Monday, December 31, 2001, Chandigarh, India


P U N J A B    S T O R I E S



BJP’s poll campaign launch a poor show
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

Rajpura, December 30
Formal launch of the BJP election campaign in Punjab proved to be a total washout here today even as the party announced that it would contest the same 23 seats it had contested last time and was waiting for Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to decide on three additional seats for which it had staked claim.

Cold weather was a damper with very few people coming to welcome the BJP rath yatra which arrived from Chandigarh at the rally held in the grain market here.

Almost complete boycott of the rally by residents of the town, upset the party leaders. The rath yatra also failed to attract crowds on the way from Chandigarh with very few vehicles being part of the convoy. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, who was expected, did not come.

The small crowd comprised mainly villagers. They too got up after Finance Minister, Capt Kanwaljit Singh, finished speech, so that senior BJP leaders like general secretary O.P. Kohli and state president Brij Lal Rinwa had to address barely 200 to 300 people.

The party, however, struck a conciliatory note on seat-sharing with the SAD. Briefing newsmen about negotiations held with the SAD on this issue, Punjab Local Bodies Minister Balramji Dass Tandon said status quo would be maintained on the issue with the BJP getting the 23 seats it contested last time. He said, however, the party had staked its claim to three more seats and a final decision in this regard would be taken by the Chief Minister.

Mr Rinwa said the SAD had been requested to give Sangrur, Budhlada and Ludhiana West seats to the party. He said the Chief Minister was expected to take a decision on the seats in two to three days. Admitting that the party was no longer demanding more seats than it received last time, the stress would be on chances of winning a final decision.

Meanwhile the BJP indulged in Congress bashing at the rally with all senior leaders, including Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and Punjab Minister Madan Mohan Mittal, accusing the Congress of divide and rule politics besides being responsible for the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Finance Minister Capt Kanwaljit Singh and SGPC chief Kirpal Singh Badungar also spoke on similar lines. Capt Kanwaljit said the “bhaicharak ekta” ushered in by the Akali-BJP combine was the biggest achievement adding this had been followed by all-round development in the state.

The entire BJP leadership did not utter a single word against the Panthic Morcha or its senior leaders which political analysts feel still leaves the door open for Akali unity. Mr Brij Lal Rinwa was most enthusiastic on the issue of a merger saying “it is good for us if they meet as well as for the atmosphere of the state”. However he said the BJP would only try to affect a merger between both parties if there was a specific request for the same.

The BJP rath left for Ludhiana via Mandi Gobindgarh in the evening where also a rally is slated for today. The rath is expected to tour all Assembly seats the BJP is contesting.


All sitting BJP MLAs may not get ticket
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

COMMENTING on the action taken by the Election Commission of India against Punjab officials, the President of the Punjab unit of the BJP, Mr Brij Lal Rinwa said that “the commission appears to have over-reacted in the case of Punjab”. He said that his party was appreciative of the efforts of the Commission to set things right but its action should be preceded by proper inquiry and verification of facts. 

Chandigarh, December 30
The BJP will drop the names of certain sitting MLAs from the list of candidates for the Assembly elections in Punjab. A clear indication to this effect was given here today by the President of the Punjab unit of the BJP, Mr Brij Lal Rinwa.

Mr Rinwa said that at certain places the party candidates could be changed.

“We will decide the renomination of the sitting MLAs after properly examining their merit, performance, integrity and honesty”. It was obvious from Mr Rinwa’s observation that the party has reservations about the performance of certain MLAs.

Even the Congress has not renominated all its sitting MLAs. The President of the Shiromani Akali Dal, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, is also expected to deny the party ticket to at least five sitting MLAs.

Meanwhile, the BJP is all set to question the patriotism of the Congress and the left parties in the Assembly election. It will make “national security” the main issue in the elections and mount a full-blooded attack on the Congress and the left parties for preventing the passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill in Parliament.

Mr Rinwa said that though the National Democratic Alliance( NDA) had toned down certain provisions of the Bill, the Congress and the left parties continued to oppose it even after that. The Centre has now decided to repromulgate POTO because of non-passing of the Bill.

The BJP leader was of the view that the Congress had sponsored and promoted terrorism in Punjab in the past decade. “During the SAD-BJP alliance’s rule in the past five years, there was no incident of terrorism in the state”, he pointed out. When the SAD-BJP took over the reigns of power in the state five years ago, the Congress was the first to raise the bogey of terrorism and to say that terrorism would stage a comeback during the alliance’s rule.

Mr Rinwa today left for a two week “Sadbhavana and Vikas Rath Yatra” of Punjab. He is accompanied by senior leaders like Mr Avinash Jaiswal, Mr Madan Mohan Mittal, Mr Manoranjan Kalia, Mr Swarna Ram, Mr Sukhminder Pal Singh Grewal and Vaneet Joshi, in charge of the media cell of the Party.

The yatra left for Rajpura where it would be received by Mr Balramji Dass Tandon, a senior leader of the BJP. The objective of the yatra is to highlight the “achievements” of the SAD-BJP Government and to mobilise activists of the alliance. Before the flag off, Mr Rinwa and Mr Jaiswal went to Mr Badal’s residence to seek his blessings for the yatra.


Controversy over poll panel letter
P. P. S. Gill

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 30
Election-related issues have rattled the state government much before the issue of a formal notification. The reported additions and deletions of names from the voters’ list in three districts — Amritsar, Kapurthala and Muktsar — saw the Election Commission of India proceed against 13 officials, including three Deputy Commissioners.

The commission directed the transfer of three Deputy Commissioners, Mr Narinderjit Singh (Amritsar), Mr Vivek Aggarwal (Kapurthala) and Mr K.J.S. Cheema (Muktsar), and one Naib-Tehsildar. It also asked for the suspension of at least nine other officials. The Deputy Commissioners, in turn, sought stay orders from the High Court, which has been granted and the case listed for regular bench on January 7.

Even before the ink had dried on this issue, the Punjab Chief Electoral Officer, wrote to the Chief Secretary on December 27 requesting that ‘’all IAS/PCS officers, who have completed four years in a district, even in spells, will have to be moved out. This may also be done in case of those who are in their home districts. A proposal to this effect, if any, be sent for clearance from clearance’’.

But the very next day, December 28, the letter was withdrawn after consultations with the Commission which said that fresh instructions were being issued. Despite the state being aware of the withdrawal of the letter, the matter has been taken up at the highest levels.

The Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, and the Chief Secretary, Mr N.K. Arora, acted fast and wrote identical letters, the former to the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the latter to the Chief Election Commissioner, Mr J.M. Lyngdoh. This was on December 28, the same day the Chief Electoral Officer withdrew the letter of December 27. It is learnt that the December 27 letter had caused a flutter in the administration.

Mr Badal in his letter has requested Mr Vajpayee to take up the matter with the Election Commission of India at an appropriate forum to review the decision (December 27 letter) not only in public interest but also in the interest of national security.

The letter begins with a reference to the ‘’escalating tension’’ on the Indo-Pakistan border and the panic situation in the three border districts. It goes on to mention the scars of the 1965 and 1971 wars and wounds of the Kargil conflict and how people were fleeing due to an alarming build-up of the armed forces on both sides of the border.

Mr Badal reiterates the government’s resolve to hold free and fair elections and to protect civil liberties. Talking of the morale of the Punjabis, he has stated that civil-army liaison was playing an important role in extending logistic support to the Army and categorically states: ‘’I had never expressed even the slightest reservation regarding the desirability of holding elections in Punjab in the given situation because it might have affected the morale of the people and also being fully aware of the probability of the irresponsible elements attaching political motives to a pure and simple administrative function.’’

But the letter does stress that the moving out of a large number of IAS/PCS officers would be unnecessary, particularly those in the state civil service. Such a step would be “crippling destabilisation’’ not only of normal administration and election preparedness but also of the critical functioning of the civil-army and providing relief to the fleeing population.

Mr Arora in his letter puts forth similar arguments while assuring that right vigil would be exercised over all functionaries connected with the election work. If anybody was found guilty of dereliction of duty or if any reference was received from the Commission regarding any failure on the part of anyone, suitable action, including transfers, would certainly be taken.


EVMs to be brought from Bengal, UP
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 30
Twentythree thousand electronic voting machines (EVMs) demanded by Punjab for the coming Assembly elections would come from West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. The trucks carrying these EVMs will be escorted by men and officers from paramilitary forces (PMF).

The EVMs available in Punjab are being transported to Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal. This is being done to eliminate even the “remotest possibility of tampering the chip of these EVMs”.

It may be recalled here that the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Capt Amarinder Singh, had demanded last year that elections in Punjab should be held by using conventional ballot paper as he alleged that there was “large scale rigging of EVMs during various byelections in the State during the past two years.”

Though the Election Commission rejected all the allegations made by the PPCC chief, it also decided to take all possible preventive steps to eliminate any chances of doubting the fairness of the conduct of the poll. One of the decisions taken was that EVMs available in a State shall not be used in the elections there.

Transporting of EVMs from West Bengal to Punjab would not only be costly but also a time consuming affair as each convoy of trucks carrying these machines from various parts of Bengal would be escorted by PMF personnel and officials of the Elections Department.

The training of polling staff for use of EVMs would start from New Year Day. Only last week, the Elections Department got the clearance to fill all the vacant posts of clerks and helpers by making recruitments from the open market. Normally, the process to fill these posts starts about a year in advance. But the files for sanction of these posts remained caught in redtapism. Since the staff is being recruited at the last moment, it may have to do without proper training.

Though the official figures about the number of electorate in the State are still not available, unconfirmed sources put them at about 1.60 crores, nearly eight lakh more than the electorate of the 1997 Assembly elections.

But since the Election Commission took a serious view of irregularities in the voters’ lists reported from certain parts of the State, the Deputy Commissioners, who are also Returning Officers, reportedly took back the lists from the Election Commission here, for a recheck and make sure that additions and deletions in the voters’ lists are genuine and in order.

So the exact number of electorate who will participate in the February 13 elections will be known only in the first week of the New Year.

As far as the number of polling stations are concerned, they will remain the same. In the revised guidelines, the Election Commission has raised the number of electorate per polling station from the existing 1,200 to 1,500 mainly because of use of EVMs. So the number would remain unchanged at 18,820 polling stations as were there in the last Lok Sabha elections.


HC stays order on Muktsar DC
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 30
Taking up a petition filed by Muktsar’s Deputy Commissioner K. J. S. Cheema claiming that he was ordered to be transferred by the Election Commission of India without jurisdiction, Mr Justice R. L. Anand of the Punjab and Haryana High Court today stayed the operation of an order issued by the state relieving him from his present assignment and asking him to report for duty in the personnel department.

Claiming to have been posted as Muktsar’s Deputy Commissioner for about a year, Mr Cheema, in his petition, stated that he was not called upon at any stage, nor was any complaint made against him, prior to the issuance of the impugned directions.

Describing as “patently stigmatic” the directions issued by the Election Commission of India to the state asking it to transfer the petitioner, his counsel added that the order “lacked objectivity and was a result of total non-application of mind”.

His counsel added that all the complaints received by the petitioner regarding irregularities concerning the special revision of the electoral rolls were dealt without delay and there was no complaint against Mr Cheema alleging inaction.

Challenging the Election Commission’s orders asking the state to transfer the petitioner, he claimed that there was not even an iota of evidence against the petitioner to suggest that he had failed to supervise the working of the Electoral Registration Officer.

After going through the documents and the arguments, Mr Justice Anand observed that the petition had been presented at his residence during vacations and directed the office “to put up the matter on January 7, 2002, before a Division Bench of the High Court, according to the roster”. The judge further ruled: “Operation of the impugned orders is hereby stayed qua the petitioner”.

Mr Justice Anand, it may be recalled, had on Saturday stayed the operation of order passed by the Election Commission of India asking the state to transfer Kapurthala Deputy Commissioner Vivek Aggarwal out of his present assignment, along with order also asking the state to transfer Amritsar’s Deputy Commissioner Narinderjit Singh.


Free power leads PSEB into debt trap
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

Patiala, December 30
The continuation of the free power facility to the farming sector despite disturbing signals led the Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB) into a debt trap this year with a debt servicing burden on nearly Rs 14,00 crore which crippled its finances and led to problems in paying for even the power and coal being bought by it.

The government also put an end to the experiment of trying to run the board on professional lines by putting a technocrat — Gurcharan Singh Sohal — at the helm of affairs. Mr Sohal was ousted by being forced to go on medical leave some months before his tenure was to end.

The only silver lining was steamrolling of the Ranjit Sagar hydel project from which the board was able to get around 30 lakh units per day during peak season. However, full advantage could not be taken of the project mainly due to a poor monsoon. Besides this another feather in the cap for the PSEB was the initiation of a unique scheme envisaging giving uninterrupted power supply to the rural areas on the urban pattern which benefited millions of people.

The government dug its heels as far as the facility of giving free power to the farming sector was concerned. Even though former board Chairman G.S. Sohal also hinted many a times at the need to make the board financially viable by doing away with the scheme, the Badal government would have none of it. This, however, led the board to borrow more loans to service its old debt which saw it accumulating a debt servicing burden of Rs 1400 crore virtually pushing it into a debt trap.

According to board statistics around 8,000 million units are consumed by tubewells in the state. If every unit is charged at Rs 2 the board incurs an expenditure of Rs 1600 crore in providing free power facility to the farmers. While earlier the board was earning a revenue of around Rs 350 crore by charging farmers for the power consumed by them, this year the board was given a token compensation of only Rs 250 crore resulting in incurring a loss of nearly Rs 1350 crore by providing this facility free to farmers.

The government only made half-hearted attempts to increase the tariff upon fervent pleas of the board management but soon after made increase in tariff virtually redundant by increasing the number of free units which can be consumed by the Scheduled Caste consumers due to political compulsions in view of the coming elections. Domestic consumers were also given sops due to the same reasons.

If the board lost out financially, attempts to finetune it into a professional unit also fell flat in its face with the ouster of the Chairman Mr Gurcharan Singh Sohal. The technocrat had to go as he could not cope up with Power Minister Sikander Singh Maluka. While Maluka was accused of interfering in the day-to-day affairs of the board, particularly in the matter of transfers and postings, the Power Minister accused the board management of committing irregularities in the matter of purchase of transformers and other equipment.

The board, however, made a phenomenal progress as far as the 24-hour electrification scheme was concerned. It has covered nearly 6,000 out of the 12,000 villages of the state under the scheme which is expected to stand the government in good stead in the forthcoming elections.

However, for the board’s own financial health, the free power scheme may have to be put again under scrutiny and the issue may be taken up by the Regulatory Commission also as there is no other way in which the board can show a 3 per cent rate of return by March 2003, as it has promised to the Union Government via a memorandum of understanding signed in March 2000.


Anuradha steals many a heart
Varinder Singh

Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, December 30
The fog and chill of a December night virtually evaporated and a soothing environment was created as noted tabla player and composer Anuradha Pal and other artistes went on to mesmerise classical music lovers with their spectacular performances at the Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan underway at the Sri Devi Talaab Mandir here.

Braving the spell of uncomfortable weather, music lovers made a beeline to the place of Baba Harballabh to savour various shades of classical music. However, what put a question mark on the event was the growing absence of bigger names from the realm of classical music of which the sammelan used to be called “Mecca”.

It was virtually a pleasant homecoming for Anuradha Pal, country’s only widely known woman tabla player and music composer. She had come to perform in a city from where her father — now a days a well-known Mumbai-based chemical engineer — hailed.

As she touched her tabla and gave a “thaap” gently to start her performance, the audience had no choice but to shower a rich applause on her as the very first “thaap” proved that she was a true disciple of Ustaad Zakir Hussain. She unfolded the finesse and colours of different “gharanas” by presenting “teen taals” comprising of 16 “maatras”, followed by “jhapptaal”, based on 10 “taals” and narrating different methods of playing the instrument. She stole the hearts of music lovers when she recreated different shades of life — caution, war, running train — on her tabla.

Her magic show of course had the support of ‘saarangi” player Janab Munir Ahmed Khan and “tanpura” players Amrit and Shobha. Anuradha, it might be interesting to know for music lovers is a great animal lover too.

Similarly, the vocal presentation by K. Upendra Bhat, a disciple of Ustaad Bhim Sen Joshi, proved his mettle particularly as he came out with raaga “durbaari”. The performances of Sitar player Rama, who presented “raaga rageshwari” and tabla player Sarb Sukhpal Singh, were also equally thrilling and animating.

Sarb Sukhpal was accompanied by Dr. Shandliya on harmonium, while Rama was supported by tabla player Jai Dev. The whole “pandal” had an echoing effect as Dr. Vikas Gupta played “vilambit” and “drut” on his sitar, followed by rendition of “Chalo ree sakhi gokul dham”, by Hemang Mehta. He also presented “Kithun chhip gaye Krishan murari”, in raga “puriya dhanashri”. What made it illustrious was repeated rendition of “dhundan jaaoon”, a “tukda” by him.

The Punjab Finance minister Captain Kanwaljit Singh, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal were also present at the function.


CPI: put Punjab under President’s rule
Tribune News Service

Bathinda, December 30
Leadership of the Punjab unit of the CPI yesterday urged the President of India and the Election Commission of India to impose President’s rule in the state so that coming Assembly elections could be held in a free and fair manner.

Various leaders, including Dr Joginder Dyal, secretary, CPI, Punjab, Mr Bhan Singh Bhora, MP and Mr Hardev Singh Arshi, MLA, and leader of the CPI in the Vidhan Sabha, while addressing a party rally here yesterday promised that the CPI would make arrangements for a probe by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court into cases of corruption by members of present government.

He feared that the government machinery would be misused by the ruling politicians as had been done by in the three byelections held in the state.

The CPI leader said only a common front of secular and nationalist forces could defeat the SAD-BJP combine government in Punjab.

Lashing out at the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre for its failure to protect Parliament House, Dr Dyal said he said the BJP was only bothered about the saffronisation of education and nothing else.

Mr Bhan Singh Bhora, MP, said the BJP leadership had been creating a fear psychosis among people over war with Pakistan under the garb of curbing the cross-border terrorism to secure their votes in the coming elections.

Mr Hardev Arshi, MLA, said Punjab had incurred a debt of Rs 60,000 crore as the Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal had distributed the same in his own Assembly segment and segments of other Cabinet colleagues to appease a few landlords.

Mr Ajaib Singh Raunta, MLA, Mr Jagjit Singh Joga and Mr Jagroop Singh, senior CPI leaders were also present.


Morcha to field Gill from Patti
Our Correspondent

Patti (Amritsar), December 30
Senior Panthic Morcha leader and president, Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra today ruled out any with Mr Parkash Singh Badal. Talking to newsmen after addressing the first election rally in the Majha area and in the constituency of Mr Badal’s son-in-law Punjab Excise Minister Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon. He said that the coming elections would decide the supremacy of the party led by Mr Badal and the Panthic Morcha. He said that Mr Badal had turned the Shiromani Akali Dal into his own personal and family party and turned his back on from the glorious history of the Akali Dal.

Mr Tohra dubbed the allegations of the Panthic Morcha joining hands with Congress as mere figment of imagination of Mr Badal who had not only close had relations with the Congress but working on an understanding with them. He added that Mr Badal have already handed over the Majha area to the Kairon family, this was a clear proof of his closeness to the Congress.

Launching the election campaign of the Panthic Morcha from the Majha region. Mr Tohra lashed out at Mr Badal for showing disrespect to in supreme temporal seat of Sikhs, Akal Takht. He said that the coming elections was a fight against the Congress which had damaged Akal Takht and Mr Badal who had tried to denigrate Akal Takht.

Announcing the candidature of the AISSF, Mr. Harminder Singh Gill from Patti constituency Mr Tohra said that Panthic Morcha was ready for an open debate with the Kairon family on various issues. The former SGPC chief revealed that the list of candidates would be announced in January and talks were going on for poll pact with like-minded parties.

Referring to tension in view of the military build-up on the international border between India and Pakistan, Mr Tohra expressed deep anguish over the war Hysteria generated by Mr Badal’s coalition partners the BJP, which was creating a war like situation to divert attention of the people. The people of the border areas were uprooted and had to face severe cold weather conditions while large number of families has been in miserable state to fend for themselves as no body from the government and the administration bothered to take care of their needs.


Shift Punjab DGP, Mann urges EC
Tribune News Service

Sangrur, December 30
Mr Simranjit Singh Mann, president of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) and senior leader of the Panthic Morcha, today asked the Election Commission to transfer Mr Sarbjit Singh from the post of the Director-General of Police (DGP), Punjab, for allegedly ignoring the Panthic Morcha leaders, Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Mr Mann, by not making himself available to them even on phone for the past one year.

Talking to TNS, Mr Mann said the Panthic Morcha was sending a written request to the Election Commission to transfer the DGP for holding free and fair elections in the state. He alleged that he and Jathedar Tohra had been trying to contact the DGP for the past one year, but every time the staff of the DGP told them that he was not available. He said they were public representatives and so had every right to bring the complaints and grievances of common person to the notice of the DGP.

Mr Mann also alleged that the ADGP (Intelligence) was also busy in weakening the Panthic Morcha at the behest of the Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal. He said the ADGP had recently introduced a top office-bearer of the morcha to Mr Badal. He said such activities would not be tolerated as these were against the election norms. He also warned if the ADGP did not desist from such activities, the morcha leaders would report to the Election Commission for taking suitable action against him.

Mr Mann also urged the police and bureaucracy to play an impartial role in the ensuing Assembly elections, otherwise the morcha would take action against the “erring” officials if it came to power.

Mr Mann also asked the Election Commission to take action against the “erring” officials. 


Talks on for poll pact with BSP: Dhindsa
Our Correspondent

Jalandhar, December 30
The Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers and general secretary of the SAD (Badal), Mr Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, today said his party was holding talks with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for a poll alliance in the forthcoming Assembly elections in the state.

Talking to reporters at Doaba College here today, Mr Dhindsa said the SAD was negotiating seat-sharing arrangements with the BSP. Besides, talks for a poll alliance with other anti-Congress parties were in the final stage, Mr Dhindsa said without naming those parties.

Regarding delay in the release of the SAD poll manifesto, Mr Dhindsa said it would be formally released by the SAD chief, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, within 10 days.

Later, addressing NCC cadets at a national integration camp, Mr Dhindsa said his party would ask the Human Resource Development Ministry to include NCC as a compulsory subject in colleges.


Decision on pact with morcha by Jan 13: Kanshi
Our Correspondent

Barnala, December 30
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will contest all UP, and Uttaranchal Assembly seats on its own while decision to have an alliance with the Panthic Morcha will be taken by January, 13.

This information was given by Mr Kanshi Ram, BSP chief at Dhanaula Khurd village, about 5 km from here, yesterday.

Spelling out BSP’s poll alliance strategy with the Panthic Morcha, Mr Kanshi Ram said the BSP intended to field its candidates on about 80 to 90 Assembly seats leaving the rest to Panthic Morcha nominees.

The BSP chief made it clear that the alliance with the Panthic Morcha would be on give and take basis on some seats and open contest on the other seats.

When asked to specify issues which his party planned to project during the poll campaign in UP, Uttaranchal and Punjab Assembly elections Mr Kanshi Ram said these would be different in different states.

He said the BSP would release the list of its nominees for the Punjab Assembly poll on January 16.


Christians assured of SAD ticket
Our Correspondent

Gurdaspur, December 30
A Christmas rally organised by the United Christian Front, led by Mr Munawar Masih here yesterday turned out to be an election rally in support of Mr Masih, who is also the chairman of the front.

Those who addressed the rally included Mr Nirmal Singh Kahlon, Mr Sewa Singh Sekhon, Mr Rattan Singh Ajnala and Mr Sucha Singh Langah, all Punjab ministers. Speaking on the occasion, the ministers assured the gathering that they would use their influence to assure the party ticket of the Gurdaspur Assembly constituency for Mr Munawar Masih.

Mr Kartar Singh Pahra, sitting party MLA, when contacted said he was a loyal party worker and would stand by the decision of the party high command. However, he claimed that the ticket from this seat should be given to him for the work done by him in the constituency during his current tenure.


BJP for SAD, SHSAD unity
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 30
The president of the Punjab unit of the BJP, Mr Brij Lal Rinwa, here today said his party wanted a unity between the Shiromani Akali Dal, (SAD), headed by Mr Parkash Singh Badal, and the Sarab Hind Shiromani Akali Dal (SHSAD) headed by Mr Gurcharan Singh Tohra. The unity between Mr Tohra and Mr Badal would further improve the position of the SAD-BJP alliance in the Assembly elections in Punjab, he said. But Mr Rinwa made it clear that his party would not mediate between Mr Tohra and Mr Badal for unity purpose.


SGPC may stop sending jathas to Pak: Badungar
Tribune News Service

Alamgir (Ludhiana), December 30
The SGPC might stop sending Sikh jathas to Pakistan in case the situation demanded. However, as on now there was no such proposal. This was stated by the SGPC chief, Mr Kripal Singh Badungar, while talking to reporters at the annual shaheedi conference here yesterday.

The SGPC president maintained that they were in constant touch with the Union Government. “Whatever the Union Government decides in the national interest, will be followed in letter and spirit”, he said. He hoped that such a situation would not arise.

Mr Badungar clarified, that since there was no such move contemplated as yet, Sikh jathas would visit religious shrines in Pakistan as per the earlier schedule.

The sending of Sikh jathas was stopped after Bibi Jagir Kaur took over as the SGPC chief, over a controversy regarding the management of religious places by the Pakistan Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PGPC), which is headed by an ex-ISI chief. The SGPC had refused to accord recognition to the PGPC. However, after Mr Jagdev Singh Talwandi replaced Bibi Jagir Kaur, the decision regarding the sending of jathas was revoked and the pilgrims started visiting shrines in Pakistan. But Mr Talwandi also refused to accord recognition to the PGPC.

Continuing in the footsteps of his predecessors, Mr Badungar asserted that the SGPC, could not accord recognition to the PGPC. He alleged that the PGPC was using funds of religious shrines against India by diverting these for financing terrorist and anti-India activities. “The SGPC cannot be a party to it”, he said, while asserting the authority of the SGPC on all Sikh religious shrines, including those in Pakistan.

Earlier, Mr Badungar said there was an urgent need to evolve a deep sense of belonging among the Sikh youth with the Sikh culture and traditions. He regretted that a number of Sikh youth were deviating from the Panthic traditions.

The Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers, Mr Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, and Mr Sukhbir Badal, who were expected to address the rally, did not turn up.


‘Pigeon episode embarrassed Sikhs’
Our Correspondent

Phagwara December 30
Mr Herb Dahliwal, Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Government of Canada, today admitted that the pigeon-episode had embarrassed him, the community and the authorities of Khalsa Diwan Gurdwara of Vancouver.

Putting the record straight in an interview with this correspondent at nearby Chiheru village where he is staying, Mr Herb Daliwal, whose full name is Harbans Singh Dhaliwal, regretted that such incidents made their job of helping people difficult. Mr Dhaliwal said when religious persons were involved in such activities, it was humiliation for the community.

Mr Dhaliwal disclosed that four persons had come to Canada with “shastras” (weapons) on occasion of Baisakhi early this year. They overstayed. “Following request from the authorities of Khalsa Diwan gurdwara falling in my constituency, I assured the Immigration Minister that though their visa had expired but they would return to India since they were good religious people.” However, out of these four, only one returned to India and other three went into hiding for illegally staying in Canada, bringing a bad name for the community, continued Mr Daliwal. For me, it is now once bitten twice shy situation”, he quipped.

However, he said he had no knowledge about the involvement of two Punjab Ministers Sohan Singh Thandal, Sujan Singh and one SGPC member Tarlochan Singh Dopalpuri in the episode. They did not approach me, he added.

The incident had kicked up a row in Punjab and various religious and political leaders had demanded “tankhah” religious punishment for the two Ministers and the SGPC member.

Giving a good news to prospective immigrants, Mr Dhaliwal disclosed that the new immigration Act of Canada would be immigrant-friendly. Now the age of an unmarried son or daughter who could accompany parents to Canada had been raised from 19 years to under 22 years, he said. He denied that new Act was harsh for immigrants.

He declared that the Canadian office at Chandigarh would be upgraded to a full consulate visa office.


Herb urges India, Pak to defuse tension
Our Correspondent

Phagwara, December 30
Mr Herb Dhaliwal, Fedenal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada, said here yesterday that the SAARC summit slated to be held in Kathmandu from January 4 to January 6 could provide good opportunity for Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee and Gen Pervez Musharraf to have a dialogue for defusing the Indo-Pak tension.

Talking to reporters at Chiheru, village 10 km from Phagwara, Mr Herb Dhaliwal, whose full name is Harbans Singh Dhaliwal, said both leaders could use sidelines of the summit to thaw the snow that had worsened the Indo-Pak relations. Dialogue was the only course to solve problems, he continued.

When asked as to whether Canada, as a member of global coalition, would initiate any step to bring both countries closer he said such a step could be taken only after a formal request was made.

When asked as to why developed countries were asking India to exercise restraint after the December 13 attack on Parliament House while they were all supporting the USA after the September 11 WTC incident, Mr Dhaliwal said Canada was against any conflict between India and Pakistan.

Earlier, addressing villagers, Mr Dhaliwal said Chiheru was the only village among 8 lakh Indian villages whose son had become a Federal Minister in Canada. It was a great feeling to be in a village where you were born, said Mr Dhaliwal, who was born in Chiheru in 1952.

Mr Dhaliwal played “bhangra” with band and folk dancers that led him to the pandal.

Punjab Tourism Minister Swarna Ram, PSSSB member Jarnail Singh Wahid and Market Committee Chairman Sarwan Singh Kular honoured Mr Dhaliwal, his wife, children parents and friends.


Make arrangements for migrating villagers: ex-MLA
Our Correspondent

Fazilka, December 30
Dr Mohinder Kumar Rinwa, former MLA and Secretary, PPCC, said here yesterday after touring the border villages of Fazilka sector that the government should make arrangements for villagers of the border belt who have migrated due to the war threat. He said farmers of Gharumi, Pakka Chisti, Khanpur. Churiwala Chisti, Chananwala, Muthianwali, Asafwala, Beriwala, Mumbeki, Bakhushah, Mohammad Pira and Chack Amira villages complained of inadequate power supply due to which they were unable to irrigate their fields.

He accused Mr Surjeet Kumar Jyani, local MLA, of violating the code of conduct by inaugurating a dharamshala at Khuikhera village, distributing cheques to different organisations and allocating residential plots at Kabulshah Khuban village after the election dates were announced.


10 retired cops honoured
Our Correspondent

Bathinda, December 30
The district police yesterday celebrated police elders day here in honour of retired police officials.

Dr Jatinder Kumar Jain, SSP, in a press note issued here, said the IG (Zone 1), Patiala, had recently issued guidelines regarding the celebrations. Ten retired police officials were honoured at the function.

Mr Harchand Singh, Chairman, Local Bodies, spoke about the working and performance of the association. Dr Jain presented mementos to Mr Harchand Singh, Mr Amichand Singh, Mr Sukhdev Singh Palta, Mr Harbans Singh, Mr Gurdev Singh, Mr Hari Chand, Mr Surjit Singh, Mr Rajinder Mittal, Mr Mahinder Singh and Mr Jangir Singh.

Students of the local Police Public School presented cultural programmes. The police also presented various shows. Officials of the district police and gazetted officers participated at the function.


Fog mishap claims 3 lives
Tribune News Service

Gurdaspur, December 30
Dense fog coupled with extreme cold wave conditions kept normal life out of gear for the third consecutive day today in the district. Three members of a family died on the spot while another, a minor girl, was seriously injured when the scooter they were travelling on, rammed into a truck near Jagowal Bet in the Bet area of the Beas last evening.

The bodies, which were brought for a post-mortem to the local Civil Hospital have been identified as those of Tilak Raj of Balwanda, Nirmla Devi, wife of Tilak Raj, Sham Lal, brother-in-law of Tilak Raj and resident of Toor under the Mukerian police station. Priya Devi (8), adopted daughter of Tilak Raj, has been admitted to the Civil Hospital. Earlier, the dense fog had claimed six lives in the district.

The fog has also disrupted road and rail services.


Scribe bereaved
Our Correspondent

Amritsar, December 30
Diwan Chand (93), father of an eminent journalist, K.L. Kamlesh, expired after a prolonged illness here today. The cremation will be held tomorrow. The Amritsar Journalists Association has expressed grief on his sad demise.


Balraj posted Tarn Taran SDM
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 30
The following postings/transfers were ordered with immediate effect here today. Mr Balraj Singh Sekhon, PCS, has been posted as Subdivisional Magistrate, Tarn Taran, against a vacant post.

Mr Balbinder Kumar, PCS, is new Executive Magistrate, Amritsar, against a vacant post.

Ms J.K. Sidhu, PCS, is now Assistant Commissioner (Grievances), Sangrur, relieving Mr Manpreet Singh of the additional charge. Mr Ajaib Singh Bhatti, PCS,ACA, PUDA, Bathinda will also look after the work of AC (Grievances) Bathinda, till further orders.


Poll panel seeks report
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 30
The Election Commission has sought the report with regard to the interviews held for recruitment of elementary school teachers by the Punjab Government in the past two days.

The Additional Chief Electoral Officer( CEO), Punjab, today said that information in this connection would be furnished to the Commission soon for appropriate action. The Tribune published a report today from Jalandhar about such interviews.


Sadhus inveigling kids into drugs
Gayatri Rai

Bathinda, December 30
Thirteen-year-old Deepu hailing from Bikaner was earning his livelihood by working as a labourer in the local Patta market. He resorted to thefts to earn extra money to meet his “new needs” of drugs to which he was introduced by a sadhu a few months ago.

Now Deepu has become an addict of intoxicating tablets and the sadhus who were earlier giving him tablets free of cost now demand money for the same.

Deepu is one of those homeless children who are labourers or beggars in the city and have become drug addicts in the past few months. Most of these children are orphan and in their teens.

Chetan, an eight-year-old boy working at a Dhaba here, had become addict to “charas” and “ganja”. He said a few months ago a sadhu sleeping next to him on a railway platform gave him a cigarette to taste for fun sake. But slowly he developed a taste for it and now he was not able to resist this habit. He was caught in the market recently while snatching purse from a woman.

In Bathinda at present there are at least 500 sadhus hailing from various parts of the country. They keep shifting their place after every six months so that it becomes difficult to keep a record of them or to trace them. The trend of selling “charas”, “ganja”, “sulfa” or intoxicating tablets by sadhus to small children is, however, quite new in the area.

In the evening these children can be seen with group of sadhus, smoking “charas” or “ganja” or lying on ground in an unconscious state at dark corners of the local railway station or nearby areas of the station. Evening time is high time for these sadhus and for these children.

The police has closed more than 75 medical shops selling intoxicants so far in the past months.

When volunteers of the organisation inquired from children about the clothes they could not give any satisfactory answer. He added that behaviour of these children was also changing, now they talk less and seem dull all the time.

Dr Jatinder Kumar Jain, SSP, said the police had arrested many sadhus recently selling drugs. But problem was that sadhus keep on shifting their destinations. Dr Jain said that policemen in plain clothes would be deployed near places where sadhus commonly stay, to keep a constant vigil on their activities.


43 travel agents arrested in Bathinda
Our Correspondent

Bathinda, December 30
Lakhveer Singh and Mander Singh both residents of Rampura town, had not thought that sending others to foreign countries would cost them dear and they would be booked by the police.

Fake travel agents are cashing in on the desire of the youths of the area to go abroad.

On an average every month one such travel agent is arrested by the police. They had accumulated a huge amount of money by making fake promises to youths.

The travel agents also take the help of women so that their working seems genuine. The modus operandi of almost all agents is same, however, their charges can differ depending upon the country with which they have ‘direct links’.

The police had arrested 43 such travel agents during the year and registered various cases against them.

The agents work in a group of two or more. Some of them have permanent offices while others go to the villages and look for “victims”.

The police achieved major success in February when it had arrested a gang of seven persons, including four women, who had amassed huge amount of money from the ‘business’.

Dr Jatinder Kumar Jain, SSP, said special watch was being kept on such business establishments.

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