh, against the Principal were found true and hence a case under Section 3 (i) and (x) of the Act should be registered against her.

 

Cabinet to discuss quota for Mazhbi Sikhs
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 13
The last session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha starts tomorrow while the Punjab Council of Ministers will also be meeting tomorrow morning. Among other issues, the Council of Ministers will take up the matter of providing reservation to Mazhbi Sikhs and various Bills that are to be put up during the session.

Meanwhile, the committee on employee-related matters, headed by Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, has invited leaders of employee unions at a meeting tomorrow afternoon to present their opinion. 

 


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