P U N J A B    S T O R I E S


Cornered, government orders probe into
City Centre scam
Ludhiana trust chairman, nominated members removed
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 14
Obviously on the backfoot over the City Centre project scam, worth several hundred crores, the Punjab Government today swung into action for crisis management.

It ordered the removal of all nominated members, including the Chairman of the Ludhiana Improvement Trust, Mr Paramjit Singh Sibia, and has appointed Mr S.R. Kaler, Regional Deputy Director, Local Self Government, as an Administrator to run its affairs.

The government has also ordered a high-level inquiry which will be conducted by the IG (Vigilance Bureau), Mr C.S.R Reddy.

However, the Shiromani Akali Dal has dismissed the government’s decision to dissolve the Ludhiana Improvement Trust (LIT) and Vigilance probe into the alleged “multi-crore City Centre loot as a most predictable eyewash and an attempt to shield the corrupt Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, from prosecution.”

In a statement, Mr Parkash Singh Badal said: “Here is an irrefutable case, backed by incontrovertible documentary evidence, of Capt Amarinder Singh dealing in massive black money, international money laundering, misuse of office for amassing wealth and masterminding a fraud on the Income Tax authorities.

“How can the Vigilance Bureau of which he himself (Chief Minister) is the boss as the Home Minister, be trusted to hold a fair investigation. The Chief Minister is an accused in the case and now he wants to be both the prosecution and the judge too to give himself a clean chit”

The government sources said the Local Bodies Minister, Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, had requested the Chief Minister for ordering such an inquiry by a senior officer.

The Minister has reportedly shifted all blame on the management of the Trust. He has told the Chief Minister that his orders were not complied with by the Management of the Trust.

The story regarding the scam was broken by a national TV channel and followed by some newspapers.

The Akali leader said the Chief Minister had acted out of sheer frustration in ordering the dissolution of the LIT.

“But time is up for Amarinder and he would not be able to hide behind scapegoats any longer. The hour of reckoning has come for him,” said the Akali supremo.

Rejecting the probe, the SAD chief, Mr Badal, reiterated that “nothing short of a probe by the Central agencies, including the CBI, the DRI and the Income Tax authorities, will meet the ends of justice and satisfy public outcry against corruption of unprecedented scale.” The SAD chief has sought the resignation of the Chief Minister to pave the way for holding an independent inquiry.

Mr Badal said his party was in possession of concrete evidence on the involvement of the Chief Minister and his colleague, Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, in this scam.

Describing the decision to hand over the investigation to the Vigilance Bureau as “an absolute sham”, Mr Badal said the whole of Punjab had been watching for nearly five years how the Bureau had been functioning as “ an extension counter of the Punjab Pardesh Congress Committee”.

“How could the Chief Minister even believe that the people of the state would be befooled into accepting this hypocritical exercise?” he asked.

Mr Badal said: “The Bureau had been turned into a den of intrigue and corruption by Capt Amarinder Singh. And the greatest irony was that the Chief Minister, sensing his defeat in the forthcoming Vidhan Sabha poll had himself deprived the Bureau of any teeth by setting up the Vigilance Commission.”

Mr Badal also expressed the apprehension that the Vigilance Bureau could be misused to tamper with crucial evidence in this case.

The Akali leader further said sections from all across political and social spectrum had raised the demand for a CBI probe.

Even senior leaders of the Chief Minister’s own party, like Mr Jagmit Singh Brar, had joined the public outcry on the issue. Nothing short of a CBI or a DRI probe would satisfy the people, he said.

More trouble for the state government has come from the LIT’s former Chairman, Mr Ashok Singh Garcha.

Mr Garcha had resigned from the Trust’s chairmanship in June,2004, alleging that some Chandigarh- based influential persons had asked him to arrange Rs 100 crore from this project for the Congress party.

Joining the issue, the All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha said the Chairman of the Trust should be arrested immediately.

The President of the Sabha, Mr Hardev Singh Sandhu, said an impartial inquiry against the Chairman would unveil more scandals.

Mr Sandhu said the Chairman was earlier an ‘aarhtiya’ (commission agent) and he used to recover money from farmers by taking the help from police. Following opposition from the Kirti Kisan Union, the police had stopped helping him.

Mr Sandhu said his organisation had sought his arrest on August 24 by holding a demonstration in Ludhiana in connection with harassment of farmers.


Council of Ministers clears draft Bills
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 14
The Punjab Council of Ministers at its meeting held here under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, today gave approval to the draft Bill for legislation to provide reservation to members of the Scheduled Castes and backward classes in state services. By passing the Bill, the state government will assure 50 per cent reservation for Mazhabi Sikhs and Balmikis in the total reservation for the Scheduled Castes.

Earlier, there was a provision, which was made in 1975 by the then Chief Minister, Giani Zail Singh, through an executive order, for such reservation also but it was recently undone by a court . Following the court's decision, both Balmikis and Mazhabi Sikhs protested and urged the state government to frame a law to restore their earlier reservation quota.

Sources said the executive order issued during the tenure of Giani Zail Singh would now be included as one of the sections in the proposed Bill.

A spokesman of the government said the Council of Ministers also approved an amendment to Section 3 (2) (A) and (F) and Section 4 (1) of the Punjab State Commission for Scheduled Castes Act, 2004, by which the member-secretary would be appointed by the government from among retired or serving IAS or PCS officers belonging to the Scheduled Castes not below the rank of Additional Secretary. Besides, the chairperson and the non-official members would hold office for a period of six years.

The Council of Ministers also decided to refer the matter of regularisation of the services of work-charged and daily wage workers and employees working on an 89-day / ad hoc/ temporary basis to the committee already constituted under the chairmanship of the Deputy Chief Minister, Ms Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, to look into the demands of the employees.

The council also reviewed the arrangements for the paddy procurement season (2006-07). The procurement is likely to begin on October 1. The meeting was informed that paddy was sown on about 23.45 lakh hectares during 2006-07 and 136.75 lakh tonnes of paddy was likely to be produced in the state, out of which 130 lakh tonnes was likely to be the marketable surplus.

Elaborate arrangements had been made for the procurement of 109.00 lakh tonnes this year against the expected marketable surplus of 130 lakh tonnes. The balance quantity of 21 lakh tonnes of paddy was expected to be procured by rice millers and traders.

The council accorded sanction for compensation of Rs 7.02 crore to farmers on account of damage to the crops of potato, capsicum and tomato by severe cold and frost in seven districts—Bathinda, Ferozepore, Faridkot, Jalandhar, Sangrur. Ludhiana and Moga.

It cleared the draft bill for an amendment to the Punjab Regional and Town Planning and Development Act, 1995 (Punjab Act No 11 of 1995) for introduction in the Vidhan Sabha.

The Council of Ministers also approved the World Bank- Aided State Road Sector Project. The World Bank has agreed in principle to a project for the repair and upgradation of 1,100 km of roads at an estimated cost of about $ 310 million (about Rs 1,350 crore), with loan assistance of about $ 250 million. Now, the appraisal team of the World Bank has suggested a loan of $ 325 million.

The council gave its nod to the introduction of a Bill to amend Section 3 of the Punjab State Legislature (Pension and Medical Facilities Regulation) Act,1977, with regard to the fixation of the pension of MLAs and former MLAs. It has been proposed that a person who remains a member of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha for more than one term should get a basic pension of Rs 5,000 per month for the first term and an additional Rs 2,500 per month for each subsequent term after the first one, irrespective of the tenure. However, it has been made clear that in case an MLA resigns from the Vidhan Sabha or is disqualified, he or she will not be entitled to any pension or additional pension.

The council also approved the restructuring of the Department of Higher Education and Languages and gave permission for the filling of 16 posts of principal and 354 posts of lecturer in Government Colleges.

The Council of Ministers also approved the Punjab Private Professional Educational Institutions of Technical Education (Regulation of Admission and Fixation of Fee) Regulation, 2006, for the introduction of a Bill in the Vidhan Sabha.


Badal plays farmers’ messiah in Vidhan Sabha
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 14
The Leader of Opposition, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, today did not let go an opportunity to champion the cause of farmers by referring to those indebted farmers who ended their lives or those who died as a part of ongoing farmers’ struggle during obituary references in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha today.

In the absence of the Leader of the House and the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, it was the Deputy Chief Minister, Mrs Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, who moved a resolution to pay tributes to those prominent politicians, performing artists and freedom fighters who died since the last session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha.

Rich tributes were paid to Ch Bansi Lal, Mr Suraj Bhan, Mr Pramod Mahajan, Mrs Sajida Begum, Mr Gurdev Singh Bakshiwala — all political leaders. Tributes were also paid to Surinder Kaur (folk singer), Bismillah Khan (shehnnai maestro), Sardara Singh, Baj Singh, Bhagwan Singh Dua, Gurcharan Singh, Pritam Singh Khairajpura, Harnek Singh and Tahel Singh — all freedom fighters.

Mr Parkash Singh Badal, however, also chose the occasion to pay tributes to farmer Balwant Singh of Dugalwali village in Tarn Taran district, who died during a rally by nine organisations of farmers here yesterday, and all those farmers who ended their lives under duress because of their inability to repay the agricultural loans.

Mr Badal wanted that since farmers were feeding the entire nation with their hard work and labour, the government should take steps to end their indebtedness besides announcing adequate compensation to the next of kin of the victims.

Mr Badal was later joined by the leader of Bharatiya Janata Party, Mr Tikshan Sood, in paying tributes to farmers. Mr Sood also paid tributes to victims of bomb blasts of Malegaon.

Mr Sood also suggested that to perpetuate the memory of freedom fighters, the State should bring out a book on their lives and sacrifices. The idea was supported by Mr Sucha Singh Chhotepur (Independent) who suggested setting up of a museum or a gallery in honour of freedom fighters so that future generations would know who all participated in the country’s freedom struggle.

While endorsing the resolution moved by Mrs Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, the Speaker, Dr Kewal Krishan, said besides parliamentarians and legislators, the country had lost some eminent personalities since the last session of the Vidhan Sabha, describing folk singer Surinder Kaur as “Nightingale” of Punjab.

After obituary references, the session was adjourned until 10 on Friday morning.

Before the proceedings could start, the Speaker referred to the helicopter crash in which the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, PWD Minister Partap Singh Bajwa and the Local Bodies Minister Jagjit Singh had a providential escape. He expressed the hope that the Chief Minister and his ministerial colleagues would continue to serve the people of Punjab for many years.


SAD MLAs move privilege motion
Tampering of proceedings alleged
Sarbjit Dhaliwal

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 14
While the current session of the Punjab Assembly has been extended by one day, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has moved a privilege motion as well as an adjournment motion on the issues related to the Local Bodies and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Chaudhary Jagjit Singh.

At a meeting of the Business Advisory Committee of the House, the decision was taken to extend the session till September 19. Otherwise, session was to conclude tomorrow. However, after tomorrow’s sitting, the House will meet also on September 19.

For holding the discussion on the Ludhiana City Centre project scam, the SAD has moved the adjournment motion. The SAD wanted that after question hour, the scam issue should be discussed in detail tomorrow.

The three Akali MLAs — Mr Balwinder Singh Bhunder, Mr Tota Singh and Mr Manpreet Singh Badal — have also moved a privilege motion on another issue related to Chaudhary Jagjit Singh.

A spokesman for the SAD legislative party said in the last session of the Punjab Assembly, it was decided to set up a committee of the House to probe a scam related to 32.10 acres of the Improvement Trust land, which was exempted from the Trust’s scheme at Amritsar. Congress MLA Bir Devinder Singh, had raised the issue forcefully in the last session of the Assembly.

The opposition leader, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, supporting Mr Bir Devinder Singh in the House, had stated that the land worth several crores of rupees had been “exempted by the Local Bodies Minister and it was a clear case of corruption.”

On March 1, the Speaker, Dr Kewal Krishan, had announced the formation of a committee of the House to probe the exemption granted in the said land. And on March 2, the announcement regarding the setting up of the committee was widely reported by the media. The probe jurisdiction of the House Committee, which was to be set up, was expanded to look into similar exemptions granted during the SAD-BJP government.

Moving the privilege motion, Akali MLAs have attached copies of the proceedings of the debate held in the House during the last session on the Amritsar Trust land issue. The SAD MLAs have stated in the privilege motion that the proceedings of the discussion held on the issue were later tempered with.

Senior Akali MLA, Mr Manpreet Singh Badal, said never in the history of the House, its proceedings had been tempered with. It was breach of the trust of the House, he added.

“By moving the privilege motion, we have requested the Speaker to find out that at what level this tempering of record took place and who were the persons responsible for obliterating the part of the original proceedings and adding portion in it on their own,” said Mr Manpreet.

“It was a very serious issue as far as parliamentary democracy is concerned,” he added.


Govt develops cold feet on indebtedness Bill
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 14
While the tussle between various farmers’ organisations and commission agents on the debt issue has started taking a vicious turn in various towns of the state, the Punjab Government appears to have started dragging its feet on finding a permanent solution to this problem.

Sources said no decision could be taken at a meeting held here today with regard to providing relief to farmers on the issues related to debt at a high-level meeting because of sharp divisions among ministers, bureaucrats and senior officials of the Farmers' Commission.

The meeting was presided over by the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh. Among others, it was attended by Mrs Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Mr Lal Singh, Mr Partap Bajwa, Mr Surinder Singla, Mr Amarjit Singh Samra, Mr Avtar Henry and Jasjit Singh Randhawa.

Senior officers, including Mr K.R. Lakhanpal, Mr K.K. Bhatnagar and Mr Gurinder Singh Sandhu were also present. Besides, Mr G.S. Kalkat, Chairman of the Punjab Farmers' commission and its other members also attended the meeting.

It is now almost certain that the Punjab Relief of Agricultural Indebtedness Bill, 2006, which was to be presented in the ongoing session of the Punjab Assembly, will not be brought forth.

The draft of the Bill is ready and it is being discussed in the official circles for the past several months.

However, sources said, as consensus could not be achieved on brining the Bill in the House in today’s meeting, the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, would make some statement on the debt issue to keep his word with farming community.

It was the Chief Minister who had been repeatedly giving assurances to resolve the issue and to give farmers some sort of debt relief.

Sources said in today’s meeting, certain ministers were more worried about the political consequences of passing such a Bill instead of resolving this issue that had the potential to create a sort of upheaval by disturbing the social harmony, especially in Malwa region, where the tussle between farmers and commission agents had already taken a dangerous turn.

At least from one place, violent clashes between farmers and commission agents had been reported. And as a protest, the commission agents yesterday held a rally at Maur Mandi and kept their shutters down.

Some of the ministers openly said that the passing of such an Bill would make the Congress Government lose votes of a particular section of society in a big way.

They said such section influenced the voting pattern of a large part of the society.

One of the ministers, who forcefully supported the introduction of the Bill in the House was Mr Avtar Henry. Dr G.S. Kalkat, Chairman of the Farmers’ Commission, also took a strong stand in support of the Bill.

At least two IAS officers also supported the Bill. However, equal number of IAS officers opposed it.

Sources said most members of the Committee, headed by the Food and Supplies Minister, Mr Lal Singh, argued that instead of passing the Bill in the House, a code of conduct should be framed by issuing an executive order.

However, Farmers’ Commission and some IAS officers had been saying that the code of conduct would have no legal sanctity. It would have several such clauses which would be violative of the existing laws and would create an embarrassing situation for the state government.

How would the state government allow charging of 18 per cent of interest by money lenders from framers when banks and other institutions were charging far less rate of interest on loans advanced by them.

Already, the Union Government has directed the cooperative banks and commercial banks to charge only 7 per cent interest on loans advanced to farmers.

The Farmers’ Commission has been saying that the government should project the Bill as resolving the large issue and dispel the impression that it was against any particular section of society.

Sources said Capt Amarinder Singh had urged officers concerned and his Cabinet colleagues to find out some solution which could be acceptable to all.


Recovery of loans from ex-ministers’ pensions
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 14
The Punjab Council of Ministers today approved the recovery of loan money from certain former Ministers by deducting the money from their pension in instalments. There are as many as eight former Ministers who have not returned the loan which they had secured to either buy cars or to build houses from the state government.

Sources said that the council had approved that the money should be recovered in easy instalments by deducting some amount from the pension.

Meanwhile, sources said that the proposal to give laptops to Punjab MLAs by spending Rs 89 lakh did not get the nod from the Finance Department. Sources said that the Finance Department had expressed certain reservations with regard to the taking back of laptops from MLAs on completion of their term.


Punjabi murdered in USA

Saintpur (Kapurthala), September 14
A pall of groom descended on Saintpur village under the Bholath subdivision yesterday after the news of the demise of a local person in the United States of America (USA) reached here.

Captain Balwant Singh (retired) was killed by two black robbers in New Jersey. His family members were informed on phone about his murder yesterday. According to his younger brothers, Mr Rajinder Singh and Mr Baldev Singh, they were told that two robbers killed him with some sharp-edged weapon at a petrol station. — TNS


Students develop model to check drunken driving
Naveen S Garewal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 14
If these lads have their way, drunken drivers — who are the main cause of road accidents across the globe - would be pinned down to their stationary vehicles till alcohol levels in their blood drop within drivable limits. Concerned over the growing number of fatal accidents on roads, two students for a Ferozepore Engineering college have developed a theoretical model that will prevent vehicle ignition to boost the engine if sensors detect traces of alcohol on the breath of the person on the driving seat.

In retrospect, it appears to be a relatively simple idea, but since it has never been propounded in the manner put forth by these two budding engineers who recently trained at Maruti Udyog Limited, Gurgaon and National Aerospace Laboratories, Bangalore.

The two, Paras Loomba and Kabir Krishan, have been selected to present their papers at the SAE Commercial Vehicle Engineering Congress and Exhibition -2006 to be held at Illinois, Chicago, in the United States on October 31.

Students of Shaheed Bhagat Singh College of Engineering and Technology, Ferozepore (Affiliated to Punjab Tech. University Jalandhar), Paras is a Electronics and Communication Department student, while Kabir Krishan is doing Mechanical Engineering. “We have always thought to be doing something to prevent fatal accidents, this idea came to us after we completed our training”, said Kabir.

These two final year B.Tech students would be presenting their idea in a paper titled “Accident Prevention System using an Electronic Nose Sensor” called the “E-Nose” at this upcoming international conference.

The research work, they say, has stemmed from sheer hard work. The effort considered to be a pioneering effort has found place among the very few technical papers in this field approved by the Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) from around the world.

The paper is based on the concept of designing an instrument called the electronic nose sensor which when incorporated into an automobile, works as an Alcohol Vapor Detector.

The E-Nose makes use of a sensor array to detect and discriminate among complex odours inside a vehicle and then with the use of artificial neural networks, constructs an automated odour pattern recognition system.

Patterns from known odours are used to construct a database and train the sensors to identify them.

On detecting the alcohol vapors, the E-Nose will cut off the vehicle ignition system, thereby preventing a possible accident.

This small step is a novel idea in the field of sensors and has been appreciated by SAE along with the countless work in the field of accident prevention and may certainly mark the beginning of development and implementation of resources in the field of odour sensors for the automotive industry, and ultimately leading to prevention of many careless drunk driving accidents. If the idea is produced it could revolutionise automotive travelling, as there are about 17000 fatalities in the United States due to consumption of any amount of alcohol annually.

No authentic figures are available on the road accidents in India, they say.

There is, however, one dampener for these two young engineers who are all excited about their achievement. “Being students we cannot afford to spend on our travel and stay in the US, so we are looking for some financial help for turning their dreams into a reality”.


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