Tuesday, March 11, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

5 more join Punjab Ministry
Tribune News Service

Mr Joginder Singh Mann, Mr Darbari Lal, Mr Harnam Das Johar, Mr Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Mr Malkiat Singh Birmi
(L to R) Mr Joginder Singh Mann, Mr Darbari Lal, Mr Harnam Das Johar, Mr Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Mr Malkiat Singh Birmi, the newly inducted ministers with the Punjab Governor and Chief Minister at Raj Bhavan after the swearing-in ceremony in Chandigarh on Monday. — A Tribune photograph

Chandigarh, March 10
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh today not only expanded his Council of Ministers to 26 by adding five more members but also gave a rebuff to dissidents within the Congress.

The Punjab Governor, Lt-Gen. JFR Jacob (retd.), administered the oath of office to two Cabinet ministers — Mr Harnam Das Johar and Mr Joginder Singh Mann — and three Ministers of state — Mr Darbari Lal, Mr Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Mr Malkiat Singh Birmi — at a simple ceremony on the lawns of Raj Bhavan.

Later, the Chief Minister administered the oath to three Parliamentary Secretaries, Mr Kamaljit Singh Lally, Mr Hans Raj Josan and Mr Ravinder Singh Sandhu alias Bubble, at Punjab Bhavan.

Today’s expansion is not the last, Capt Amarinder Singh said so addressing mediapersons at Punjab Bhavan. Representation was due to the “minorities, women and first-time MLAs who will get a chance to join the ministry after a few months once they have acquired legislative experience”.

About keeping out some dissident MLAs whose names were in circulation, the Chief Minister without naming any individuals said “discipline” was paramount in the Congress, as often reiterated by the party high command. It was “indiscipline” on the part of those who shoot their mouth off in the media or ones who put up “independents” against the official Congress candidates in the just-held municipal elections. The President, Mr H.S. Hanspal, was seized of the matter.

The manner in which he has expanded his Council of Ministers is indicative of his having further consolidated his hold over the party apparatus as well as the confidence the party high command has in him. This has been enhanced by the Congress win in Himachal in which Capt Amarinder Singh had played a captain’s knock. Though he sought to underplay his contribution, he gave full credit to the party head, Ms Sonia Gandhi.

On the administrative reshuffle, he said the government would take a “humane” view as children were taking their annual examinations. Random shifting was not desired.

He was pretty harsh while referring to the kisan organisations’ protests in Chandigarh and elsewhere beginning today. He had all sympathy for the farmers on farm input prices. He endorsed their demand for rollback in the prices of chemical fertilizers and diesel. But he was firm and insistent that there would be no reversal of the decision not to give “free” power to operate pumpsets or supply irrigation water.

“The Akalis by giving free power and water had stalled the state’s development as a result of which multi-lateral agencies had stopped funding development. We are setting the financial house in order and expecting flow of money from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. I am not scared of politically motivated agitations. There had been no resistance by farmers to payment of electricity or water bills anywhere in the state”, he added.

He regretted that while the BJP Government in New Delhi had not increased the minimum support price for foodgrains, it jacked up the prices of fertilisers and diesel. He also chided Mr Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers. “After all, the Union Budget was approved by the Cabinet of which Mr Dhindsa is a member. He should have protested then and there. Why this double-face, double-talk now”?

Capt Amarinder Singh was firm on introducing power reforms and referred to the Gajendra Haldea expert groups report. He warned the PSEB engineers not to “lobby for political support”. They were free to express their views to the government in a proper manner. The Haldea report will be put out for a public debate. The report had just one thrust: “continuous, adequate and affordable power to all consumers”. What Punjab proposed to do on power reforms was nothing new. Several states had done it. Even the Congress Chief Ministers conclave at Guwahati had taken up this issue. “We are subsidising the PSEB to the extent of Rs 1,000 crore per year from the state Budget. It is our moral duty to ensure continuous, cheap and adequate power to the consumers”.

Contrary to what the engineers are saying, there would be no sacking of employees. “The report cannot be dismissed just like that. A lot of effort has gone into it. The reforms include a proper voluntary retirement scheme and the golden handshake provision. We will do things that are right and in the interest of the state and the people.”

The Chief Minister said he received report from Mr Bhagat Singh, Financial Commissioner (Revenue), who was asked on January 24 to look into the matter relating to the Panchkula incident involving Mr Mukul Joshi.

About Mr Amarjit Singh Chawla as a PPSC member, the Chief Minister said he could not allow a person with such past record to preside over selections. “We know to remove him is a lengthy procedure because it is a constitutional post. We will soon increase the number of PPSC members”.

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