Wednesday, May 14, 2003, Chandigarh, India


L U D H I A N A   S T O R I E S


Gur Mandi sitting on a time bomb
Vimal Sumbly
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 13
What Gafar Market is to Delhi, Gurh Mandi is to Ludhiana. Ask for any imported item, mostly electronic goods, you will get it in Gurh Mandi. Originally supposed to be the grocery market and named after ‘gurh’, there are hundreds of shops which now deal mostly in imported (read smuggled) electronic goods.

A maiden visit to the mandi makes you feel claustrophobic as the space is too narrow and overcrowded to let you even take a sigh of relief. A faint idea of fire will make you shiver because there apparently is no fire escape route. In fact the entry into the mandi is through one point only and it is used for both entry and exit purposes.

Gurh Mandi does not need another tragedy to take precautions against the fire. Only over a decade ago, the mandi was witness to a devastating fire during Divali days which led to the death of at least 60 persons. The people were burnt alive as they could not find an escape route. Despite that tragedy no lessons seem to have been learnt. Although there are not many inflammable items in the market, yet a mere electric sparking can wreck havoc in the area, too devastating to be even thought of.

Until the recent past the area was considered to be the stronghold of the Shiv Sena leader, Mr Jagdish Tangri. In fact the shopkeepers had entrenched themselves with many people, particularly the police or sales or income tax personnel preferring to avoid the area. However, after the crackdown on Tangri by the police, the area was opened up and the entrance gates were also uprooted.

The main problem with the market remains the entry. Even two-wheelers cannot be taken there, what to speak of four-wheelers. And in case some unfortunate thing happens, it may be difficult for the fire brigade to reach the area. In fact this happened during the previous fire as by the time the fire tenders could manage to reach over there, everything had been reduced to ashes.

The shopkeepers have been expressing their helplessness. The market has come over a period of so many years. They seem to have reconciled to their fate. “Even if it (the fire) happens, what can be done? We are not going to move out overnight or demolish shops to make way for fire tenders”, remarked Mr Ramesh Kumar (not his real name) dealing in the handsets of cell phones. He maintained that some shopkeepers have been there for several decades.

Another shopkeeper, also dealing in the mobile handsets, was slightly blunt. “Why should we presume that tragedy will strike us? And tragedies do not take place often, and we are sure that nothing of that sort will happen here”, he observed, while trusting the divine powers to save them from any probable tragedy.

Like at other places not many shopkeepers possessed any fire-fighting equipment, not even the small ceasefire and fire extinguishers. There is not even any provision for water in case it is needed during some urgency or emergency. “We can only trust in the Lord to save us and not to show us the day when we will feel the need of such things”, remarked an elderly trader, while admitting that the shopkeepers also need to adopt some safety measures on their own.



Heavy price for compromising on 
fire-safety measures
D.B. Chopra

Ludhiana, May 13
The old city is literally bursting at the seams. A city that was probably designed for a population of a few thousands is now housing lakhs of people eager to make a business, no matter how small or big. This is a city of very hard-working and confident businessmen who feel they too have it in them like the Munjals and the Oswals. With the result that it is business, business and yet more business that matters in this city of businessmen. Everything else takes a back seat. The least these businessmen are bothered about is the fire safety measures. Who has got the time and the money to put a proper fire-fighting infrastructure in place before or after starting a business.

The hosiery business, which is mainly concentrated in the old city areas and which has earned the city a name all over the world, is still on the rise. In Ludhiana, there are hundreds of people who started with a few knitting machines in a spare room of their house and are now in the big league. With all that inflammable yarn and other inflammable material such as the thinner are stored in large quantities in these units, whole of the old city is a virtual tinder-box. Just one nasty spark is what is needed to ignite a fire.

And it is not necessary for a gas cylinder to burst before a fire breaks out. A tour of the old city area like the Purana Bazar and its neighbouring streets is indeed an eye opener. Electricity wires are perilously hanging loose almost at every street corner. Hundreds of wires with naked joints overlap each other in a crazy way , forming a ball of sorts. A gust of wind can carry a spark anywhere which . A spark itself can trigger a series of sparks leading to a possible fire in any part of the old city, particularly in the month of June.

Though it is not feasible to shift all these small units in the residential areas of the old city as maintained by the municipal corporation authorities, people feel it is time that the civic body acted tough regarding the adequate provisions of fire-fighting infrastructure, including emergency escape routes.

The firemen of the city, who are a brave lot indeed, rue the fact that their efforts to persuade hosiery units to install fire-fighting infrastructure in their units were being obstructed by the local politicians. Every street has a politician living in it, as they put it. Maybe it is time that the authorities concerned give over-riding powers to the firemen to ensure that the congested, old city becomes a much safer place to live in. Politicians, for once, must be asked to take a back seat for a while. Otherwise, the danger of fire would continue to loom large on the city.



Cong workers donate blood for fire victims
Our Correspondent

Mr Parkash Singh Badal, former Chief Minister, talks to persons injured in Saturday’s fire tragedy
Mr Parkash Singh Badal, former Chief Minister, talks to persons injured in Saturday’s fire tragedy during his visit to the CMC, Ludhiana, on Tuesday. — A Tribune photograph

Ludhiana, May 13
The District Congress Committee (Urban) organised a blood donation camp for the victims of fire incident in Khud Mohalla, currently undergoing treatment at the Christian Medical College and Hospital here. More than 50 units of blood, donated mostly by party workers, were collected during the camp.

The Congress legislator, Mr Surinder Dawar, inaugurated the camp, which was organised at the instance of the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh. Speaking on the occasion, the DCC (U) Chief, Mr Krishan Kumar Bawa, termed blood donation as one of the noblest contribution towards the service of humanity.

The DCC (Rural) president, Mr Gurdev Singh Lapran, lauded the role played by city residents in extending help hand to the families of those who perished in the fire and who sustained injuries.

Prominent among others present were Mr Ashok Makkar, Mr Surjit Singh, Mr Gurbhej Chhabra, Mr Nirmal Kaira, Mr Manpreet Grewal, Mr Dharam Vir, Mr Ashwani Kapoor, Mr Tilak Raj, Mr Labh Singh, Mr Amarjit Singh, Mr Ujagar Singh, Mr Mangat Ram, Rana Mohinder Singh and Mr Raj Kumar.



BJP rally against hike in water charges
Our Correspondent

Ludhiana, May 13
Activists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Mahila Morcha, led by the district unit president Ms Santosh Kalra accompanied by other party leaders and councillors today held a demonstration against the government decision to hike the water and sewerage charges.

The demonstrators, carrying empty earthen pitchers on their heads, raised slogans against the Congress government for putting additional financial burden on the people, which would hit the weaker sections and the lower middle class people.

The BJP leaders, including the district unit chief, Mr Harbans Lal Sethi, vice president Mr Pran Bhatia, general secretary Mr Ashok Loomba and state unit general secretary Mr Rajinder Bhandari lambasted the government for going back on its poll promise of providing free water and sewerage facility. They demanded that the hike should be withdrawn immediately and the issue be discussed in the general house of the corporation. "The government has no right to interfere with the user charges of civic services and the matter should be left to the civic body to decide."

Those who were present on the occasion included Ms Sunita Aggarwal, Ms Sunita Sharma, Ms Sunita Phenta, Ms Geeta Rani, Ms Rajesh Sharma, all councillors, Ms Santosh Aneja, former Deputy Mayor, Ms Asha Sharma, Ms Reena Dhawan and Ms Renu Thapar, Ms Jyoti Uppal, Ms Geeta Pruthi, Ms Prem Bhatia, Ms Usha Mehta, Ms Pramila Soni, Ms Manju Malhotra, Ms Mohinder Kaur Khalsa, Ms Noori Kalra, Ms Meera Rai, Ms Kuldip Kaur, Ms Renu Sharma, Ms Dolly Gosain and Ms Samriti Bansal.

To further intensify the agitation against the jacking up of water and sewerage charges, senior leaders of the BJP, the SAD and the BSP had decided to hold a joint rally of all the three parties at Mini Secretariat here on May 15. The party workers will assemble at two places - Model Town Extension Gurdwara and Sabzi Mandi Gurdwara, from where they would proceed towards the DC office to submit a memorandum.

According to Mr Parveen Bansal, Group Leader of the BJP, councillors of all three parties would sit in a dharna in front of the Municipal Corporation Office from May 19 onwards daily for a week.



Basement hotels to be closed within a week
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 13
The Deputy Commissioner, Ludhiana, Mr Anurag Agarwal today ordered the closure of all restaurants operating from the basements of various buildings within one week as these happen to be a prone to fire accidents. The orders were issued during a meeting held here today to work out the modalities for the survey of various commercial activities being carried out in residential areas.

It was observed in the meeting that a number of restaurants had come up in the basements of many commercial buildings, in violation of the approved building plans. The meeting observed that these were a potential source of accidents because of narrow entrance and exit, besides the lack of fire safety measures. The Deputy Commissioner asked the Municipal Corporation to close all such unsafe restaurants and public places which operate from the basement within a week’s time.

The Deputy Commissioner also ordered a survey of the commercial and industrial activity in different residential areas of the city. He constituted a committee headed by the General Manager, District Industries Centre to lay down the standards which should be maintained to ensure non-hazardous functioning of industries in the residential areas.

Presiding over a meeting of officers, Mr Agarwal said a complete survey of all commercial activity in residential areas would be undertaken by the Municipal Corporation and completed within one month. Various parameters would be determined during the survey. The Deputy Commissioner said the Municipal Corporation would immediately stop all commercialisation of residential areas. Special focus will be laid on ice factories, LPG gas cylinder storage point, benzene storage godowns and petrol pumps. It was also announced in the meeting that each commercial unit will need to file a report regarding its function in a residential area within 10 days on a prescribed proforma to a special cell set up in the Deputy Commissioner’s office.

The survey is being conducted following the orders to this effect by the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, during his recent visit to Ludhiana after the fire tragedy at Khud Mohalla left 10 persons dead and 80 others injured.



MC in fix over inviting tenders
Kuldip Bhatia

Ludhiana, May 13
Even after the postponement of tenders for different development works worth several crores, three times during the past one month, the Municipal Corporation is yet to come out with a foolproof procedure for inviting and receiving tenders from contractors, enlisted with the civic body. Responding to vehement protests by a majority of the MC contractors, who were upset over increasing influence of some of the councillors belonging to the ruling party in the tendering process, the MC’s top brass had postponed the receipt of tenders.

While a final decision was yet to be taken on the procedure to be adopted for inviting bids for the MC development works in the city, it was reliably learnt that the MC administration was in favour of retaining the present system, which was in accordance with the Manual of Tendering (MoT) and was being followed in the Public Works Department (PWD) and other government departments.

However, the drawback of the system, according to sources, was that the contractors had to specify the particular work for which they wished to offer bid, at the time of purchasing tender forms. As such the element of secrecy could not be maintained and it became easier for the councillors concerned to manipulate things in such a manner that they could stop other contractors from offering bids for a particular work and at the same time get the work allotted to their favourite contractor through ‘covering dummy bids’.

The MC administration had taken a serious note of the open interference and intimidating tactics by the councillors in the tendering process and the councillors concerned had reportedly been told in no uncertain terms to desist from the practice failing which they might be formally charged with misconduct and could even be disqualified. Whether the veiled threat would have the desired deterring effect or not, only the time would tell.

The sources said that the MC administration had given a serious thought to the proposal for reverting back to the old system of receiving bids in which tender forms were issued to the contractors without specifying the work. It was for the contractor to fill in the name of the work from amongst the lot for which bids were invited, attach a call deposit receipt of stipulated amount of the earnest money and offer his sealed tender on specified date. In this manner, the system was relatively secure because the identity and number of competitors was not known and the chances to manipulate things were minimised if not ruled out.

The system, however, had its own drawbacks and at times the mandatory minimum number of three bids were not received for certain works and the same had to be advertised again and again. In contrast, the prevailing system of tendering, in which tender forms were issued for specific works, almost ensured that the contractors would offer competitive bids for all the works listed in the Notice Inviting Tenders (NIT).

Talking to Ludhiana Tribune on the issue, the MC Commissioner, Mr S.K. Sharma, said the entire branch dealing with the tendering process had been reorganised. He also indicated that the MC would follow the system which was prevalent in the PWD and other government departments. “But at the same time, we shall make sure that there is no interference from any quarter.”




LUDHIANA that boasts of being one of the highest producers of wheat and rice in the country has seen a gradual shift of interests from agriculture to culture. Residents no longer talk about the varieties of wheat or the yield it has been able to achieve. The latest is the talk about cultural masters like Javed Akhtar and allike. Over the past year or so, the city has played host to people like Naseerudin Shah, Pt Jasraj, Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia, etc. For this smooth transition from agriculture to culture due credit must be given to the Ludhiana Sanskritik Samagam.

Cut fruit lure

Summer may have its disadvantages in terms of heat, but at the same time those who enjoy eating have a wide array of fruits to choose from. However, what many people forget is that the fruits that look very good and tempting on the vendors ‘rehri’ can actually be a source of disease, especially in summers. The administration has time and again taken steps to curb the sale of cut fruits, but it is perhaps the demand for mouth-watering appearances of the fruit that keeps these vendors in business.

Blank traffic lights

It’s virtually free-for-all in Ludhiana on the roads in the absence of traffic lights at most places. The traffic lights outside the District Courts in the city that regulate traffic from several directions have been non-functional for over a month with little heed being paid to them. Interestingly, most senior officers in the district administration, municipal corporation, district police, judiciary, etc. pass from this chowk several times everyday, but no one has really done anything about it.

VIP buzz

Ludhiana has seen an unprecedented visit of VIPs during the past few days, most of them, including the Chief Minister, state congress president, Akali Dal (Badal) president, etc. have been here to enquire about the well-being of those injured in the Khud Mohalla fire. Others like Gulam Nabi Azad have visited the city for political function. In the process, the district administration and the local police have been so engrossed with the VIP that the normal function has taken a beating, much to the dismay of several residents who brave the heat only to find officers missing from their offices. On the other hand much enthusiasm was seen among some to catch a glimpse of the visiting VIPs.

Disadvantaged pedestrians

One wonders if those who govern the traffic in the city ever take pedestrians into consideration while planning and designing how traffic would flow. There are virtually no pedestrian crossings in the city. This leaves most pedestrians to their luck. The fact that Ludhiana has one of the highest number of vehicles on the road in the country is actually a blessing in disguise for the pedestrians, as it considerably restricts the flow of traffic.

It’s all in the name

About two decades ago when a little girl took cudgels against authorities of a local school, refusing to be cowed down by their bullying tactics, none thought it’s all in the name. Today, that little girl, named Nisha, is an IAS officer. Again when another girl wrote to the Chief Minister exposing corruption in the selection of teachers, the name of the girl turned out to be Nisha (Kaura). And now the girl who dared to turn her own “baraat” back in Delhi because the would-be groom asked for dowry is also Nisha.

Chill out

There is good news for cold drink lovers this summer. The Controller of Weights and Measures has directed all restaurant owners to sell cold drinks at a price that is not higher than the maximum retail price. Violations invite a penalty of up to Rs 5,000. So the next time the vendor or the restaurant you are dining out in asks for more money, tell him about the new ruling and enjoy your drink at the normal price.

Price for playing

An altercation between a city councillor and some schoolchildren over playing volleyball in a public park has brought to the fore problems of urban schoolchildren finding no place for recreation. In a city like Ludhiana, where people are trying to exploit every inch of land, such problems are bound to surface. The children who were taken to the police station for insisting to play in the park were the ones who suffered because of no fault of theirs. According to them, various park management committees were opposed to their playing in the parks. Overburdened with the endless syllabi, should these children be taken to police stations for playing in a public park?

Smart business

Taking advantage of the shortage of change currency, a number of enterprising persons here have made a flourishing business in providing coins to shopkeepers, rehri wallahs, auto-rickshaw and private bus operators. These persons collect change from beggars, religious places or small shopkeepers by buying the currency at a price. They then supply the change at a higher price to other shopkeepers and transporters who require the change badly. Sometimes they need the change so badly that they pay Rs 100 against a change for Rs 80 to Rs 85.

Shameful conduct

The other day a grand cultural programme, “Tiranga” was staged in Gurunanak Bhavan. Pt Jasraj, well-known flute player Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia, tabla mastros, Vijay Ghate and Shahad Ahmed Khan, Javed Akhtar, percussionist U. Srinivas and Khangira player Selve Ganesh participated in the programme. It provided a unique opportunity to listen to great artistes on one state. But throughout the two-hour programme, one person or the other constantly went up or down the stairs causing a lot of distraction and irritation to the audience. It is truely a shameful conduct. 




Fresh hope among Badhowal depot residents 
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 13
The recent Punjab Government's order of allowing constructions within the 900 meter radius of the defence installations has given fresh hope to the people living around the Field Ammunition Depot, Badhowal. About 4000 structures around the depot , including several marriage palaces, are facing demolition by virtue of a Punjab and Haryana High Court's order. For the time being, however, they have been granted status quo by the Supreme Court .

Capt Amarinder Singh yesterday allowed the construction within the 900 meter radius of the defence installation in the Zirakhpur area. The government, he said, had allowed the construction following the expiry of the notification issued by the Ministry of Defence on May 22, 2001.

About 4000 structures had come up around the depot , which the defence authorities maintain have been constructed within the 900 meter radius, thus making them liable to be demolished under the

law. However, the case was being contested by owners of houses and marriage palaces and was still pending in the apex court.

Four marriage palaces were demolished in June, 2001, by the district administration following the orders by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, while notices were issued to other 4000 people. At one stage, some moves had been mooted to shift the depot from its present location in view of the expansion of the city. The local administration had suggested some alternative places site for the depot also. However, the defence authorities have reportedly declined the move and are learnt to be not interested in shifting the depot from its current location at least at this stage.

The Punjab Government's order seems to have brought cheer among residents of the area. One of the marriage palace owners hoped that a similar order would be issued for the depot at Badhowal also otherwise thousands of people would have to be evacuated after demolishing their houses. He pointed out, if the government could allow constructions within 900 meter radius of a defence installation at one place, there should be no reason in not allowing similar constructions at other places under similar circumstances. The recent order of the government was likely to generate a debate once again over the need of shifting the depot or at least allowing constructions around it at a safe and reasonable distance. 



A tribute to true humanitarian
Our Correspondent

Ludhiana, May 13
For martyrs time stands still. It was on May 14, 1989 that Gurmail Singh and his bodyguard Joginder Singh were gunned down by terrorists. He was shot dead in his native village Pandher Kheri in Ludhiana district. Gurmail Singh was a brave man with a zest to do something for humanity. His father Chanan Singh Barola was a freedom fighter. So to die for his country was in his blood.

Dr Jasvinder Singh, who was then studying in Class 7, remembers distinctly the impact his death made on him. He was greatly influenced by his spirit of service to humanity.

Dr Jasvinder Singh now practising in Malout says: “Fourteen years have passed and the social, political and economical scenario of the country has changed but the condition is deteriorating. Attaining Freedom in 1947 was the dream of many unsung heroes, who sacrificed their lives for the sake of future generations.

Being a Leftist, Gurmail was a leader of the downtrodden, students, poor, and workers. He was against the system that was ruled by self-styled bureaucrats. He often talked about the threat of imperialistic forces like the USA.

He had a broad vision. “When terrorism was at its peak, Gurmail stood firmly and fought against the Fascist forces. The black days will never be forgotten by the people of Punjab,” he adds.



Rural scheme proposal sent to WB: minister

Amloh, May 13
A proposal of Rs 688 crore for rural water supply and sanitation has been sent to World Bank, said Mr Jasjit Singh Randhawa, Minister for Public Health. Mr Randhawa was talking to the mediapersons at the residence of Amloh Council’s chief, Mr Baldev Singh Aulakh, today.

Under the integrated rural development project (IRDP), the estimates of works in the villages will be completed by May 30. In the first stage, work in 350 villages will start in the first week of June, out of which work in 17 villages has been undertaken by the Canadian Agency and Lakha Singh Wala, native village of the minister, 3 km away from here has been adopted under this scheme.

Two villages having population of above 2000 in each block will be covered under this scheme on the recommendations of the MLA of the constituency. The sullage water of villages would be taken through sewerage system into the ponds and would be treated, thereafter drains and pucca streets would be laid in the villages, the minister said. 



Dog bites off child’s eye
Our Correspondent

Khanna, May 13
In a bizarre incident, a domestic dog bit off one eye of a minor child of its owner.

According to information, Sukhdev Singh, a nine-year-old son of Bhagat Singh of Adampur village, was playing with their domestic dog, when it suddenly bit him in the eye. The child was taken to the local Civil Hospital and was later referred to Chandigarh.



No headway in murder case
Our Correspondent

Doraha, May 13
The police is yet to make any arrest in the case of the brutal murder of a truck driver and his cleaner on Saturday.
The police has already registered a case on the statement of Naseeb Singh, brother of the deceased driver and a resident of Tamaroo of Rajpura. In his statement, Naseeb Singh has said they were transporters and his brother, Nirmal Singh, had gone on his truck (HR-37-6545) to Jalandhar, but did not return on the due date.

The bodies of Nirmal Singh and his cleaner, Shiv Raj Singh of Khanpur in Banoor (Patiala), near Doraha, were found lying on the front seat of the truck on Saturday. The bodies bore marks of attack by sharp-edged weapons. The post-mortem reports, however, indicated that the duo was fired. The truck was taken into possession by the police.

According to sources, the murder might have been committed at some other place and the bodies and the truck might have been left at that spot later. They say that on the day of the recovery of the truck and the two bodies, the truck was not there till 12 noon.



Old couple robbed 
Our Correspondent

Sahnewal, May 13
An old couple was robbed off jewellery worth Rs 20,000 last evening by a miscreant.
A young man came on a bike to the house of the old couple situated on the Sahnewal-Kohara road and asked them to avail themselves of the facility of the old-age pension scheme. He offered to take them to officials concerned. When the two, Kanshi Ram (84 years) and his wife, Beera Bai (80 years) got ready to go along, he asked the woman to remove her gold ornaments and hand it over to her husband, as the authorities might not consider her to be a fit case for drawing the pension. The gullible old woman gave her ornaments to her husband and went along with them.

Leaving Beera Bai midway, miscreant returned to their house on the pretext that they should better take, Kanshi Ram along with them to strengthen their case. On the way he demanded Rs 2 from the old man. Kanshi Ram, who had placed all the gold ornaments of his wife in his purse, took these out, and the smart rogue snatched away the ornaments and absconded .



Two killed in road mishap

Khanna, May 13
Two youths were crushed to death and two others were injured in a road accident on the GT road, near the Civil Hospital, here today.
According to information, three youths riding on a motor cycle (PB-26-6536) were hit by a truck (PB-23-6745). Jai Krishan (25), son of Vir Singh, and Dharmpal (24), son of Ajaib Singh, died on the spot, while Sanjiv Kumar and the driver of the truck received injuries. The driver of the truck has been arrested. A case under Sections 304-A, 279, 337 and 427 of the IPC has been registered. OC


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