P U N J A B    S T O R I E S


Yatra hoardings violate order
Tribune News Service

Bathinda, November 13
In a violation of the high court orders, hoardings welcoming the Chief Minister’s recent Vikas Yatra were put up on the city’s two busiest roundabouts, one of which had a statue of a martyr in its centre. In a tardy reaction, the MC had removed only one hoarding by the evening.

City residents had flayed the defacement of the roundabouts for political as well as religious purposes. About a dozen hoardings of the Vikas Yatra as well as a religious programme were put up on Hanuman Chowk and Fauji Chowk. The hoardings of Vikas Yatra were also spotted on some other points on the GT road.

Mr S.K. Seth, Model Town resident, said the statue of martyr Nand Singh at the Fauji Chowk roundabout had become almost invisible due to hoardings around it, “which was an insult of our national hero”.

The Deputy Commissioner admitted that it was a violation of high court orders and said the MC should ensure that no hoardings were put up on main roads.

When contacted, the Municipal Commissioner, Mr N.S. Walia, said the matter was brought to his notice yesterday, but it being a Sunday, the hoardings could not be removed. He said all the hoardings would be taken out at the earliest.


Vikas Yatra futile, claims Badal
Perneet Singh
Tribune News Service

Killianwali (Muktsar), November 13
The SAD supreme, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, today termed Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s much-hyped Vikas Yatra as a “futile exercise involving wasteful expenditure of public money”. He stated this while addressing a press conference on the sidelines of the golden jubilee function of Guru Nanak College here today.

Mr Badal said: “It doesn’t suit a Chief Minister to call people to the roads to greet him and that too after remaining inaccessible to the common man for four years and nine months of his term.”

When asked whether the “overwhelming response” to the yatra in the Akali stronghold hinted at a dent in their votebank, he alleged that the official machinery was exploited to the hilt to drum up support for the CM’s road show.

However, while responding to the college plea for financial aid, he inadvertently hinted at his present state of mind. He said funds would not be an issue if he came to power and added: “It is like “khayali pulao” (daydreaming) as of now. God knows what will happen in the elections.”

He alleged that the CM’s act to break bread with Dalits and farmers was merely a publicity stunt in the wake of forthcoming Assembly poll. “Why didn’t the Chief Minister bother to intermingle with peasants and visit Dalits’ homes earlier and why had he taken to roads now?” he queried.

However, he failed to come out with a convincing reply on the successive state governments’ failure to provide a basic amenity like drinking water to Punjab villages in the past 60 years.


Malwa’s ‘cancer belt’ desperate for government attention
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Jajjal (Talwandi Sabo), November 13
Finally the Punjab Chief Minister is home after his much-touted Vikas Yatra. And dust along the roads of Malwa’s cotton belt seem to have settled somewhat.

What’s still unsettled, however, is the heart of 80-year-old Sharan Kaur, who lost both her son and grandson to cancer. Yesterday when the CM’s convoy was passing by her village, she was among the hundreds who waited for him to voice their woes. Late as he was running, the Chief Minister did not halt at Jajjal, which has lost about 30 persons to cancer in the past 10 years.

For some strange reason, the insensitivity to cancer, which sweeps the region like a tsunami, remains integral to mainstream politics of the region. Although cancer-related deaths started occurring in this belt as early as 1992 and even before, neither the Akalis not the Congress did anything to document them in a scientific way, let alone take steps to prevent them.

By rough estimates, hundreds have died due to different types of cancers in the area. Adesh Hospital at Muktsar, the only well-equipped hospital in the belt, reportedly receives 14,000 such cases per year. Many more go to Charity Hospital at Bikaner in Rajasthan, where testing and treatment are cheaper.

Fed up with promises and inaction, social activists and farmers from the region are now planning to submit a petition to the Governor of Punjab demanding the setting up of a Government Cancer Hospital in Malwa. The crux of their demands is “Detoxification of Malwa” and a population-based cancer registry in the region.

Master Jarnail Singh of Kheti Virasat, who leads the movement in Jajjal and has witnessed cancer assume alarming proportions, says, “We want Malwa to be poison-free so that our people can live. There is still no official data to suggest the extent of cancer prevalence and incidence of cancer related deaths in the region. Adesh Hospital is a private hospital and very few people can afford its treatment. Due to heavy cost of detection and treatment, most cases go unreported. The rest are detected late, making death inevitable.” The tragedy became known for the first time when Mr Jeet Mohinder Sidhu, MLA, Talwandi Sabo, visited Jajjal after his victory as an independent in the 2002 Assembly elections. Supported by the Congress now, he promised help to villagers then. But villagers are still waiting for concrete action.

All they’ve got so far are the findings of Chandigarh-located PGI’s report, which suggested that deaths were occurring due to heavy pesticide use for cotton growth in the belt. Some senior scientists have, however, cast aspersions on the report, which they say was not made public by the Punjab Government nor was any scientific paper ever published.

Dr Rajesh Kochhar, former director, National Institute of Scientific, Technical and Development Studies, Bangalore, who organised and chaired a lecture on “Cancer in Punjab’s cotton belt” at the India International Centre, New Delhi on November 9 (when Vikas Yatra was in full swing), says, “There is grave mismatch between the public perception of cancer incidence in Malwa and official data. According to our sources cancer deaths are significantly under reported.” Irrespective of the causes of cancer, which the state government has asked the PGI to find out, the reality is that cancer deaths are rising. Gurjant Singh, a farmer, who lost two sisters-in-law to cancer says, “We are not interested in the causes of death. We are interested in treatment.. Neither the Akalis nor Congressmen could give us a hospital in so many years. But we will keep asking for it.” Master Jarnail Singh plans to get the “Detoxify Malwa” petition signed by as many villagers in the cotton belt as possible. Ahead of elections, he feels people’s demands might just be heard.


No direct payment to farmers: Singla
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, November 13
The Punjab Government today took an important decision to continue giving all payments for agricultural produce to farmers through arhtiyas (commission agents). No payment will be made direct to farmers through cheques, said the Finance Minister, Mr Surinder Singla.

The relations between farmers and arhtiyas would be disturbed if cheques were given to the farmers and not the arhtiyas, said Mr Singla while confirming the move of the government.

A few days ago the government had decided that cheques would be issued direct to the farmers to pay off their dues for grain or cotton.

This had led to resentment among arhtiyas who lend money to the farmers even before the crop is sown. Had the system of giving cheques to farmers been introduced it would have created hurdles in the credit recovery system for the arhtiyas.

At present, the arhtiyas are issued cheques by the grain or cotton-procuring agencies which are encashed and the farmers get their money from the arhtiyas after the latter have deducted their share.


Dairy farming not profitable in Punjab
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

Padiala, November 13
Inspite of its vast potential, dairy farming in this land of milk - Punjab, continues to remain unprofitable. Though dairy is yielding good profits for the dairy-processing companies, dairy farming is by and large considered economically non-viable.

But all this could soon be a thing of the past as Dr Amrik Singh Cheema Foundation today launched an ambitious Ovulation Synchronisation (Ovasynch) Programme in this non-descript village near Kurali. This programme, which will reduce the open days and improve fertility of buffaloes, has been started as a pilot project at the Grewal Buffalo Dairy Farm here.

The pilot project is being initiated under the guidance of international dairy management consultant and reproductive expert, Dr Arun Purshottam Phatak. “We administer a concoction of hormone injections to the buffaloes for speeding up the ovulation process. This would mean frequent pregnancies, and hence more milk production,” he said.

With shrinking land holdings in this largely agrarian state, dairy farming could have been the best possible option for farmers. But because of long open days, poor fertility and low milk yield, dairy farmers in the state are resorting to distress sale of buffaloes, thus incurring heavy losses. The trend has been more noticeable in Punjab during the recent months, where the organised herds of buffaloes have been unable to produce enough replacements in a three-year time period, resulting in reduction of cash flow and forcing the farmers to close down the dairy farms.

It is to solve this programme that the Ovasynch programme is being launched. “This will begin 60 days after giving birth to a calf, and after the cows have been checked for their uterine health. The nutrition of the animals, too, will be monitored, following which injections of prostaglandin and GNRH hormones will be given,” said Dr Phatak.

Added Mr Hardev Singh, owner of the farm, where 17 of his 36 buffaloes have been taken in for the Ovasynch Programme, “Each dairy farm has some productive and some dry animals. The farmers do not want to sell off the dry animals and these eat into the profit earned through the productive animals. This will help increase the milk produce of productive animals and ensure better profits”.

Mr Jagdeep Cheema, Chairman of Dr Amrik Singh Cheema Foundation Trust, said that the success pilot project being established here will be assessed after about six months. “We have reports of a 35 per cent success rate. Here, we will not only administer hormones to the productive, but also to the dry buffaloes. Depending on the success, this programme will then be launched in various farms across Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh,” he added.

The Animal Husbandry Minister, Punjab, Mr Jagmohan Singh Kang, Kharar MLA, Mr Bir Devinder Singh, Financial Commissioner, Dairy Development and Vice-Chancellor of Guru Angad Dev University of Veterinary Science, Mr D S Bains, General Manager, Local Head Office, Punjab and Sind Bank, Mr M. S. Sarang were also present on the occasion. The programme is being supported by the Punjab Government, Punjab and Sind Bank, Pfizer Limited., and Intervet India.


Don't sit on graft cases, vigilance tells depts
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, November 13
Various departments of the Punjab Government which are "protecting their corrupt employees” from facing the law have been told by the newly formed Punjab Vigilance Commission to decide all pending cases in which "permission to prosecute" has been sought to start proceedings against such employees.

In more than 165 cases of alleged corruption, the Vigilance Bureau had sought permission to prosecute from the departments of the employees concerned. However, this was being held back on one count or the other. The commission has now said that the department cannot just sit on these cases endlessly. They have to either refuse permission to prosecute or allow it.

The commission says a time period of three months is more than sufficient to decide any case. At the Central level, the Central Vigilance Commission monitors all such requests for permission to prosecute employees. Sources said the commission chief, Justice Amar Dutt, a retired Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, has applied this in Punjab.

The sources said that in the past two years, several department heads, using their discretion, have been saving employees who were nabbed on a charge of taking bribes by the Vigilance Bureau. Such persons include doctors, engineers, patwaris, tehsildars and bankers in the cooperative sector.

The department heads have not been according "permission to prosecute" in the case of employees wanted by the bureau. Without such permission, the bureau cannot file a charge sheet in court. The parent departments of such tainted employees have been holding back the permission to prosecute even as the Amarinder Singh-led government has issued clear instructions to weed out corrupt officials. The "modus operandi" of shielding an employee is simple.

Whenever permission to prosecute a an employee is sought, the bureau is informed that a department enquiry is on against that employee to probe charges of corruption. This, even as the bureau keeps on demanding the permission after having nabbed the employee red-handed while accepting a bribe.


Tribune Impact
Coal scandal: Vigilance Bureau launches probe
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, November 13
The Punjab Vigilance Bureau has initiated a regular inquiry into the imported coal scandal in the Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB).

Sources said Mr Paramjit Singh Khaira, SP (Vigilance Bureau), had been asked to conduct the probe. The scam was reported by The Tribune in the third week of October.

Sources said the bureau had sought copies of the MoU signed by the suppliers of the imported coal, the purchase order, specifications fixed in the purchase order, test reports of all samples of imported coal and other relevant documents.

Vigilance Officials today reportedly visited the Ropar thermal plant to collect the documents. The authorities concerned at the Lehra Mohabbat thermal plant and also at the PSEB headquarter in Patiala had been approached by the bureau officials to procure relevant documents regarding the imported coal deal.

Confirming the probe, Mr B.K. Bawa, DIG, Vigilance Bureau, said it was a regular inquiry ordered by the Chief Director, Vigilance Bureau, Mr Mohd Izhar Alam. He said Mr Khaira had been put on the job.

Recently, samples of the imported coal were got tested by the Chief Engineer (Technical Audit and Inspection) from Shri Ram Institute of Industrial Research at Delhi.

These failed to meet the specifications fixed in the purchase order placed by the board authorities with a private company concerned. The coal samples had failed to even meet the minimum level of quality with regard to gross calorific value and grindability index.


BJP threatens to boycott poll

Patiala, November 13
The district BJP has threatened to boycott the municipal elections to Ward No 32, which were countermanded on October 28 after alleged booth capturing.

They have threatened that if corrective measures were not taken by the state government during the fresh elections slated to be on November 19, they would not take part in them. TNS


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