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Thursday, October 22, 1998
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Border farmers to be compensated
From Ajay Banerjee and Manoj Dhiman

HUSSAINIWALA (Indo-Pak border) Oct 21 — The Union Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes today expressed the hope that problems between India and its neighbours could be resolved through talks.

Mr Fernandes was talking to mediapersons during his visit to this border outpost this afternoon.

The Defence Minister said he was satisfied over the recent Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan. The deadlock had been broken between the two countries and issues had been identified, he added.

When asked if talks with Pakistan were justified in view of the fact that the neighbouring country was promoting insurgency and firing at Indian posts, the Defence Minister said that the two Prime Ministers expressed satisfaction with the talks.

Mr Fernandes was on a two-day visit to forward posts in the western sector in Punjab. During his visit today he talked to the jawans posted along the international border.

He expressed satisfaction at the preparedness of the Indian troops saying "I will go back to Delhi fully convinced that there is nothing to worry about the security of the country".

On the issue of farmers whose fields are on the other side of the fence, he said the central government, in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Punjab Government was thinking of providing financial compensation, including subsidy for these farmers. These farmers cannot grow any cash crops and need assistance. A decision in this regard will be taken soon, he stated.

Known for his quick decisions, Mr Fernandes, however, refrained from comment on what should be the exact amount of assistance or subsidy. The Punjab Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal has already held discussions in Delhi about the matter, he added. "Today I saw the problem first hand", the minister said.

The Centre would also take action on the change of course by the Ravi. "There are reasons to believe that Pakistan was behind the diversions", he added while clarifying that there was no plan to have concrete embankment on the left bank.

Earlier, Mr Fernandes laid wreaths on the samadhis of legendary freedom fighters Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, located near the border on the banks of the river Sutlej. He also paid tributes at the samadhi of "Punjab mata", the mother of Bhagat Singh.

He ruled out the opening of the Hussainiwala border in the near future. Cross-border trade and travel has been stopped since 1971. Local residents have been demanding that the border be opened up. Mr Fernandes said that the issue of imposition of President's rule in Bihar has not been closed yet.

P.C. Nagpal adds from Fazilka: Mr George Fernandes also visited Sabina checkpost on the sensitive Indo-Pak border in Fazilka sector today.

Talking to mediapersons on this occasion, Mr Fernandes said Indian forces were capable of giving a befitting reply to any enemy.

In reply to a question on the US Nagar issue the Defence Minister denied reports in the press today that any decision taken by the committee headed by him shall be binding upon the Akali Dal. He said Mr Parkash Singh Badal and Mr Kalyan Singh, who are members of the panel shall be consulted on this issue and a lasting solution shall be arrived at through consensus.

In reply to a question regarding internationalisation of the Kashmir issue and efforts by some countries to pressurise India Mr Fernandes denied any such pressure. He said that representatives of the United Nations were present in Kashmir. On dismissal of the Rabri Devi government in Bihar he observed that it was the prerogative of the Union Cabinet to again recommend the proposal to President but refused to give his personal opinion on the issue. The Defence Minister denied rumours that his visit had any link with the possible opening of a road route between India and Pakistan in this area, saying that this issue was relevant to the Commerce Ministry.

In response to another question on co-ordination of the Samata Party with other political parties in the ensuing assembly elections in four states, Mr Fernandes said his party would enter into poll alliance with the BJP but no decision had been taken regarding alliances with other parties. Defence Minister emphatically denied reports regarding demoralisation of defence forces in Jammu & Kashmir he said contrary to these reports the morale of forces is quite high there and they are capable of meeting challenges of insurgency and terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir which is on the verge of collapse.

On the demand of local residents that Asafwala memorial, being managed by a private trust, village Asafwala, 6 kilometres from here, be declared a national monument Mr Fernandes said he had issued instructions to senior Army officers in this regard.

An important sidelight of the visit of the minister was that no representative of the Punjab Government was present.back

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