P U N J A B    S T O R I E S

CAG has published unverified report: CM
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 30
Stating the position of the Punjab Government with regard to the recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India, the Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, has said that all revenue collected as rural development cess has been utilised correctly and the CAG has published an unverified report.

Capt Amarinder Singh said media reports published in this regard related to the performance audit of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and not to the Rural Development Fund of the state. “There is no doubt that the RD cess and market fee are collected from the FCI as a major purchaser of foodgrains in the state but it is not obligatory on the part of the state government to report the utilisation of such a tax revenue to the payer, namely the FCI”, said a statement issued by the Chief Minister.

The Chief Minister said the state government had ensured the proper utilisation of the revenue strictly as per the provisions of the Punjab Mandi Board Act and the Punjab Rural Development Act, 1987. Most of the funds collected by the Mandi Board as market fees, had been utilised for the construction and repair of link roads. The state government had repaired 22,819 km of link roads at a cost of Rs 919 crore during the past four years. The state government had also decided to construct 4,500 km of new link roads at a cost of Rs 625 crore. Another 4,800 km of link roads would also be repaired during the current financial year with an investment of Rs 190 crore.

The statement further said that the state government had utilised Rs 1,920 crore of the Rural Development Fund during the past five year (2001-2006). A sum of Rs 250 crore had been spent on rural electrification, Rs 962 crore on link roads, Rs 321 crore on the development of the rural infrastructure, Rs 101 crore on assistance to the cooperative sugar mills and Rs 35 crore on the diversification of agriculture and the balance amount on various other initiatives of the state government aimed at the welfare of farmers and the rural areas.


Reply to CAG report being prepared: Bhattal
Our Correspondent

Fatehgarh Sahib, August 30
Ms Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Deputy Chief Minister, here today said the state government was preparing a reply to the CAG report on the misuse of funds.

She said it had nothing to do with the present government and most of the misuse of funds mentioned in it related to the FCI and the previous Badal government. She said the amount related to the present government was nominal and a report was being sent to the Union Government in that regard.

She said there would be no privatisation of polytechnics rather the cooperative societies would be empowered on the pattern of zila parishads and all their works would be done at the local and employees would not be affected.

She said the government had got approval from the Finance Department to recruit school principals and BEd teachers. She said 1,200 teachers would be recruited and the process would start next month.


PM may visit Punjab on Sept 27 and 28
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 30
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to visit Punjab in the last week of September. Officials sources said though the dates were yet to be confirmed heis likely to visit Punjab on September 27 and 28.

Sources said the Prime Minister would lay the foundation stone of North-West Railway freight corridor between Ludhiana-Delhi- Mumbai and Ludhiana-Delhi-Kolkatta. The first phase of this corridor is to be completed by 2009. All goods trains will be routed through this corridor to expedite the transportation of goods from one region to other quickly.

He would lay the foundation stone of the knowledge city at Mohali. The Knowledge city will include the Indian Institute of Science and Research, the Indian Institute of Bio-technology, the Indian Institute of Nano-technology and Bio-Technology park. Punjab is,perhaps, the only state where the setting up of Indian Institute of Science has been delayed. The Union Government in its last budget had announced the setting up of thee such Institutes and the foundation of one of them was laid last month by the Prime Minister at Kolkata.

The PM is also expected to inaugurate the Chandigarh-Morinda rail link which has been waiting for a VVIP for inauguration. That rail link will directly connect Chandigarh with the rest of Punjab. He will also visit Laddowal farm developed by a private company for exporting farm fresh vegetables and other green material. If the Halwara International Airport project is cleared by the Airport Authority of India by then, the PM would also lay the foundation stone of Airport at Halwara.

During his visit, the Prime Minister is also expected to make vital announcement including compensation to the families of terrorist victims on the pattern of victims of riots of 1984 in Delhi and elsewhere.


Akalis fear losing vote bank: CM
Tribune News Service

Talwandi Sabo, August 30
Accusing SAD supremo Parkash Singh Badal of attempting to scuttle the Reliance Agri Project for his political interests, the Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, today said the Akalis were apprehensive that if farmers became economically self-reliant they would lose their vote bank. The CM stated this while addressing a press conference after attending the state-level function to mark Sampooranta Divas here.

He categorically said the state government was not providing any land to the Reliance group free of cost rather it were the panchayats who would give shamlat land on lease at the rate of Rs 16,000 per acre as compared to the present rate of around Rs 8,000-9,000 per acre. In the wake of alarming decline in the water table, he emphasized the need to shift to drip irrigation. He said the river water was also receding due to virtually no melting of glaciers for the past few years. He lamented that if this trend continued, Punjab would gradually become barren during the next 25 years. He said 33 per cent of cultivable land was being shifted from the traditional wheat-paddy rotation out of which 10 per cent would be brought under citrus plantation, 8 per cent organic farming and 15 per cent under corporate farming. He said the government had tied up with USA-based Tropicana for malta plantation and 10 million malta plants had been planted so far. He mentioned that Reliance, ITC, Godrej and the Bharti group had also evinced keen interest in corporate farming. "Our aim is to increase the income of the farmers by four times through diversification of agriculture in a phased manner," he added.

Captain Amarinder Singh said the existing Guru Gobind Singh Marg would be extended up to Takht Sri Hazoor Sahib (Nanded) and its modalities were being worked out with the Chief Ministers of five states. He announced that a 1,000 MW power plant would come up at Talwandi Sabo. He also assured paucity of funds would not be allowed to hamper the prestigious project of Guru Gobind Singh Rural University. Earlier, he laid the foundation stone of 100 per cent drinking water, renovation of water works and sanitation project at a cost of Rs 3.87 crore, apart from strengthening and widening work of Talwandi Sabo-Rori road at a cost of Rs 3.57 crore. The CM also felicitated those families who put up an exhibition of Gurus' relics and released a souvenir to mark the occasion. The Finance Minister, Mr Surinder Singla, was also present.


Mann steals show at Shatabdi Samagam
Perneet Singh
Tribune News Service

Talwandi Sabo (Bathinda), August 30
SAD (Amritsar) president Simranjeet Singh Mann today virtually stole the show at the Shatabdi Samagam on Sampooranta Divas, as he forced his entry into the pandal, addressed the gathering, received a “siropa” and a memento from none other than SGPC president Avtar Singh Makar and left.

Anticipating trouble, the SGPC had almost sealed the pandal from all sides and had kept only single entry and exit point. As expected, after attending a court hearing in a sedation case against him Mr Mann reached the samagam venue at 11.40 am.

About 100 SAD workers led by ex-minister Sikander Singh Maluka and Akali MLA Jagdeep Singh Nakai tried to stop his supporters at the entrance gate, but they forced their entry into it.

Mr Mann along with his hundreds of party workers armed with kirpans foiled the SGPC task force’s bid to stop them. He paid obeisance to Guru Granth Sahib after which Takht Damdama Sahib Jathedar invited him on the stage. He along with his few supporters headed towards the dais, but when his aides were stopped, he sat in a vacant space in front of the stage. The scene was repeated, but this time the confrontation between his supporters and the task force was severe and could have led to a clash.

Finally, Mr Mann was called on the stage to address the gathering at 12.45 p.m. He said it was a glorious moment in Sikh history and it should be celebrated with open-mindedness. He said the event was meant to be celebrated by all and a single party did not have sole right on it.

At this point when Akali MP Zora Singh Mann interrupted him he said he wouldn’t talk anything except religion. He said: “While Sikh religion is free, Sikh community is yet to attain freedom.” He went on to add: “Sikhs earlier were slaves of Muslims and the British and now they are slaves of Hindus.”

This prompted the Akali MP to take away the mike and plead with him to only talk about Guru Granth Sahib. Mr Mann abruptly ended his address, after which SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makar and Jathedar Nandgarh presented him with a ‘siropa’ and a memento. He was asked to take his place on the dais, but he got down and his supporters too started leaving.

The high drama came to an end when Mr Mann left the function at 1.15 p.m. Jathedar Nandgarh then made some remarks against Mr Mann and his party at which his supporters got furious, but the situation soon became normal.

Miffed with the SGPC and Jathedar Nandgarh felicitating Mr Mann on the dais, SAD president Parkash Singh Badal said: “You are creating an atmosphere of ‘khanajangi’ (civil war) by presenting a ‘siropa’ to a troublemaker.”

He said if the incident was repeated in future the jathedars would be responsible for it. He said the SGPC had been working hard for a month to make the centenary celebrations a success and an individual ruined the show in a few minutes. He wondered what message it would convey to people watching the live telecast of the samagam.

Mr Badal said: “If I have committed any mistake I apologise for it.” He said if Mr Mann wanted to talk about politics he should have put up a separate stage.

Later, addressing reporters SAD MP Sukhbir Badal alleged that Mr Mann spoilt the samagam at the state government’s behest and it was a part of the Congress’ election agenda. 


Centre non-commital on Punjab’s proposals
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 30
The Punjab Government’s efforts during the past few months for a substantial package for development works, money for giving debt relief to farmers and getting cleared several other important projects notwithstanding, the Union Government has been ducking the issues.

The lukewarm response from the authorities concerned on several important projects, which were submitted to the Union Government, has made things difficult for the state government. The top brass of the state government had held several meetings with the Central authorities, including officers of the Prime Minister’s office, but every time the state government officials were asked to submit revised proposals or project reports.

The Punjab Government had submitted a detailed proposal seeking a special development package of Rs 3,796.71 crore from the Union Government and the Planning Commission. There were seven components of the proposal. These included a Rs 229.49 crore rural water supply project, a project of Rs 347.89 crore related to health services, Rs 632 crore for upgrading roads and the construction of bypass roads, Rs 274.22 crore for improving irrigation, Rs 691 crore for power and Rs 234 crore for animal husbandry and education. However, the Union Government had expressed its inability to give such a huge package and asked the state government to submit a revised proposal with far less demands.

The state government had sought Rs 2,060 crore from the Centre to tackle the problem of rural indebtedness. This proposal included Rs 209.36 crore for giving relief to farmers on account of cooperative loans, Rs 170.21 crore as rehabilitation grant to primary agricultural cooperative societies, Rs 390 crore as relief on account of loans of commercial banks and Rs 1,261.80 crore for moratorium on interest for one year.

However, informed sources disclosed that the Union Government had said such matters were covered under the Vaidyanathan committee recommendations. And the state government got funds on the basis of allocations proposed by the committee. The sources said the Union Government would not give more than Rs 400-500 crore to the state government in this regard.

The third major project submitted was for the development of Amritsar and Ludhiana under the Urban Renewal Mission of the Union Government. For Amritsar, the state government had sought Rs 4,932 crore and for Ludhiana Rs 3,995 crore. The sources said the Central authorities had found several deficiencies in the project reports submitted by the state for both cities. No reports had been referred to the Ahmedabad-based institute for redrafting, it is learnt. Interestingly, the Union Government had released money under the mission for 45 cities in other states.

The state government had sought increase in the limit from Rs 50 crore to Rs 250 crore for seeking environment clearance from the Union Government for mega projects. The sources said there was no worthy progress on the issue. For each project of Rs 50 crore approved by the state government, the clearance had to be taken from the Union Government.

Besides, the issue of setting up of a National Defence University at Patiala is hanging fire for the past three years. Earlier, the university was to be set up at Kapurthala but later its project was shifted to Patiala. The state government wanted to use the campus of the National Institute of Sports (NIS) at Patiala to set up the university. However, for it a no objection certificate (NOC) is needed from the Union Ministry of Sports and Youth Welfare, the possibility of which is remote.

Among all, the setting up of an international airport was the most cherished project of the state government. The Airport Authorities of India, the sources said, had found several flaws in the project report. It had sought an amended report from consultants concerned, they added.

The Union Government is sitting over the case regarding the waiver of loans of Rs 3,772 crore plus interest. Punjab had secured the loan 20 years ago to tackle militancy and insurgency in the state. 


Tributes paid to Beant Singh
Tribune News Service

Patiala, August 30
Patiala Member of Parliament Preneet Kaur paid floral tributes to former Chief Minister Beant Singh on the occasion of his 12th death anniversary at Chotti Baradari here today.

Mrs Preneet Kaur said the former Chief Minister played a crucial role in fighting terrorism in Punjab and it was due to his efforts that people were now living in a peaceful atmosphere.

District-level Congress leaders were also present on the occasion.


House session
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 30
The Punjab Governor has summoned the 12th session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha on September 14.

It will be the last session of the current state Assembly. Besides the passing of certain bills, several ordinances will also be converted into Acts during the two-day session. 


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