Friday, May 23, 2003, Chandigarh, India


L U D H I A N A   S T O R I E S


Water-sewerage project hit by Rs 4-cr scam
Jupinderjit Singh
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 22
Even as the local municipal corporation is drawing flak for increasing the water-sewerage rates, a scandal of over Rs 4 crore has been detected by the local Vigilance Bureau in the execution of such works in several parts of the city. Interestingly, sewerage and water supply work on the basis of which the MC was promising portable ‘water for all’ was being tipped as a factor behind the recent rate hike.

Nearly one-fourth of the Rs 20 crore spent on the work in the first phase of the Rs 150-crore project was, thus, siphoned off, informed sources said on the basis of the findings of the Vigilance Department so far. The amount is likely to soar further as the vigilance was yet to complete the inquiry.

Highly-placed sources in the Vigilance Department revealed to Ludhiana Tribune that it would take few days more for the completion of the inquiry but the loss to public exchequer due to shortcomings in the execution of the work calculated so far was pegged at more than four crore rupees.

The vigilance had carried out an elaborate digging work in the city in the first week of this month to verify the complaints that the work in the prestigious project was not according to the laid down standards. Question mark was also raised on the material used in the project. The final report was awaited. There were also reports that strong pressure was being exerted on the Vigilance to stall the inquiry.

Since the initiation of the inquiry, it has been confirmed for the first time that there were irregularities. The persons responsible for the work have, thus, allegedly not only played a fraud with the government but also with the safety of the residents of the city.

Mr Kanwarjit Singh Sandhu, SSP, Vigilance Bureau commenting on the scandal said he would like to give details only after the completion of the inquiry, which would be readied within few days. He said at this moment he can only say that there was a major scandal.

“It is a momentous work” he said “We have to make several calculations. That is why it is taking time.” The Vigilance Bureau has also requisitioned the services of a Chartered Accountant (CA) to go through the entries made in the dispatch and receipt registers. The CA will also calculate the amount spent on say the laying down of one pipe and the money pocketed by the officials concerned.

The Sewerage Board had taken up a Rs 150 crore project of providing sewerage and drinking water facility to the city residents. The project was being popularised as a ‘water for all’ scheme unique to Ludhiana. Only Rs 20 crore worth work was completed so far when this huge scandal was unearthed by the Vigilance Bureau. The total project was worth Rs 150 crore.

Investigations by VB sleuths reveal that material like sewerage pipes did not bear any stamps from the testing authorities. The pipes were not of good quality and were not seepage proof. The pipes were prone to breakage also as the material used for padding in the drains was missing at various places. The sleuths said that joints of the pipes were not upto the mark.

The VB officials said that there were allegations that only 40 per cent of the funds were being utilised in the project and the rest of the money was allegedly pocketed by the officials. They said that the connivance of senior officials and junior employees was not ruled out in the entire episode.



Cess hike: dharna continues
Our Correspondent

Ludhiana, May 22
Activists of the BJP, the SAD and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) along with councillors and senior leaders of the parties continued their dharna in protest against the increase in water and sewerage charges and tuition fee for higher education at the MC headquarters for the second day here.

Braving blistering heat, the leaders of the SAD-BJP combine and the BSP squatted for over four hours during which scathing attacks were made on the Congress government in Punjab, whom the speakers charged with betraying the masses by jacking up the civic charges and the fee structure for college education.

The councillors assigned for the dharna today included Ms Sunita Aggarwal, Ms Anuradha Nagar and Mr Rajiv Katna ( all from BJP), Mr Bhairaj Singh, Mr Jaswinder Singh Bhola and Ms Rajinder Kaur Grewal (all from SAD) and Mr Hans Raj (BSP).

Mr Rajinder Bhandari, state general secretary of the BJP, Mr Parveen Bansal, group leader of BJP councillors, Mr Bhairaj Singh, Mr Jaswinder Singh Bhola, SAD councillors and several other speakers observed that in a complete volte face, the ruling party, which had promised to provide free water and sewerage facility to the urban people, had not only gone back on its word but had made these basic civic services more costly.

As if to add insult to injury, the government had effected a drastic increase in the fee structure thereby virtually making higher education out of reach of the children from economically weaker sections.



181 jhuggis gutted
Naveen S. Garewal
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 22
The district administration has confirmed that 181 jhuggis were burnt in the fire that engulfed the jhuggi colony, near Vishkarma Colony, in Jamalpur yesterday evening. While no loss of life has been reported, the initial assessment puts the loss of property at several lakhs. The Additional Deputy Commissioner, Mr Rahul Bhandari, said, “While no one died, all those who received minor injuries have been discharged after first aid”.

The exact cause of the fire has not been confirmed, but a short circuit from a “kundi” connection by jhuggi dwellers is said to have caused the fire around 7 pm that yesterday razed all 181 jhuggi to the ground in minutes. “The Electricity Board has not provided any official connection in the jhuggi colony”, district officials have confirmed.

Tehsildar Shivdev Singh, who also holds additional charge of SDM (East), conducted a survey and made a list of people affected by the fire. Mr Bhandari said: “the list would be forwarded to the state government which will decide if any compensation is to be given”.

Officials disclose that the local fire service lacks manpower. As against the required strength of 161 firemen, there are only 100. The government has sanctioned the appointment of 34 firemen, but it will take a long time before they are recruited and trained. The posts have to be advertised through the employment exchange.



Fire-fighting equipment missing in mini-secretariat
Kanchan Vasdev
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 22
Practice what you preach, the adage seems to have no effect on officials of the district administration if the adherence to fire safety norms in the mini-secretariat here is any indication.

Even as the district administration is conducting a survey of various hotels and restaurants flouting the fire safety norms, the offices in the mini-secretariat complex do not follow the norms themselves.

The offices in the basement of the complex, including that of the Sub-Registrar (East) and (West), tehsil complex, SDM (East), District Transport Officer, Civil Defence, Tehsildar, Record Room and Tehsildar’s Court can be a virtual death trap for at least 1000 persons present there at any time of the day.

The office of the Sub-Registrar, where at least 500 persons are usually present at point of time, does not even provide for an emergency exit in case of fire. The only exit is through the stairs that open in front of the DC’s office and the other is near the DTO’s office. Reaching for this exit during an emergency can lead to stampede as the corridors are narrow.

The emergency door, which opens into the lawyers’ chambers, is permanently locked and is being used as a dump for waste papers. Employees say that it serves as a mini-record room. Even the burning of a cigarette stub can cause fire that can spread in a few minutes only.

Shockingly, there is no fire extinguisher or buckets in the entire complex. Also there is no provision for water and people have to go upstairs to fetch it.

After the Khud Mohalla incident, where 11 persons were killed and 85 persons injured, the district administration had started surveying buildings for fire safety norms. Some buildings were even raided by ADC Rahul Bhandari.

Officials in the Fire Control Department, on the condition of anonymity, said they were aware that there was no fire-fighting system in the mini-secretariat despite the fact that several people visited it everyday and there was a threat of fire especially in the basement. They said they could not enforce anything as the fire safety Act had not been implemented in the state. “We are toothless tigers. We keep surveying various places and keep the record in our files. At times we even advise the authorities concerned to follow the directions. We had advised the officials of the district administration also. They say they are helpless as there are no funds to purchase fire-fighting equipment,” the officials said.



Fires continue to rage in the city
Our Correspondent

Ludhiana, May 22
Havan and scores of prayer meetings in the city during the last fortnight have failed to appease the fire god and the city continues to be in the grip of blazes, one after the other. After the fire in the Khud Mohalla locality, followed by the fire in Golden Temple Mail near the city, both of which claimed several lives, a big cluster of jhuggis on Jamalpur Road was gutted last evening. Though there was no loss of life, household articles of a large number of residents were destroyed. They have also been rendered homeless.

Fire incidents in a big city, that too when the temperature shoots up, are not uncommon but in the wake of the two major fire tragedies, the residents have become apprehensive.

As far as the jhuggis are concerned, these are a combination of inflammable material, says a fire department official, adding that the fire risks are enhanced by the prevalence of cooking food on “angeethis” or stoves and use of “kundi” connections. With no proper electrical fitting or wiring, electrical appliances used by the jhuggi-dwellers on “kundi” connections are potential fire risks.

Several dignitaries visited the site of the fire tragedy last evening and spoke about rehabilitation and relief measures with indications of resettlement at alternative places with cheap houses built on subsidised land.

According to a senior district official, such attempts have been made several times without any impact on the mushrooming of jhuggis. The jhuggi-dwellers who have been resettled return to the jhuggis after selling or renting out such houses.



These firemen operate from MC parking
D.B. Chopra

Ludhiana, May 22
Firemen of the city, who fought the flames in Khud Mohalla and doused the fire in Frontier Mail near Laddowal recently, are a dejected lot as far as their own facilities are concerned. These firemen operate from a dingy corner of the municipal parking near the corporation headquarters.

While the civic body is going ahead with the construction of five fire centres in various parts of the city at an enormous cost, no higher officer has , it seems, realised the need to accommodate these firefighters in a proper office. When this reporter visited the head fire office this afternoon, Mr Kartar Singh, DFO, and his colleague Ravinder Kumar, who have been acknowledged as brave firefighters, were trying to beat the heat with an exhaust fan placed near the parking lot.

Work on the multi-storeyed headquarters of the city’s firebrigade which is coming up near Laxmi Cinema is going on at a snail’s pace and it will be a while before the men and machines of the fire department could be accommodated.

After the Jawahar Nagar market fire which broke out in 2001, the municipal corporation had honoured and promoted some firemen for exemplary courage. Risking their lives, they had also saved some children.

The Mayor, Mr Nahar Singh Gill, was inspecting the fire centres under construction. The firemen are pinning their hopes on the Mayor who they feel might make some arrangements as far as their basic office facilities are concerned.



Red faces as probe entrusted to CBI
Amarjit Thind
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 22
There are a lot of red faces, both in the police department and the Congress, following orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to hand over the investigations in the case of a murderous assault on Mr Kewal Krishan Jindal, former acting chief of the municipal committee of Malerkotla, to the CBI.

The Tribune had highlighted the story in August on the simmering row between two factions of Malerkotla councillors which came into the open on August 28 with the alleged murderous assault by the MLA and her husband on Mr Jindal who remained admitted to the local Christian Medical College here for several days. He was attacked and left for dead by armed assailants in broad daylight on August 28 outside the council hall while a heavy contingent of police remained mute spectators.

A jubilant Jindal told TNS today that his stand had been vindicated and that this was necessary to curb the “lawlessness” which had been let loose in Malerkotla by the MLA and her police officer husband. “We had been regularly demanding his transfer from the district but to no avail. The government should at least now pay heed in wake of the CBI enquiry and transfer the officer to a range which does not comprises the constituency of his wife. It is a big blot on the image of not only the police department but also the ruling regime,” he said.

He had stood up for his convictions and had paid the price, he said. “But I did not give up and approached the court which ordered the inquiry. My family had been traumatised by the attack and we were so demoralised that no one moved out of the house,” he added.



Offices issuing receipts without revenue stamps
Vimal Sumbly
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 22
Some institutions including those owned by the government are learnt to have been issuing receipts without the mandatory revenue stamps. Despite representations by citizens, these institutions are continuing with this practice. Even a number of offices of the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) have been found issuing receipts without revenue stamps.

Sources said in the Jagraon branch of the LIC, the daily collection of premium and revenue was about Rs 10 lakh, but receipts did not bear any revenue stamps. Such receipts without revenue stamps were being issued for the past about two months.

When some policy holders expressed their resentment and suspected the authenticity of the receipts, the branch officials took the plea that there was an acute shortage of revenue stamps in the post office of Jagraon. The policy holders said it was the responsibility of the officials to get the revenue stamps to ensure the authenticity of the receipts. The LIC does not make any payment to its policy holders without taking signatures on revenue stamp affixed on the forms.

Meanwhile, the policy holders are seeking a change in the location of the office, since it was difficult to reach the present place. The LIC office of Jagraon is located on the Sherpur road on the outskirts, which is said to be an insecure area for any financial institution. No mode of transport is available on routine basis to reach there. Due to its odd location, people find it difficult to reach the office.



Heat brings host of ailments
Our Correspondent

Ludhiana, May 22
The scorching heat and dry spell, with mercury hovering around 44°C, has forced residents to remain indoors and has brought with it a host of summer ailments like gastroenteritis, viral fever, typhoid and jaundice. City hospitals and private nursing homes are witnessing an increase in patients.

Dr A.S. Chawla, president of the National Neonatology Forum (NNF), Punjab, said the rising temperature led to many complications. “We are getting children suffering from high-grade fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and other water-borne stomach ailments. The dry spell is a medium for bacteria to grow. Though the figures are not alarming, we are getting over 15 such cases everyday. Unboiled drinking water, contaminated food, salads and cut fruits which are openly sold in the city, aggravate the problem. In severe cases, the children become unconscious and get convulsions which can be dangerous,” he said.

Dr Rajoo Singh Chhina, Medical Superintendent of Dayanand Medical College and Hospital, said though the inflow of patients suffering from gastroenteritis had increased, it was not in an epidemic form.



Encroachers shift focus to green belts
Kuldip Bhatia

Ludhiana, May 22
Encroachments on government land continue unabated as the enforcement authorities seem to have closed their eyes to the land mafia that is active in various prime localities here.

The “organised groups” involved in encroachments have shifted their focus to green belts and main roads in the localities that have been developed by the Ludhiana Improvement Trust (LIT) and maintained by the municipal corporation.

The dual control and the tendency among the departments concerned of the two bodies to pass the buck, is being exploited by these groups. The controversy over who should hold the building control, enforce building laws and check encroachments in these colonies continues and the matter has been taken up with the state government.

In a glaring case, which is not a solitary example, a commercial complex is being constructed near a marriage palace on Dugri Road on government land and despite protests by residents, no action has been taken so far to stop the construction. Besides occupying a vacant site on one side of the main road, a part of the street near the Shakti Cooperative House Building Society has also been encroached upon.

The residents maintain that the encroachments were done in a systematic manner. Initially a temporary structure had been put up on the site and given on rent. Since the authorities took no cognizance of it, despite repeated complaints, the construction has been taken up on a large scale.

The LIT, according to sources, maintains that in accordance with resolution no 131, the trust had decided to retain building control of such localities. But at the same time, the LIT had forwarded a complaint of the Shakti Cooperative House Building Society about the encroachment to MC officials “for necessary action on encroachment and illegal possession”.

The MC administration has also challenged the legal authority of the LIT in reverting the building control of various localities which were handed over to the civic body for maintenance.



Condition of parks: Chief Secretary’s 
Our correspondent

Ludhiana, May 22
After getting the Punjab Human Rights Commission to serve a notice on the Punjab Government, the Federation of Park Management Committee (FPMC) has, now, sought the intervention of the Punjab Chief Secretary, Mr Rajan Kashyap, in sorting out the situation arising from non-payment of dues to the Park Management Committees (PMCs) by the Municipal Corporation and as a result, the PMCs in the city going defunct. Calling for an immediate decision on this issue, the federation said the deteriorating condition of parks was having an adverse effect on nearly 35 lakh citizens, besides creating environment pollution.

Taking cognizance of the pathetic conditions prevailing in the city parks because of the imbroglio between the PMCs and the civic administration and the major role played by parks and the green belts in one of the most polluted cities, the Punjab State Human Rights Commission (PSHRC) had admitted the complaint filed by the Federation of the PMCs on May 5.

The commission had observed that the MC had entrusted the maintenance of over 400 parks to 120 PMCs by entering into legal agreements for payment at a rate of Rs 1 per sq m for the maintenance and upkeep of parks, which had helped in the revival of green belts in the city and controlling pollution. Besides, the presence of the PMCs had also resulted in saving the parks from stray animals and damage caused by dumping of garbage etc.

However, the civic body had failed to honour the contracts and release of funds to the PMCs, in some cases since September 2001, due to a government directive fixing the rates for maintenance of parks at 50 paise per sq m with an upper ceiling of Rs 1,000, which was not acceptable to the PMCs. Holding that a case of violation of human rights was made out, the PSHRC had asked the Principal Secretary Local Government Punjab to submit a report within one month and fixed the next hearing of the case for June 30.

The president of the Federation of the PMCs, Mr S.S. Chana, said the PMCs had been pursuing this case with the Municipal Commissioner, Secretary Local Self Government, Chief Secretary, Minister for Local Bodies and Chief Minister, individually and collectively, for the past one year, but it had failed to elicit any positive response till date.

In a communication to the then Chief Secretary, Mr Y.S. Ratra, last month, Mr Chana had said that senior citizens, mainly retired government officers and prominent residents, had formed the PMCs in response to a call given by the Municipal Corporation during 1999 to revive and maintain the parks and green belts in the city. However, they were being denied the payments due to them under legal agreements which were in force till date.

A delegation of the federation had also visited Chandigarh on April 22 and apprised the Chief Secretary and Mr B.R. Banga, Director Local Self Government, at the directions of the Minister for Higher Education, Mr Harnam Dass Johar, of the implications of the case.

Mr Chana said, having exhausted all other channels, the federation had to approach the PSHRC in the larger interest of citizens who had a right to the quality of life for which they paid taxes to the civic body. 



Prayers for those who perished
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 22
When the flames leapt aboard the Frontier Mail, these were the people who came to the aid of those struggling to put out the fire and rescue the passengers. Now once again, these villagers from Mang Phagowal and 20 odd other neighbouring villages have decided to do something for those who were not so lucky to survive. They would start an Akhand Path at that spot where the bodies lay before they were moved to Ludhiana.

“We are doing this as a humanitarian gesture to pray for the souls of all those who lost their lives in our village, far away from their homes’, says the village sarpanch, Ms Santosh Kumari. This was a unanimous decision of all village residents and the panchayats of neighbouring villages, she told Ludhiana Tribune.

For three days, villagers from villages including Ladian, Quadian, Barewal, Hussain Pura, Manker, Laddowal, etc would spend time here all through the day and night to pray for the souls of those who lost lives in the fire that ravaged in the burning coaches of the train.

A village resident, Mr Sanjiv Bassi, said during the next three days, langar would be put up by the village residents, who he said had done the same soon after the train mishap. Most village residents have felt that such an action was necessary to condole the death of the passengers.

President of the village gurdwara Nazar Singh said the activities of the gurdwara would be moved to the site of the Akhand path for the next three days. He appealed to residents of the neighbouring villages to participate in the religious function that would conclude with a langar on Sunday.



Plans to celebrate 400 yrs of 
Guru Granth Sahib installation
Our Correspondent

Ludhiana, May 22
The Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle has chalked out an elaborate strategy for celebrating the fourth centenary of first installation of Guru Granth Sahib, scheduled on September 1, 2004.

At a state-level meeting of the Punjab State Council, the Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle, it has been decided to spread the message of ‘gurcharni lagna’ and starting ‘Sehaj Path’. The students enrolled for ‘Sehaj Path’ will be awarded prizes. Volunteers of various organisations along with other panthic organisations, gurdwara committees will be visiting schools, colleges in order to train students for ‘Sehaj Path’.

According to Renuka Sarabjeet Singh, Director, Education and Training, Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle, huge chunk of publicity material has already been published. These include 30,000 yellow cards, 20,000 pocket calendars, 50,000 booklets, 5000 foam calendars etc.

A four-step programme has been initiated in which all the officer-bearers of the circle will themselves start ‘Sehaj Path’. As a second step they will spread the message through various publicity material. Thirdly, training courses for Gurbani pronunciation and understanding will be organised at village and school-level. Lastly prizes will be given to all students who will complete their ‘Sehaj Path’ by September 1, 2004.

Among those who graced the state council meeting were Mr Inderpal Singh, state president, Mr Prithi Singh, state secretary, Zonal Secretary, Mr Arvinder Pal Singh (Faridkot - Muktsar), Mr Pritam Singh (Ferozepur-Moga), Mr Gurcharan Singh (Amritsar), Mr Narinderpal Singh (Chak Somina), Mr Surinderpal Singh Sidki (Sangrur - Patiala), Mr Jaspal Singh (Ludhiana), Mr Tejinder Singh (Ropar) etc.

A group of 50 students of Sri Guru Teg Bahadur School have already started Sehaj Path.



Man missing
Our Correspondent

Amloh, May 22
Mr Baldev Singh (50), a resident of Sherpur village near here, is missing since May 20. On the basis of an affidavit, Mr Sukhdev Singh, elder brother of Baldev Singh, the Amloh police has registered a DDR.

Mr Baldev Singh after withdrawing Rs 20,000 from the Fatehgarh Sahib Central Cooperative Bank, Bugga Kalan branch, on Tuesday at noon came out of the bank but his whereabouts are not known since then.

When he did not return, his family members searched for him all around. The police is clueless about his whereabouts.



85,000 looted from postal employee
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 22
In a daring daylight robbery, four armed youths snatched a bag containing about Rs 85,000 from an employee of a post office near Baddowal this afternoon when the employee was on his way to deposit the amount.

The youths, riding two scooters, intercepted Kulwinder Singh, who was on a scooter, and forced him to hand over the bag. He, however, managed to save Rs 15,000 of the post office which were in his pocket.

Police sources said either the robbers had kept an eye on the routine system of the post office or some person with inside information was hand-in-glove with the accused. Senior officers rushed to the crime scene and the employee was questioned thoroughly. The police showed photographs of listed criminals to the employee but he could not recognise them. The sources said on the basis of information provided by him, the sketches of the accused were being prepared.



XEN caught red-handed
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 22
An Executive Engineer (XEN) of the PSEB, Sohinderjit Singh, posted at Jagraon was caught red-handed while accepting a bribe of Rs 30,000 from a dhaba owner. According to sources, the premises of Parminder Singh, owner of Raja Dhaba situated on the Ludhiana-Ferozepore road, were recently raided by a team of the board.

Since the load was far in excess of the sanctioned limit, he was fined Rs 1. 60 lakh and his power disconnected. Parminder urged the accused to settle the matter who demanded Rs 50, 000 but a deal was struck for Rs 30, 000.

The matter was brought to the notice of the Vigilance Burea by Parminder. The accused told the dhaba owner to come to a furniture shop near his house. As the money changed hands, the team nabbed the officer. The money was recovered in the presence of two government witnesses.



Woman, servant murdered
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 22
A woman and her servant were found murdered in a house at Shastri Nagar today late evening. Both seemed to have been clubbed to death. However, there were no signs of robbery in the house.

Poonam Malhotra, a housewife, and her servant, Chottu, were found lying dead at separate places in house number 58-B in Shastri Nagar by Mr Naresh Malhotra, husband of Poonam, and some neighbours. The body of the woman was found in the bathroom. Her hands and legs were tied with a ‘dupatta’. The servant was found dead in a room on the first floor. The police said rods were used to club them to death.

The police further said the murders seemed to have taken place earlier in the day. When two children of the deceased woman returned home they found the house locked. They searched their father. It was only in the evening that Mr Naresh Malhotra and other persons managed to open the house and found them of dead.



3 kg of gold seized, 4 held

Ludhiana, May 22
The Customs Department has seized around 3 kg of gold and has arrested three persons in the golden bricks case that had rocked the city during the past many days.

According to Mr Amit Goel, Commissioner, Customs, the nabbed three include Harbaksh Singh alias Major, Shyam Lal, Paramjit Singh, alias Happy and Inderjit Singh. They were remanded in the custody of the Customs Department for investigations under the Customs Act, 1962. Mr Goel said the bricks were seized from the custody of the arrested. He said the two gold bricks weighed one kg each and bore foreign marking and the third one was broken into three pieces. TNS



Three booked
Our Correspondent

Ahmedgarh, May 22
The local police has booked three persons including a woman, under Section 109 of the IPC.
According to sources, a police party caught Pala Singh of Nangal village and Surinder Kaur of Malerkotla from a deserted tubewell in a compromising position.

Sources said that other two persons who were nabbed from vicinity were later released. The police booked another person, Satnam Singh alias Gora of Ranike who was roaming aimlessly in the town at mid-night. The accused have been sent to judicial custody after being booked under Section 109 of the IPC.



98 cylinders confiscated
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 22
The District Food and Supplies department today confiscated 83 filled and 15 empty LPG cylinders from a shopkeeper in Giaspura who was selling and storing the cylinders without any authorisation. Department sources said the illegal storing and selling of gas cylinders in such a manner was a major fire threat in the city, besides causing loss to the state government. The accused shopkeeper, Makhan Lal, managed to run away.
A case has been registered at Focal Point police station. 



AirTel braces for competition
Our Correspondent

Ludhiana, May 22
Punjab is the largest and the fastest growing market for cellular services in the country after Delhi and Mumbai. Cellular operators are working on the presumption that in Punjab mobile phones will far exceed landlines in the near future.

This was disclosed by Mr Vinod Sawney, CEO, BML (Northern region) while inaugurating an AirTel Point (retail outlet) at the Gill Road today.

AirTel, which is one of the largest cellular operators in the country, is bracing itself for competition from other operators, but feels there is no threat to it from any quarter due to its strong infrastructure. Mr Sawney, citing the example of the BSNL, said Cell One had entered the market with great enthusiasm by offering free incoming calls giving them the initial advantage before February, 2003. “But once we announced free incoming services, the BSNL sales declined”.

In terms of numbers, over 50 per cent of all new cellular connections in the country are provided by AirTel. Mr Sawney disclosed that in keeping with the market trends, AirTel had introduced a general package radio services (GPRS) wherein for Rs 600, subscribers got Internet accessibility from anywhere. Airtel has already provided over 1000 connections under the GPRS scheme during the past one month.

At present the company has a customer base of a little over 3.75 lakh, acquired over the last one year. AirTel, Mr Sawney claimed, was the only provider of multi-media services (MMS) in the region. MMS allows the transmission of pictures, images and sound clips along with the text message. At present, the service is being offered free, but soon AirTel proposes to start charging for it.

According to Mr Sawney, Airtel has many firsts to its credit that include reduction in rentals. It was the first to introduce free all-India and international roaming on pre-paid cards, the first to provide pre-paid balance on screen and the first to provide value-added services on pre-paid cards. 


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