Monday, October 2, 2000,
Chandigarh, India

L U D H I A N A   S T O R I E S


Providential escape for 1,000 guests as marriage palace catches fire
Safety measures come into question
From Vimal Sumbly
Tribune News Service

LUDHIANA, Oct 1 — Thanks to the timely use of fire extinguishers and sufficient availability of water, over 1,000 people had a providential escape when a fire broke out in the marriage palace where they were attending a reception here last night.

The fire broke out in Saggar House Marriage Palace, situated on the Rani Jhansi road, around 10.15 p.m. The gatekeeper said that the fire was apparently caused by an electric short-circuit. Some of the eyewitnesses revealed that it started from the ceiling of the specially set-up tent. First some sparks were noticed. Within no time the cotton ceiling of the tent caught fire.

People were yet to start dinner at the reception hosted by the owner of a leading sari store after the marriage ceremony of his son. Most of them were sitting inside the tent when the fire broke out. As someone raised the alarm all the people rushed towards the only exit point towards the main Rani Jhansi road. "It was an utter chaos and confusion as everyone tried to reach out into the open," said Mr Dinesh Prashar, who was present at the time when fire broke out.

People complained that the telephone number of the Fire Service Department remained continuously engaged for quite some time. However, the staff at the marriage palace did not lose courage. They put the fire extinguishers into use immediately. Water was also used for the extinguishing the fire. Within no time the fire was controlled as electricity was switched off. Any major damage to the tent house was also averted. By the time the fire tenders reached, all the ember had already been extinguished.

There was only one entrance. However, the tent was instantly opened up from all the sides, thus averting any major tragedy. The bridegroom was the first to leave the stage followed by the DJ who was directing the music for dance at the party.

Although there was no loss of life, once again the incident has raised the question about the fire safety measures taken at the marriage palaces that have mushroomed in the city during the past few years. There are a number of lavishly constructed marriage palaces. However, most of them are believed to be flouting the various specifications set by the authorities, particularly with regard to fire safety measures.

Immediately after the Mandi Dabwali fire tragedy, which left over 200 people, mostly children, dead about five years back, the authorities here had issued certain guidelines to the marriage palaces.

The local fire service authorities here claimed that the palaces were regularly checked by their officials. They said all the palaces followed the specifications and guidelines set by the administration.

However, in fact most of the marriage palaces flout the maximum specifications. Particularly, there are the minimum openings in these palaces, although fire extinguishers have been installed in adequate number. The officials also regularly check the fire extinguishing equipment and chemicals.

On the other hand, the fire services here also appear to be far too less equipped to meet any eventuality. For a population of about 30 lakh people, there are only four fire stations, including three substations. An official in the department revealed that these four stations were set up 20 years ago and no additional station was set up. Moreover, against a required strength of about 150 personnel, there are only about 50 persons in all the four stations.

According to the specified norms, eight persons are required for one vehicle. There are 20 vehicles in Ludhiana with a strength of just about 50 persons, making average availability per vehicle slightly more than two.


Robberies force panic buying of illegal arms
From Ruchika Mohindra
Tribune News Service

LUDHIANA, Oct 1 — Armed robberies in summers in and around Ludhiana and the Jagraon subdivision have increased in the past few years. Following this, there has been an increase in the sale of illegal arms and ammunition in the area. In a panic reaction, most residents of these areas are seeking arms licences from the district authorities.

This year, six persons were killed and several others were injured in numerous attacks by armed robbers. Most of these robbers are believed to be members of the kale kachhewale gang. After a lull of almost two months, the house of a Kargil War hero of the Mullanpur subdivision was robbed past week. Though the police believes it to be a work of Sikandar Gang or a disgruntled relative, nothing conclusive has come up so far in the investigations.

This incident has once again raised an alarm, especially in the peripheral areas of the city and the Jagraon subdivision. The number of persons who have applied for arms licences in the office of the Deputy Commissioner has increased by more than fifty per cent in the past three months. Sources say that there has also been an increase in the illegal selling of arms, particularly in Raikot, Jagraon, Mullanpur and Payal.

Sources say that the arms and ammunition that are being sold to residents of this area, are actually part of the contraband that was to be distributed among various terrorist outfits in the days of militancy in the state. These arms had been hidden at various places by militants in wake of the police crackdown in the early 90s.

All these arms are now reaching the homes of scared residents, who are buying these at astronomical prices (anything between Rs 30,000 and Rs 65,000. The Anti-Goonda Staff led by SI Gurpreet Singh today arrested a person, Harpal Singh, from the Rahon Road near Gaunsgarh village with a .303 rifle and three cartridges.

Reportedly, he wanted to test the rifle in an open area. He had bought the rifle past year after an armed attack on his house. He had bought this from a resident of Raikot at Rs 50,000. While Rs 30,000 had already been paid to the supplier, the remaining sum was to be given to him after he had brought Harpal the licence for the weapon.

The rifle is an old one and the cartridges have been manufactured in 1940s. Sources said, because this rifle was no longer manufactured and was a non-prohibited weapon, it might have been part of a contraband meant for militants.

The sources said the number of persons who had applied for the arms licenses in May was 450 compared to 275 in April. In June, the number increased to 475. Although in July, it came down to 395, in August the number reached 475 again. In the first 13 days of September, the number of applicants was 300.

According to officials who issue the licenses, most of the applicants said they were applying for the licenses due to spurt in armed robberies in their areas.

Both police districts do not have enough staff for carrying out night patrolling. Authorities have asked villagers to take out thikri pheras. Though thikri pheras were introduced in most villages, people were scared of moving about much when unarmed. In many villages, residents procured licenses for arms that were to be given to persons on the thikri pheras. In some cases, residents chose to buy smuggled arms.


10 Markfed employees opt for VRS
From Our Correspondent

LUDHIANA, Oct 1 — Markfed, one of the largest cooperatives in Asia, has introduced a voluntary retirement scheme for its employees. The scheme has been introduced by the Managing Director, Markfed, Mr D. S. Bains.

About 10 employees have opted for the VRS. These employees, besides another one who retired on superannuation, were given a touching farewell at a function organised by Markfed.

Besides, Ms Kamla Rani, a peon, who retired after superanuation, those who volunteered for the retirement are Mr Harbhajan Singh, Field Officer, Samrala; Mr Khushal Singh, Field Officer, Doraha; Mr Amarjit Singh Shergill, Mr Mangat Singh and Mr Sita Ram, mechanics, Mr Gurcharan Singh and Mr Sukhdev Singh, operators, Mr Jagbir Singh, fitter, Mr Baldev Singh, daftri, and Mr Mohinderpal, sweeper.

According to a press release, cheques of retirement benefits amounting to Rs 43.85 lakh were handed over to the employees by Mr Bal Mukand Sharma, District Manager, Markfed. Besides, these employees were also honoured by the Markfed Employees Welfare Club with mementoes and special gifts.

On behalf of the retiring employees, Mr Amarjit Singh Shergill, demanded that Markfed should introduce pension scheme for its employees. Mr Bhupinder Singh, President, Markfed Field Employees Union and also President, Markfed Employees Welfare Club, informed that the MD had already earmarked Rs 6.5 crore for incorporating a trust for this purpose.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Sharma, while praising the working and honesty of the retiring employees, prayed for their good health and happy life after retirement.


Are pin-pricking incidents panic reaction?
Tribune News Service

LUDHIANA, Oct 1 — Are the pin-pricking incidents being reported in various parts of the megacity actually a part of a gang out to spread terror among the residents or are just a figment of imagination and rumours that has taken the residents by storm?

Though the police has been vehemently denying the existence of any such gang, cases of people found unconscious in busy places like the bus stand, railway station and festival venues like the Dasehra melas being organised at various places during the past one week have definitely caused some concern among the masses.

In fact, the police, apart from categorically denying the reports, has not been able to explain the occurrence of such cases. They only say that as no person who had felt unconscious after the alleged pin-pricking has been robbed or physically harmed, the involvement of some gang cannot be ascertained.

Also, it is worthwhile to mention here that none of the "victims'' was found to have any mark on the part where they claimed that they had been pricked. Even today an eight-year-old child, a resident of Soodan Mohalla, near Daresi Ground, was reported as having been a victim of pin-pricking and had then become unconscious.

Earlier, too, 10 such instances have come to light. A few days ago, a middle-aged woman was found unconscious at the bus stand. The woman was later admitted to the Civil Hospital. However, it was later found that she had been unconscious not because of any pin-pricking, but because of an alleged overdose of certain pills.

Another victim, Balwinder, admitted to Bhagwan Ram Charitable Hospital here on Friday stated that he felt a pricking sensation at Daresi Ground where he had gone to see a festival. He said he too could not understand the motive as he was not robbed.

Just a few days ago, another such victim was brought to the Civil Hospital. He told that he was standing at the railway station when he felt a pin-prick at his back and soon he lost consciousness.

Four days ago, five such cases were reported from Clock Tower, Daresi Ground and parts of old Ludhiana. One such case from a cinema hall had also come to light.

However, the police maintains that in spite of a thorough investigation they have not been able to establish anything in these incidents. "In all probability, the 'victims' are either falling unconscious because of claustrophobia in the crowded places or because of consuming some unhealthy food prepared at these melas," said a senior police officer.


Ludhiana to have a world class City Centre
By Kuldip Bhatia

LUDHIANA, Oct 1 — When the prestigious ‘city centre’ project, conceived by the Ludhiana Improvement Trust (LIT) is in place, the industrial capital of the state would have a new land mark in the infrastructural development. The project, estimated to cost Rs100 crore would be spread over a sprawling 25.25 acres in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar and would be named after the great martyr.

Speaking to Ludhiana Tribune about the ambitious plan, the chairman of LIT Mr M.M.Vyas said, “There is no central place today in the megapolis, where market contacts can be made without going through an agency. The proposed complex is visualised as the single common platform for promoting the indigenous skills and products of Punjab in general and Ludhiana city in particular.”

The soul of the ‘city centre’ would cater to the garment and allied exporters’ needs to keep on permanent display their products and to showcase the entrepreneurial skills available in this part of the country. The project, he added, in broad terms involved conceptualisation, planning, designing and developing a commercial centre of international standards to provide a mix of business, leisure, residential and utility buildings, cultural hub and to become an aesthetic asset for urban fabric of the city.

Mr Vyas’s eyes lit up with a sense of pride when he speaks about the proposed facilities in the complex. “The city centre will have five main sections. The Mall — with shopping arcades, showrooms and offices, The Health Centre — comprising first aid post, OPD, emergency, indoor hospital, a helipad, the Podium — to provide hotel site, financial institutions, banks, post office and provision for a roof top swimming pool and The Square — which would have departmental stores, hotel, exhibition halls and a trade centre and The Forum for art gallery, an auditorium, food plaza, cinema complex, library, museum and cyber cafes.

The Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation, Dr S.S. Sandhu, who also held the charge of Chairman LIT last year, the project was conceived, had gone for a national level competition for architectural designs for the project with a first prize of Rs 2 lakh, on the basis of which, the design submitted by Arkitektural Grid, New Delhi was finally selected.

On a total site area of 25.25 acre (997524 square feet), the City Centre will have a total built up area of 3299670 square feet, maximum ground coverage of 50 per cent (549945 square feet), total height up to 100 feet.

The ‘City Centre’, even before taking off, has had its share of controversy, more of the kind of political push and pulls, rather than genuine one. In the initial stage, when the project was being conceptualised, a provision was added to have a 4 acre indoor stadium as a part of the complex, which the engineers and the architect later found unsuitable and ill-conceived.

Mr Vyas observed — “All those involved at the planning stage, even the business community and industry were of the view that such a high class trade and industrial centre was no place for a stadium.” But unmindful of the locational disadvantage and larger good of the project and the city, some persons were trying to make political capital of the issue and it was a tough task to make these people realise that their stand was wrong. The LIT Chairman asserted that he was all for the promotion of sports and creation of infrastructure and other facilities for the sports persons but things have to be done in a planned and systematic manner.


One dead in accident
Tribune News Service

LUDHIANA, Oct 1 — A scooterist was crushed to death by an oil tanker on Ferozepore Road around 11.30 p.m. last night.

The deceased, identified as Amarjit Singh Bhullar, was reportedly returning home in Bhai Randhir Singh Nagar when his scooter was hit by an oil tanker bearing a registration number of Uttar Pradesh. The accident was so severe that the body was almost cut into two parts.


Spy’s son made his best efforts

APROPOS of the front-page story of the disillusioned spy, Lachhman Singh, in Ludhiana Tribune, I wish to state that it is true that he was kept in a Pakistani jail and orders for his execution (declared as a condemned prisoner) were passed. His release from captivity became possible due to untiring efforts by his minor son, Sadhu Singh.

The boy used to work as a labourer to support his mother and to spend money for approaching the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi, and also the Pakistan authorities. I know this, because the entire correspondence with both the governments was carried out through me. He used to weep in separation of his father. From morning till night, he used to do physical labour and visited me in the morning or evening to show if there was any response to his correspondence and to write petitions, appeals, reminders and response. This letter writing continued for years together.

In addition to this, he used to pray for the early release of his father.

From the statement of Lachhman Singh, published in Ludhiana Tribune, it appears that he has shown disregard for the sacrifices made by Sadhu Singh.

Model Gram, Ludhiana

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