L U D H I A N A   S T O R I E S

Municipal Corporation pool stinks of scam
Jupinderjit Singh
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, September 6
In what appears as a major scam in running the swimming pool of the local Municipal Corporation (MC), a number of its employees have allegedly pocketed the fee and issued unaccounted receipts to members who enjoyed the services while the MC lost revenue worth lakhs.

While MC Commissioner Vikas Pratap Sharma said he would be in a position to comment on the alleged scandal tomorrow, a number of complaints have been lodged with his office by those who paid the fee, running in to thousands, but could not get identity cards of membership.

Estimates reveal the number of duped person could be anywhere between 100 to 200.

The identity cards were issued to some persons, but not without major anomalies. Those did not have the mandatory photo of the bearer or the addresses.

In the absence of a photo, anyone could seek entry into the pool premises.

The complaints have been appended with the copies of the receipts, many of which do not carry the membership number, besides the address of the holder. Sources said the appointment of a new coach at the swimming pool resulted in the exposure after he questioned the use of the pool by several persons.

The new coach did not allow the members in question to enter the pool without an ID card. The members then realised that they had been fleeced, by employees who did not issue them the requisite identity-cards.

Thirteen persons lodged a complaint with the Commissioner’s Office, while he was reportedly out of town. A complainant, Rajesh Beri, said he took family membership of Rs 1,500 per month when the season started, but was not given a G-8 receipt till date.

“I came to know only now that the employees played a fraud on me. They told me that I do not require an ID card to visit the pool. I did not take it seriously. With the joining of new coach, I came to know what they did to my money,” he said.

Another complainant, Parminder Singh, alleged he had paid Rs 8,000 for life membership. However, he was issued an unaccounted receipt. A month ago, news reports had said outsiders were spending time in the pool premises.



Thousands throng Chhapar Mela
Mahesh Sharma

Mandi Ahmedgarh, September 6
Thousands of devotees thronged Guga Mari Mandir at Chhapar village, near here, to worship snake, the embodiment of “nag devta”.

The first day, known as “chowkis”, saw a large number of men and women attending the religious fair. The police, which was busy planning security arrangements, found it difficult to control the unexpectedly large gathering.

Being one of the largest fairs of North India, Chhapar Mela started attracting a large number of devotees since early morning. Till noon, women outnumbered men.

Mr R. K. Jaiswal, SSP, Jagraon, and in charge of the mela, said about 1,500 policemen had been deputed to ensure proper security for the devotees.

To keep a check on the sale and use of liquor, special teams had been constituted. Policemen in plainclothes, including women, had been deputed at sensitive points.

The police would be assisted by cameras, which would keep an eye on anti-social elements.

Mr Jaiswal said a limited number of four-wheelers would be issued passes to enter the mela area. This, he said, would restrict the carrying of weapons and wine.

Leaders and workers of various parties are busy setting up their pandals. Five political camps would be held during the next two days and party leaders would address conferences on September 8. A helipad for the Chief Minister had been planned at Latala village.



Police averts clash at Guga Mari
Our Correspondent

Mandi Ahmedgarh, September 6
Timely intervention by the authorities averted a clash between two groups warring for the control of a portion of Guga Mari Mandir last night.

According to Mr R K Jaiswal, SSP, Jagraon, and in charge of the Chhapar Mela, Mr Suhinder Pal Singh Bawa SP (H), and Mr M S Jaggie, SDM, Ludhiana, motivated two residents of Sekhon Patti Chhapar and priests-cum-owners of Guga Mari to organise the event jointly and amicably instead of entering into a confrontation over a petty issue.

“There were some misunderstandings which have been removed with the timely intervention of officers from our department and the civil administration. Both parties have agreed to the proposal that the priests would contribute Rs 2 lakh for the development of the temple and adjoining buildings and the money would be utilised by a committee comprising members from both groups,” said Mr Jaiswal, adding that all issues had been resolved.

The situation became tense when a section of residents of the village tried to gherao the temple last night. An irate mob tried to enter the temple to avert the handing over of the charge of temples at Guga Mari, but the police acted firmly and asked the elders to intervene.

Disagreement had arisen over priests renting out a verandah which according to the villagers had been constructed for the convenience of devotees. A court at Ludhiana had ordered status quo at the said verandah. Both parties agreed to leave the place for the use of devotees instead of renting it out to some vendor.



The tale of Chhapar Mela
Mahesh Sharma

Mandi Ahmedgarh, September 6
A village fair that originated as a small gathering of locals to worship snake embodiment of Guga 150 years ago has emerged as a mega festival in the past three decades.

The legend narrates a story of a boy and a snake born together in an agricultural family of Chhapar village. The serpent and the boy were so intimate that if one suffered a pain the other used to cry.

One day the mother of the child went to the fields after laying him on a cot. To save him from the scorching sun, the snake stretched its hood over him. Mistaking that the snake is going to bite the child, a passerby killed it with a stick. The child also died immediately after the death of the snake that left the family in sorrow.

The family was advised by the elders to perform religious ceremonies to worship Guga and Sidh and a he-goat was left free to mark the place of worship by striking at a particular place.

The place was recognised as Mari Guga where people from all walks of life have been worshipping Guga on the fourth day of the month of Bhadas every year.

The farmers of the Malwa belt recognise the fair to the extent that they change the agricultural chores according to the dates of the mela.

People also narrate another story regarding the second fair known as “Minor Mela Chhapar.”

On the onset of the 20 century, the then Maharaja was said to have banned the mela on a complaint by some farmers. But soon after the ruler banned the event, his horses started dying mysteriously and the misfortune stopped only after the ruler announced to organise the minor mela following the major one.

According to another story, a faqir once anchored a twig after cleaning his teeth. A local person uprooted the twig in a fun.

The faqir then cursed the people of the local area that the place would witness a heavy camp here, which would be followed by a deserted look.

Though originally the fair had started as a small congregation of the devotees of Guga, it has now transformed into a big festival.



Angry residents halt road repair work
Say poor quality being used
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, September 6
Amidst allegation of inferior quality material being used for recarpeting of roads in Gurdev Nagar, angry residents of the area stopped repair work last midnight and forced the workers to go back without completing the same.

Workers of a construction company had to go back leaving work midway when 150 residents gathered at the site and did not allow them to carry on with their work.

Led by Mr Pawan Puri, an office-bearer of the Gurdev Nagar Welfare Society, the residents alleged that there was some “hanky panky” and, hence, the contractor was finishing the work in a jiffy at night.

The residents said the workers did not cleaned the road before laying premix. Neither did they apply the thin layer of bitumen on the road. Consequently, cracks appeared in the recarpeted portion the next morning and flakes of premix came off.

They demanded that work should be done during the day so that they could check the quality of the material. “The public money is going down the drain,” said Mr Puri.



Rats, birds cause colossal damage to crops
Vimal Sumbly
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, September 6
Birds and field rats pose a serious threat to field crops and stored grains. Much of the damage is caused at the seedling and ripening stage. The innocuous looking doves and pigeons relish pulses. When joined by sparrows and weaver birds, these ‘winged visitors’ feast on stored paddy in Punjab worth approximately Rs 2.4 crore annually. Weaver birds are wont to damaging rice nurseries and maturing bajra and sorghum.

According to Punjab Agricultural University’s latest edition of ‘Package of Practices for crops of Punjab – Rabi 2006-07’, the damage caused by rodents and birds is colossal. It has underlined the need for effective management thereof. Interestingly, rats and mice are extremely “adaptable in nature, highly intelligent in behaviour patterns and possess tremendous potential to multiply”. Their sense of smell and taste is acute. They are selective in food choice.

The average damage to wheat caused by rats and mice is around 2.9 per cent at the seedling stage and 4.5 per cent at ripening stage. Peas are another delicacy that rats enjoy. The damage caused to peas is 1.1 per cent at the seedling and 5.9 per cent at the ripening stage. Maize, which has multiple uses for man, is also not safe. Rats and mice nibble away 10.7 per cent of winter maize at the seedling stage alone.

Birds are either farmer-friendly or are their foes. In fact, the same species of birds may either be beneficial or problematic in different situations. Only a few of 300-odd species of birds of Punjab cause damage to field crops and granaries. Among the most harmful birds is the parakeet, followed by doves and pigeons.

Here is a word of warning to the farmers of the ‘bet’ area: rats’ damage to wheat near sugarcane fields, on waste land, canals and roads is up to 25 per cent. There are several ways to control the menace: mechanical, bait, environmental and biological. In biological control, owls, kites, hawks, falcons, eagles, cats, mongoose, jackals and lizards need to be protected as these are natural predators of mice.

Management of birds is important. Parakeets love to nibble and eat almost all seasonal crops and enjoy tasting the sunflower. House crows damage sprouting and maturing maize and sunflower.

Of the many management techniques to checkmate or scare away harmful birds, “alarming calls” are useful.

“Alarming call” is a recorded cassette available at the Centre for Communication, Languages and Culture, PAU. Priced at Rs 25, these recorded cassette voices are “distress” or “flock calls” of parakeets and crows, respectively. When played at full volume for about 60 to 90 minutes twice a day at dawn and dusk with a pause of 60 minutes, the birds are scared away and halt their feeding activities for the day in the freshly sown fields or in emerging and maturing crops or in orchards.

Conservation of useful birds is equally important. Even carnivorous birds like little sparrows and weaver birds feed on a large number of insects to their young ones. This feeding is done almost 250 times a day. Therefore, useful birds should not be killed, rather they can be attracted to field crops in several different ways.



Federation confronts rights panel over MC working
K.S. Chawla

A garbage dump on the KVM School road.
A garbage dump on the KVM School road.

Ludhiana, September 6
The federation of management committees on pollution and maintenance of parks has confronted with the Punjab State Human Rights Commission over the disposal of garbage in the town.

The federation had complained to the commission against the local Municipal Corporation alleging failure of the corporation in keeping the city clean and removing garbage from the parks.

The president of the management, Mr S.S. Chana, had represented to the commission “There has been no improvement as far as the collection, disposal and treatment of garbage and maintenance of public parks and green belts in the city are concerned. It appears the submission made by Mr S.K. Sharma, Municipal Commissioner, before the members of the commission in February were nothing more than a big bluff. Neither the construction of garbage (solid waste) treatment plant has started nor the major gardens in the city have been given to the advertisers for maintenance as stated by him.”

The federation further alleged that garbage lying scattered all over the city was not only affecting the quality of life but was also a big health hazard for the citizens. The teams deputed by the Central Pollution Control Board and the Punjab Pollution Control Board, during their visit to the town in February, 2005, had categorically stated that the MC was violating the rules specified for the disposal of municipal solid waste.

While rejecting the plea of the federation, the commission, at its full bench meeting on in July stated, “the complainant has not cared to turn up even today. We have carefully and minutely examined all relevant aspects, which had initially figured in the complaint received from Mr Chana.

“The complainant had vociferously criticised the manner in which the authorities of the corporation have been managing the municipal affairs in utter disregard to the expectations and aspirations of the people. As per him, a dignified quality of life has been denied to the people of Ludhiana on account of shear inefficiency and callousness of the municipal corporation authorities, Ludhiana.”

The commission observed, “Personal interaction was done with Mr S.K. Sharma Commissioner, Municipal Corporation, Ludhiana. We have studied the latest status report received from the SE of the corporation, covering the entire gamut of municipal services.”

The commission further observed, “After taking a thorough view of the issues raised in the complaint, we are of the opinion that there is no warrant for the commission to make any specific recommendation to the government as the problems being faced by the residents of Ludhiana are no different from ones being experienced in other urban local bodies.

“It may be pertinent to observe that local bodies after 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, enjoy a high degree of autonomy. Local affairs are managed by the elected representatives and there is not much scope for any interference by the external agencies. However, under sections 403, 404, 405, 406 and 407 of the Punjab Municipal Corporation Act, 1976, the state government has been vested with special powers to intervene in case a particular local body fails to discharge statutory functions.”

“There is nothing for the commission as such, to specifically comment on the working of the Municipal Corporation, Ludhiana, with these observations, the matter stands closed.”

Mr Chana has, in a rejoinder sent to the commission in September, stated, “While there is no intention to cast aspersions on the verdict given by the full bench of the commission, the contents of the opening sentence of the order are repugnant in the absence of any intimation to the complainant about the hearing on July 17, 2006. The complainant cannot be blamed for his absence. As regards his absence on July 3, 2006, it is submitted that having explained the position with regard to various queries made by the members on February 21, 2006, latest status report on ground realities was submitted by name to the chairman on June 27, 2006, which was received by the commission on June 29,2006, before hearing.

“There is no mention of this report in the final order. Moreover the order dated February, 21, 2006, had required only the Municipal Commissioner to reappear on July 3, 2006, to report on the promises made by him on February 21, 2006.”

Mr Chana has further observed, “The argument that the problems faced by the residents of the town are also being experienced in other urban local bodies is devoid of logic. Why should Ludhiana remain filthy if other cities are so, when it has resources and enlightened citizens to demand improved living conditions.

“The residents are burdened with heavy doze of direct and indirect levies to make the Municipal Corporation the richest one in the state. Moreover, the city has been selected for development under the Urban Renewal Mission.”

“The complainants have held responsible the Central and state governments and are fully conversant with the procedures. They approached the PSHRC only after exhausting all avenues available at the state government level for the redressal of their grievances. The provisions of the constitution and the PMCA cited in the order existed when the complaint was filed on March, 11, 2005. It is not clear why it was not dismissed at that stage on grounds now cited”, observed Mr Chana.

The Municipal Commissioner has been transferred to Chandigarh since July.



Move to prosecute power thieves resented
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, September 6
Resenting the recent directions by the Centre to prosecute those involved in power thefts under the Electricity Act-2003, the Auto Parts Manufacturers Association said the Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB) had already wielded enough powers to deal with the theft.

“The current regulations and legislations are against the consumers and even in case of minor violations, electricity consumers are harassed and charged with heavy penalties. The Power Ministry’s recent direction for states in this region, including Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, to set up special courts to prosecute those involved in power theft are uncalled for,” said Mr G.S. Kahlon, president of the association.

The association alleged that in many cases of violations, electricity connections of consumers were disconnected and the penalty was much higher in comparison to the violation.

With additional powers and resorting to measures like prosecution, corruption would increase further and consumers would be harassed, said Mr Kahlon.

He added that under Section 135 of the Electricity Act-2003, PSEB officials had powers to enter, inspect, break open and search any place or premises. “In spite of already strict regulations, fresh regulations to curb power theft have been passed. The move would disturb relations between the electricity board and industry, the association said.

Demanding that various discrepancies in the Electricity Act-2003 be removed, the association said amendments should be made only after due consultations with the industry. The association also urged the ministry to withdraw the directions pertaining to curbing of theft so that any further deterioration in relations between the industry and PSEB could be avoided, it said.



Bank takes possession of property
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, September 6
Indian Overseas Bank, Kachehry Road branch, took possession of a property in the name of Anil Kumar, at Royal City near Jalandhar Bypass, under Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002.

Bank officials said that loan to the tune of Rs 36.57 lakh was outstanding which the borrower failed to repay. Despite notices, when the borrower failed to repay the loan, the bank took physical possession of the property.

The property were duly locked and sealed, said bank officials. They added that the entire process was carried out with the assistance of M/s Gee and Gee Associates.

Mr A.P. Singh, regional manager, said the bank would continue taking action against defaulters and advised borrowers to repay their loans in time.



Applications invited for Neerja Bhanot awards
Our Correspondent

Ludhiana, September 6
The Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust today invited nominations for the prestigious Neerja Bhanot Awards 2006.

The Awards were constituted in 1990 and are given annually in memory of Neerja Bhanot, the brave 23-year-old Indian airhostess who gave up her life while saving the lives of hundreds of passengers on board a Pan Am flight hijacked at the Karachi airport on September 5,1986. Neeraja was award ed the Ashoka Chakra posthumously- the youngest recipient of India's highest civilian award for bravery.

There are two awards consisting of Rs 1,50,000 in cash, a trophy and a citation. The first award is given to any Indian woman who has shown examplery courage in fighting injustice and then helped women in similar social distress. the second award is given to a flight crew member, worldwide, who has acted beyond the call of duty in a difficult situation.

Nominations can be sent on a plain paper, including self-nominations in English or Hindi. There is no fees. Nominations must be supported by as much documentary evidence as possible. The recipients of the awards will be selected by a specially constituted jury and the awards presented at a special ceremony to be held at Chandigarh in October-end. The last date for entries is September 25 and the nominations need to be sent to Harish Bhanot, Managing Trustee, Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust, First Floor, House No 3727, Sector 46-C, Chandigarh 160047.



Manish Tewari to represent Cong at Seoul conference

Ludhiana, September 6
Mr Manish Tewari, secretary, All India Congress Committee (AICC) and Mr Anil Shastri, special invitee to the Congress Working Committee, have been nominated by the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, to represent the Indian National Congress at the fourth International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) to be held from September 7 to September 10 at Seoul, South Korea. This conference is being hosted by the South Korea’s ruling URI Party.

The agenda of the conference is to establish peace and prosperity in Asia and Regional Community of Nations.

The first conference was held in Manila (Philippines) in 2000, the second conference was held in Bangkok (Thailand) in 2002, and the third conference was held in Beijing, (China) in 2004.

The fourth ICAPP conference assumes great significance in view of the fast changing political, economic and strategic situations in Asia. As many as 120 political parties from 50 countries will participate in this conference. This conference would focus upon three themes i.e. regional security and political stability, poverty eradication and good governance, regional cooperation and movements towards an Asian community. — TNS



PNB to launch credit card
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, September 6
Punjab National Bank (PNB) will launch the credit card facility soon. The bank, in an endeavour to cater to all financial needs of its customers, will also introduce online broking shortly, said the Executive Director, Mr K. Raghuraman, here today.

“Our aim is to provide all financial services, right from routine banking facilities like deposits and lending to latest facilities like credit cards and online broking,” he said, adding, “We are already offering the de-mat service. The online broking facility would offer a better deal to customers wherein we plan to start the service that would debit cash from their accounts only after completion of transaction. This would give them a float of one to two days, something the industry is not offering so far.”

Mr Raghuraman, who also inaugurated the seventh large corporate branch of the bank in the city today, said: “The large corporate branches have been opened with a view to speeding up the processing time for credit disbursements. We want to cater to the growing credit requirements of industrial base in this region, particularly in Ludhiana. Our target is to increase our advances to Rs 1,000 crore from the existing Rs 580 crore in this branch. Our large corporate branches in the country are handling business to the tune of Rs 20,000 crore.”

The PNB would soon forge a tie-up with IDBI capital markets for online broking and at later stages, more broking firms would be roped in, he disclosed. On the credit card service, he said, “Of our 35 million customers, the debit card has covered a small proportion. With the launch of our own credit card, the spectrum of financial services being offered would widen and so would the number of customers availing of the facility. Why should a customer banking with us have to go to other services provider for his financial needs?” The bank, he added, was already offering a life insurance cover for which it had tied up with TATA AIG and also formed a joint venture insurance broking company, PNB Principal Advisory Co, for insurance broking.

Talking about a high proportion of farmers resorting to borrowing money from the unorganised sector or not borrowing at all, he said the need was to bring more people under banking. “Over 70 per cent of people are either borrowing from the unorganised sector or not borrowing at all. We are striving to make the banking service more comfortable and within the reach of more farmers.”



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