Wednesday, March 19, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

CM concedes SGPC demands
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh discusses a point with PCC President H.S. Hanspal and (right) Mr Parkash Singh Badal, President, SAD, has a word with Capt Kanwaljit Singh at the Hola Mohalla political conferences at Anandpur Sahib
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh discusses a point with PCC President H.S. Hanspal and (right) Mr Parkash Singh Badal, President, SAD, has a word with Capt Kanwaljit Singh at the Hola Mohalla political conferences at Anandpur Sahib on Tuesday.
— Tribune photos Karam Singh

Anandpur Sahib, March 18
While clemency for Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, bad economy of the state and growing unrest among farmers were the main issues discussed at political conferences of various factions of the Akali Dal organised here today, the Congress tried to overcome Akalis on their home turf by conceding to some of the demands of the SGPC and the Sikhs instantly.

The Lok Bhalai Party, a new entrant to the political scenario of the state, adopted a resolution urging all political parties not to wash their “dirty linen in public on the occasion of religious festivals" and demanded that “all political conferences on such occasions be discontinued".

Incidentally, instead of usual political-bashing witnessed at such political conferences, the tone and tenor at most of the venues was softer and more on issues than individual-based.

Though the turnout at the historic mela was lower as compared to previous years yet political conferences evoked good response. In all seven political conferences were held. Two of these — one by the Lok Bhalai Party and another by the Rashtriya Raksha Dal — were organised for the first time. The Dal Khalsa, too, organised its conference . The reason cited for the lukewarm public response to the historic Hola Mohalla festival this time has been that farmers were busy in agitations and dharnas at various places in Punjab and Chandigarh.

Most of the senior political leaders of the state with the exception of Mr Gurcharan Singh Tohra were present in the city for the conferences, the two central leaders of Congress — Mrs Mohsina Kidwai and Mrs Ambika Soni — were conspicuous by their absence. So was the Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers, Mr Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa.

The Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, claimed that the Congress government in the state was “farmer friendly and was aware of the issues raised by them while starting dharnas at Patiala and in Chandigarh” yet they have been successfully persuaded to end dharnas and wait for the new Budget of the state to come.

The Chief Minister lashed out at the previous SAD-BJP government for not taking any decision on some of the “religious demands of the SGPC, including exemption from sales tax on various supplies made to the Golden Temple complex.”

Playing the Sikh card effectively he said what Akalis could not do in five years, he was taking decisions on such demands instantly by referring to the drying up of the canal at historic Patalpuri Gurdwara or emptying of sullage in “Kali bain” adjoining historic gurdwara at Sultanpur in Kapurthala. He also announced that the Punjab Government was committed in completing the Sikh Heritage Complex which the Akalis started without any financial planning.

Among the immediate concessions he announced he said henceforth, no sales tax would be levied on any supplies made to the Golden Temple complex. The supplies may include ration, building material and other items. He also ordered that a chapati-making machine imported from the USA would be exempt from the payment of octroi and other such local duties and would be handed over to the SGPC at Amritsar immediately.

The government, he said, was committed in completing the Golden Temple galliara scheme and would find funds for it soon. Appreciating the Khalsa Heritage complex, Capt Amarinder Singh wondered at previous Akali Government's wisdom by closing down the project after releasing only Rs 50 crore for the Rs 200 crore project.

He said he would go to the USA and Canada after the Iraq crisis was over to secure money for the completion of this important project. “I was to go there on April 2 but the current Iraq crisis has forced the postponement,” he said revealing that in the past “foreign contributions for the mega project acknowledged in official records were to the tune of Rs 11 lakh only. Where has the rest of the money gone,” he asked.

The Chief Minister said while it was the duty of the SGPC to look after religious affairs, the government would do its part in getting the Sikh history rewritten as was suggested by the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Mr H.S. Hanspal, in his address. He said the Punjab Government would organise heritage festivals at Patiala, Kapurthala and Amritsar every year. The dates for Amritsar festival would be announced soon , he added.

Reiterating that no even a drop of water would go to any other state from Punjab, he said that problems related to drinking water and irrigation water shortage in Anandpur Sahib tehsil would be solved on priority basis.

Talking about the National Fertilisers and Punjab Alkalies, he said the government would do its best to ensure that interests of the employees were safeguarded. He also assailed the SAD-BJP government for ignoring the future of farming in Punjab by sitting over the Johl Committee report which was commissioned by the previous Akali Government headed by Mr Surjit Singh Barnala. “If the agriculture is in a big crisis, it is because of apathy of the SAD-BJP government which did nothing and slept over the issue for five years”. He said free power to farm sector was not possible as it would deny the State funding from various international institutions like World Bank.

People have now rejected the Akalis as was evident from results of various elections held in the state during the past one year, he added.

Earlier, Mr H.S. Hanspal criticised the Akalis and said instead of working for Sikhs and getting Sikh history rewritten the Akalis fell apart on the issue of sharing of funds released by the Central Government for the tercentenary celebrations. He also assailed the SGPC for not including Dasam Granth in Gurbani saying this was the “bani of Guru Gobind Singh”.

Others who addressed the Congress rally were Mr Jagmohan Singh Kang, Mr K.P. Singh Rana, Dr Romesh Dutt Sharma, Mr Avtar Singh and Mr Lakhwinder Singh. Mr Parminder Singh, a general secretary of the PPCC, said the turnout at the Congress rally was indicative of the growing popularity.

Earlier, Capt Amarinder Singh accompanied by Mr H.S. Hanspal, Mr Jagmohan Singh Kang and Deputy Commissioner of Ropar, Ms Seema Jain, visited Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib where he and Mr Hanspal were presented a set of books, a sword and a picture of the Takht each.

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