P U N J A B    S T O R I E S


City Centre case: sale stopped
Fresh agreement to be signed
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 15
The Punjab Government today stopped the sale of property at the controversial Ludhiana City Centre with immediate effect. The project will, however, carry on and construction work will not stop.

A fresh agreement will be signed between the Ludhiana Improvement Trust and the company — Today Homes — said the Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, while addressing a press conference here today on the sidelines of the ongoing session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha.

He, however, rejected a demand of the Opposition for a CBI probe into the matter. An administrator had been appointed by the government to run the affairs of the trust and he had cancelled the power of attorney that allowed the builder to sell property. However, construction would not stop as this was a prestigious project of the state, said the Chief Minister.

A fresh agreement was being drafted and a ‘‘special-purpose vehicle’’ would be set up to carry forward the project. New clauses would be added, the Chief Minister said.

The Chief Minister said the Akalis were trying to raise a non-issue. A vigilance probe had been ordered. The Vigilance authorities had been asked to submit a report within one month, he added. Also, the necessary steps had been taken to remove whatever drawbacks were detected in the functioning of the Ludhiana trust. It seemed the trust did not enforce the agreement in totality, said Capt Amarinder Singh.

Today Homes had already deposited about Rs 22 crore in the account of the trust as part of 30 per cent share of the trust from the sale proceeds. When asked about allegations levelled by Mr Sukhbir Badal, the Chief Minister said: " What does he know?" The entire project was worth no more than Rs 1,500 crore and it was being wrongly touted as being a Rs 3,000 crore project. " Mr Sukhbir Badal is just frustrated and he knows that the court hearing in corruption cases against (Parkash Singh) Badal will start soon. Hence, he is raising this issue", the Chief Minister added. He alleged that during the House proceedings Mr Sukhbir Badal, who was seated in the visitors' gallery, was seen directing MLAs, which was wrong and he should have abstained from doing so.

The Chief Minister wondered how anybody could say that the builder was dealing in black money. No probe could reveal it and it was for the Income Tax Department to nab offenders. " Will any purchaser of property reveal that he deposited some unaccounted cash with the builder?" asked the Chief Minister.


Book CM, Jagjit, says Sukhbir
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 15
The General Secretary of the Shiromani Akali Dal, Mr Sukhbir Singh Badal, today demanded the registration of a case against the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, Local Bodies Minister, Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, and the owner of Today Homes, the firm which has won the contract to build the controversial City Centre at Ludhiana.

Mr Badal was talking to mediapersons on the sidelines of the ongoing Assembly session. He said the Punjab Local Bodies Minister had cancelled the order of the Principal Secretary, Local Bodies, that annulled the agreement signed between the Ludhiana Improvement Trust and Today Homes.

The Akali leader even alleged that the Chief Minister had threatened five other bidders for the project, including the DLF and ENNMAR, to withdraw their biddings for the City Centre to facilitate Today Homes, which had no experience in such a project.

Documents show that the two were fully aware of the happenings and could not claim that the LIT was functioning independently.

Mr Badal said nothing less than a CBI probe would be sufficient. He went on to allege, “ The collection of money in cash in sale deals is directly linked to the Chief Minister.” He, however, admitted that he possessed no documents to prove that the Chief Minister took some money in the deal or to establish the route of transaction, if any. “ That is why I am demanding a CBI probe,” he said while adding “ The documents with me prove conclusively that the company was favoured by the government by changing tender conditions and allowing the company to sell the property. A CBI probe will reveal all”.

In the statements made on the floor of the house, the Local Bodies Minister and the Chief Minister have accepted that “a scam” took place. The same minister rejected the 55 conditions suggested by the legal cell.


Improvement Trust deals to be examined
Chander Parkash
Tribune News Service

Patiala, September 15
The Punjab Government has decided to examine all decisions of the Improvement Trusts of the state by way of which they entered into agreements with private entrepreneurs to develop residential, commercial and other projects.

The government will also look into the matter of allotment and if any piece of land was given to private players on the basis of lease or joint venture by violating norms.

Information gathered by TNS revealed that an informal decision to carry out this exercise was taken by the government after it found itself caught in an embarrassing situation following the detection of the alleged fraud to the tune of hundreds of crores.

After the fraud came to light, the government started a move to ensure that no such scam happened in other towns as it could cause huge loss to Congress prospects in the Assembly elections.

Sources said in the past few months, the Improvement Trust authorities had allotted various commercial sites worth crores on lease. Some influential leaders also tried to make the Improvement Trust authorities develop residential colonies.

Though a finger is being pointed at Punjab Local Bodies Minister Chaudhary Jagjit Singh and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh by the Opposition, Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, talking to TNS, said he had started getting information about the activities of the Improvement Trusts.

He said he had decided to send teams of officials of Improvement Trusts to take stock of the situation.


Villagers gherao DLF officials
Our Correspondent

Pandori Mehma (Tarn Taran), September 15
Farmers of seven villages whose land was being acquired for a special economic zone (SEZ) here today gheraoed officials of the DLF, a private company, who went to collect water samples in the area. A large number of women also participated in the gherao.

According to the information collected, Mr Rajiv Kumar Kamboj, Divisional General Manager (DGM), DLF, and Mr Balwinder Singh, a retired patwari working for the company, today went to the area to collect water samples.

The farmers of the area have been opposing the move of the government to acquire their land. Members of the Kisan Sangharash Committee (KSC) sounded the alarm in the area asking villagers to come to the spot for opposing the move of the government.

A large number of farmers, including women, gathered on the spot. The gherao of the officials went on for hours together and it came to an end on the intervention of the police. The police came to the rescue of the gheraoed officials after four hours.

The government has issued a notification to acquire 1,218 acres of land of seven villages, including Pandori Mehma, Cheete Kalan, Cheete Khurd and Mannan Wala.

Mr Satnam Singh Pannu, state committee member of the KSC, while addressing the farmers, warned the government against acquiring their land and said they would not allow to acquire their land at any cost. He said the farmers were ready to make any sacrifice to save their land which was the only source of their livelihood.


Quark acting as property dealer: MLA
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 15
Matters relating to concessions given to Mohali-based Quark City for setting up its Special Economic Zone and release of advertisements by the Punjab Government despite a ban imposed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court dominated the proceedings during question hour in the Punjab Assembly here this morning.

The Shiromani Akali Dal MLA, Mr Balwinder Singh Bhunder, alleged that Quark City was acting as a property dealer and it was not doing the work of an investor it was supposed to do. He said the company was laying off jobs and not giving any employment, hence, it should not be given incentives.

The Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, and the Minister for Industries, Mr Avtar Henry, defended the government saying concessions were given to Quark City as it was the first major company to set up its base here and most states in the country were offering sops to the industry.

Quark was allotted 46 acre of land in Mohali at Rs 20 lakh per acre and the state government gave a concession of Rs 20 per acre as the cost was Rs 40 lakh per acre.

Mr Manpreet Singh Badal went on to allege that Quark was offering a 3-acre hotel site for Rs 200 crore to a hotel chain and thus it was clear case of profiteering.

Meanwhile on the issue of advertisements, the Chief Minister clarified that the court had only banned advertisements that would glorify Congress leaders like Ms Sonia Gandhi or Mr Shamsher Singh Dullo.

Following the judgement of July 22, the government has been releasing advertisements about development projects only which it was empowered to do. There was nothing wrong in it, the Chief Minister added.

Replying to another question the Chief Minister informed that in the past three years, trucks were involved in 1,673 road accidents and another 492 accidents tractor trolleys were involved .

The Kandi Canal in the sub-mountainous area of the state will be completed by March 2008 and will cost about Rs 179 crore, informed the Deputy Chief Minister, Ms Rajinder Kaur Bhattal. The matter of black marketing of kerosene was raised by Mr Bir Devinder Singh.

The Akali MLA, Jathedar Tota Singh, wanted to know as to why the Food Corporation of India was procuring wheat at a rate lower than that of Nafed.

The Food and Supply Minister, Mr Lal Singh said, Nafed was buying wheat for commercial usage, hence it could pay whatever price it wanted. It purchased only 86,464 quintal while the FCI was buying on the MSP announced by the Central Government.

The House was also informed that the Chief Minister has ordered the release of bonus to those farmers who had sold their crop before the announcement of the bonus. A sum of Rs 27 crore earmarked for this purpose has been released.

The Minister for Revenue and Rehabilitation, Mr Jasjit Singh Randhawa, turned down pleas of Opposition MLA Chaudhari Nand Lal to conduct a special girdawari due to insufficient rains during this monsoon. The Education Minister promised that another 10,000 teachers were being recruited in the state.


State Vigilance Commission Bill passed
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 15
Paving the way for the constitution of an independent vigilance commission, the state Assembly today passed the Punjab State Vigilance Commission Bill 2006 and 10 other Bills, including those on amendments to VAT and formation of a municipal fund.

As per the Bill, the existing the Punjab Vigilance Bureau (VB) will be functioning directly under the commission. However, the commission will not have the power to dictate the course of investigations or tell the VB to dispose off the case in a particular manner.

The Chief Director of the VB will be from the IPS cadre and enjoy a fixed term of two years and at least be an ADGP rank official. A committee headed by the Chief Minister and having the Chief Secretary and the State Chief Vigilance Commissioner as its members will decide on the appointment.

The commission have three members, including a state Chief Vigilance Commissioner.

The VB will have to seek prior permission to proceed against officials in Group A category and above. This means that the IAS, IPS, PCS and several senior engineers and doctors will be covered under the category. The commission will direct the VB in these cases. However, no approval is required for cases involving arrest of a person in cases of an on the spot charge of accepting or attempting to accept any gratification.

It may be recollected that formation of the commission had resulted in rift between the IAS and the IPS cadres of the state. The IPS cadre had protested that they had been left out. The new legislation takes care of that. It says “ the state Chief Vigilance Commissioner shall be appointed from amongst the persons, who have been or are in an all-India service or in any civil service of the Union or state or on a civil post under the Union or state having knowledge and experience in matters relating to vigilance, policy making and administration, including police administration and in the rank and scale of a Secretary to the Government of India or the Chief Secretary of the state or who have been a Judge of the High Court”.

The state Assembly today also passed other Bills, through voice vote in absence of the suspended Opposition members, which included The Punjab Herd Registration Bill, The Punjab School Teachers Re-employment Bill, The Punjab Plastic carry Bags (Manufacture, Usage and Disposal) Control (Amendment) Bill, The Punjab Municipal Fund Bill, The Punjab Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill, The Punjab Motor Vehicles Taxation (Amendment) Bill, The Punjab Excise (Amendment) Bill and The Punjab Value Added Tax (Second Amendment) Bill.

Assembly sidelights

* Mr Arvind Khanna, the Congress MLA, Sangrur, was seen in the House after a long gap.

* Mr Sukhbir Singh Badal, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Mr Vikramjit Singh Majithia and an other relative, Mr Bubby Badal, remained present in the visitor's gallery from the beginning to the adjournment of the House on Friday. At one time, the Secretary of the Vidhan Sabha, Mr Nachhattar Singh Mawi, approached Mr Sukhbir Singh, perhaps, to tell him not to make gestures towards his party MLAs.

* When the House was adjourned for the second time, the Akali and the BJP MLAs, whose suspension was ordered, did not leave the House and were seen raising slogans.

* Showing maturity and tactful handling, the Vidhan Sabha officials did not remove suspended Akali and BJP MLAs physically, who continued to raise slogans, from the House. Physical removal would have created a chaos and bad blood in the House.


Parties gear up for elections
K.S. Chawla

Ludhiana, September 15
Both the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal have all these months been busy in gearing up their organisations. There is no doubt that factionalism is rampant in both the parties and various districts of both the parties remain in disarray. Despite this, the leadership of both the parties have started reviving contacts with the local leaders and the village notables. Mr Parkash Singh Badal, Akali Dal supremo, is known for very hard campaigning. It is also well known that during his long political career he has been able to establish direct contact with various cadres of his party and those of the workers who matter in elections at every level of the organisation.

During the last one month, Mr Badal has been up and going from Damdama Sahib to Chhapar and also addressed rallies in the various segments of the Vidhan Sabha. He has his difficulties regarding the distribution of ticket and placating the rival candidates in various constituencies. This is despite the fact that he has been able to sideline all notables of Tohra group and he faces no challenge from amongst the second rung leaders of his own party. It is interesting that the second rung leaders of the Akali Dal like Mr Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Captain Kanwaljit Singh have either been cowed down or they find themselves of smaller size.

A new strategy is being worked out with regard to the future of Mr Sukhbir Singh Badal to disarm those who criticize Mr Badal on patronizing his son and his intention to install him as his successor. Both father and son have declared that Sukhbir would not contest the Vidhan Sabha elections.

On the other hand Mr Sukhbir Singh has started giving an impression that he is more active on the youth and student front. He has not been installed as president of the youth wing although he deserves it viz-a-viz Mr Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, MP who is at least a decade older than him (Sukhbir Singh). To contain Mr Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, Mr Sukhbir Singh has floated a new organisation known as Students Organisation of India (SOI). It is a departure from the established policy of the Akali Dal according to which the Sikh Students Federation remained the sword arm of the Akali Dal.


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