C H A N D I G A R H   S T O R I E S

The big Q keeps tricity awake
As winds howled, quake rumours forced people out on the roads
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 21
Early morning rumours about an earthquake sent the tricity in a flurry, with everyone waiting for “tremors’ that never came. Across Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali, roads were flooded with people determined to escape the earthquake fury-never mind the Central Scientific Instruments Organisation’s confirmation that there was “no seismic activity in the region”.

The rumour was driven by announcements from gurdwaras and predictions by enterprising soothsayers. The police control room and fire brigade offices in the tricity remained flooded with queries about the quake from 2 to 4 am.

While some people were content staying out on the streets, others sat on berms and dividers, looking anxious. The more enterprising among them collected precious belongings…just in case.

“Who knows what happens tomorrow? We must have something to survive on,” said a housewife in Sector 38 West, who collected her gold ornaments. Rajinder Singh, a businessman from Sector 45, was happy guarding cash.

Many residents in Sectors 38, 40 and 41 slept in cars till 4 am, till the realisation dawned on them that “earthquakes can’t be predicted with precision.”

Even the Department of Earth Sciences can’t do so. The director, department of oceanography at Hyderabad, Dr Shailesh Nayak, said that no such warning had been issued. But people would just not listen, even when the Met office in Chandigarh kept allaying fears about the quake.

In Panchkula, panic was most palpable in Sector 20 and Mansa Devi Complex, dotted with housing societies. Here the watchmen were the first to raise the alarm. Residents of Sector 20 societies rushed to Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex in Sector 3 for safety.

In Mohali, panic-stricken residents rushed out of their homes, even as the police control room and the fire brigade office were flooded with phone calls from anxious residents, seeking to confirm reports about the quake.

Officials attempted to pacify the callers, but to no avail. Fear kept thousands of residents in various parts of the town out of their homes for hours. Some kept awake, ready to evacuate their houses at the first tremors.

Municipal councillor Kuljit Singh Bedi living in Phase III B 2 said he got a call at 2.45 a.m. about the impending earthquake. When he came out of the house, he saw a large number of people out of their houses, with fear writ large on their faces. Most did not return to their homes till about 5 a.m.

A resident of Phase VII said that he was woken up by his parents and asked to vacate the building . He moved out and saw many people already in the open. He waited for a while and then went back to sleep again.

S.S.Narang of Phase X said people came out of their houses around 3 a.m., but he was woken up by a neighbour around 3.30 a.m. His neighbour had got a phone call from his sister that an earthquake was expected between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Announcements regarding the same were made from gurdwaras, he claimed.



Weather gods playing games
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 21
Weather continued to play truant with the city seeing more than two spells of hailstorm for the second time in March.

Today, it was all about rapid changes in the weather system, which came loaded with strong winds, squall, hail and, at times, dust. The Met department explained the rains as “a product of the building up of heat”.

The rains and winds that lashed the city could not bring down the day temperature, which rose by a degree. It was 31 degrees today as against 30 degree yesterday. The night temperature fell marginally by 0.6 degree.

Today’s rains (1 mm) were accompanied by strong winds that threw life out of gear. Trees fell at various locations, cables were damaged and so was power supply at many places.

The maximum damage was reported to farms on the city’s periphery where the wheat crop stood flattened.



Oppn stalls MC house proceedings
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 21
The issue of abolition of paid parking was the only issue deliberated upon and discussed at the municipal corporation house meeting today.

Unruly and undisciplined house refused to take up any other issue, as a result of which no other agenda was passed.

The noisy house had to be adjourned with remaining issues on the agenda postponed for discussion for the next house meeting.

Personal allegations and counter-allegations ruled the meeting right from the beginning. The opposition protested that the mayor had brought in the agenda as table agenda just because it was on her election manifesto. A fact mayor did not deny.

Prodding the alliance councillors, the opposition stated that they would support the table agenda only if they could get it passed. They then stalled the proceedings.

Lending it a political colour, they refused to discuss other issues of construction of multi-level parking facility on build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis and new terms and conditions of paid parking on the agenda, stating that these were contrary to the table agenda of paid parking.

Nominated councillors too protested against the table agenda of paid parking and stated that when the MC did not have any jurisdiction on taking a decision on the issue, how could it recommend its abolition.

MCC commissioner P.S. Aujla also clearly stated that neither he nor any of his officers could comply with the MC ruling on the issue as it was beyond their jurisdiction.

It was finally resolved to recommend to the UT administration to reconsider the issue of paid parking and also appeal against the same in the High Court.

The issue of construction of multi-level parking facility on BoT basis was, however, discussed for its feasibility and need.

It was pointed out by nominated councillors that the project needed more work and could be thought over later. The issue was eventually deferred.

Later, refusing to discuss the issue of terms and conditions of paid parking, they demanded the mayor to clarify her stand on it and not to maintain “double standard”.



Woman jumps before train with two kids
Tribune News Service

Zirakpur, March 21
A woman, Gurmeet Kaur with her daughter Kanwalpreet (10) and son Pawanjit (5), from Dhakauli village, jumped before the Himalayan Queen train near Mark Royal Hotel today. But, her relatives had an altogether different story to tell.

Gurmeet Kaur’s brother-in-law Supinder Singh had two bags full of her belongings in his hand. They contained a plastic doll and some toys and even parshad from a nearby gurdwara. He says they had come up to the tracks because the children were insisting upon seeing a train at close quarters. He is not clear how it all happened, he adds.

The whole site was gruesome with the bodies cut by and severed badly.

Both Supinder and Gurmeet Kaur’s nephew Dharmender, who were at the site till late, said they really did not understand what happened and that there was really nothing wrong at home for anything untoward to take place.

They said Gurmeet’s farmer husband Ram Singh had also recently met with an accident with a bus near the same place a few months ago and was laid up in bed with a broken leg.

They said all was well between the husband and wife and that just a day ago Gurmeet Kaur had spoken with her widowed mother-in-law Manto Devi about going to her parent’s home and had even taken Rs 500 from her.

However, today she had come back near her home and had allegedly called her brother from a phone nearby telling him that she and the children had reached back. The two relatives say that eyewitnesses found the phone number in her belongings and called her brother who called their home and they rushed to the spot.

However, the gateman on late evening duty had a different version to tell. “The incident took place around 5.30 pm and the train which was coming at a speed of 120 km per hour even stopped for 10 minutes after this happened,” he said.



Phasing out MiG 23 cuts into IAF force levels
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chetak and Cheetah helicopters in the Army are to be withdrawn because the existing fleet is of 1960s and 1970s vintage and hence, inadequate for the present operational requirements. According to a statement made by the defence minister A.K. Antony in the Rajya Sabha today, procurement of new helicopters to replace the Cheetahs and Chetaks is under way.

Chandigarh, March 21
The phasing out of the MiG-23 fighter has created further gaps in the IAF’s already depleting squadron strength. While there have been no fresh acquisitions over the past few years except for the SU-30, which have replaced old aircraft in already existing squadrons, the number of MiG-23 squadrons has come down from six squadrons to one.

Besides, the IAF squadron strength has also suffered on account of some other older MiG 21 variants being phased out and also on account of accidents. From a sanction force of 45 combat squadrons, the IAF today hovers around a force level of about 30 or so squadrons.

The last remaining MiG 23 MF interceptor variants, equipping No.224 Squadron were laid to rest yesterday. The remaining squadron, No 221, which operates the MiG-23 BN ground attack version will be phased out next year. Also two MiG 21 squadrons are said to be due for de-commissioning this year.

“It was envisioned to replace such ageing aircraft with the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft,” Air Marshal Ahluwalia told The Tribune during a visit here this month. “However, the Tejas appears to be still a few years away and till then the deficiencies would have to be met through deployment of the existing fleet in a rational and well-thought about manner which would effectively cater to our operational requirements,” he added.

Tejas, according to the government’s own admission, has suffered heavy cost and time overruns. Though a limited order for 20 such aircraft has been placed by the IAF on Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, it would be several years before squadron status is achieved.

Also hanging fire is the government’s decision to acquire 126 multi-role combat aircraft to bring up IAF force levels to meet its operational commitments. Though the government has agreed to the acquisition and several countries have shown interest in the matter, it is nowhere close to signing a deal. IAF officers say it would take at least three years from the date the deal is signed for the aircraft to start arriving and re-building up force levels would take quite some time.

Just yesterday while delivering the Air Chief Marshall P.C. Lal Memorial lecture on the Future of Aerospace in India, the minister of state for defence, M.M. Pallam Raju, stressed that said there was an urgent need to increase the IAF force levels and modernise it.

A few months ago, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi had written to the then defence minister, Pranab Mukherjee, drawing his attention to the declining force levels and its implications for national security. He had urged the defence minister to initiate urgent remedial steps to maintain IAF force levels.

Earlier, the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence had also taken the government to task over the IAF depleting squadron strength and lack of modernisation.



Use RTI Act as deterrent, not to trap people after action: Expert
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 21
“Access to information will lessen corruption, improve delivery of services and will make it easier not only for the people of India but even government servants to get justice along with empowering the common man,” asserted Shekhar Singh, founder member and convener of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.

Speaking at a seminar on ‘Implementing and understanding of the RTI Act 2005’ organised by the president of the Asian Education Society, Chandigarh, Ashwani Luthra, today at the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Sector 19, Shekhar Singh emphasised on using the RTI Act as a deterrent and not simply to catch people after the deed was done. “What we need to do is ask the right questions and use the information we get, correctly.”

He, however, admitted that there had been delays in appointing information officers in various government bodies as required under the law, refusal or lack of response to accept applications by the departments, providing incomplete or vague information on applications and instances of refusal to abide by the commission’s orders but these problems were being looked into.

“We were hoping that information commissioners would tilt the balance in favour of the public but that did not happen. Ultimately, everyone is susceptible to public pressure and I am very optimistic because the energy and momentum the Act has attracted is tremendous.”

Singh spoke at length on the need to generate awareness amongst the common man and the need for protecting those seeking information to prevent them being vulnerable to violence as had happened in some instances. He also emphasised the need to train information officers to understand and implement the Act effectively while setting up information clearing houses by recruiting retired government servants and NGOs to meaningfully process the information accessed.

Also speaking at the seminar, chief information commissioner, Punjab, Rajan Kashyap delivered the keynote address setting the pace for a thought-provoking exchange. “The Act says that any information not denied to the government cannot be denied to any person,” he stressed.

However, he said, the paradoxes arising out of the Act would need to be worked upon to make it work better. “Indian grown IT technology has helped upgrade systems abroad but e-governance at home is yet to take off. Also, on paper the Act has already empowered the common man but he is not informed of his rights. While the Act is considered to be part of the reform process but one must remember it is an instrument for accelerating reforms so it should be effectively used to facilitate good governance.”

Also speaking on the occasion, noted senior journalist and former editor of The Tribune, Hari Jaisingh said that the RTI Act, if used properly, would ensure qualitative functioning of this democracy by ensuring people have the power of information and the ability to use it properly.

He said that the media had to play a very crucial role in disseminating information but “change will come if people exert themselves for individuals make the difference and that is how you multiply empowerment.”



Farmers want slice of development pie
Tribune News service

Chandigarh, March 21
Taking a cue from the Punjab Chief Minister’s announcement on “uproot allowance” to farmers whose land is acquired by the government, land owners in the city today sought partnership with the Chandigarh Administration in development projects.

“If Punjab can decide to offer market rates to the farmers and give uproot allowance, the Chandigarh administration should follow suit, as has been the practise in other areas,” said the Pind Bacahoo Committee.

In a representation to the UT Administrator, the association of land owners and farmers has drawn the attention of General Rodrigues to the nationwide farmers’ agitations against land acquisition at Nandigram, Singur and Sangrur. Issuing licences to develop land has also been sought.

“ The administration is all set to severing farmers from the benefit of their land holdings and diverting these towards its own self as well as private companies”, said Maj RS Virk ( retd), general secretary of the committee.

The committee has offered a model wherein the land owners could create a company and get a proportionate share in holding.

Magarpatta model

The land owners has drawn the attention of the administration towards Magarpatta town in Pune where farm owners are shareholders in development. The ministry of urban development has recommended this model for development of IT townships in cities such as Chandigarh.

The same model can be adopted for developing Rajiv Gandhi technology Park in Kishangarh, say the farmers.



Mohali MC budget proposed
Our Correspondent

Mohali, March 21
The local municipal council has proposed a budget of Rs 2961.37 lakh for 2007-08. The proposed budget would be presented for approval at a special meeting of the civic body tomorrow.

The council has proposed an income of Rs 2,633 lakh while the last year’s balance that has been carried forward is Rs 328.37 lakh. The proposed expenditure by the civic body stands at Rs 2,888.44 lakh, of which Rs 2,000 lakh would be spent on works related to development, Rs 718.44 lakh on the payment of salaries to the staff and Rs 170 lakh on contingency works.

The civic body plans to spend a major part of the amount on the maintenance of roads while small amounts were reserved for the maintenance of parks, streetlight, construction of curb channels and footpaths.

A sum of Rs 470 lakh has been reserved for paying power bills of tubewells and another Rs 250 lakh for paying streetlight bills.



Wakf properties not under board’s control

Chandigarh, March 21
The Chandigarh Wakf Board has 30 properties, but only two are in its possession. The board has initiated steps to bring all its properties under its control so that it is able to generate funds needed for different welfare activities.

Wakf Board chairman Mansur Ali during his recent meeting with the Joint Parliamentary Committee constituted for the purpose requested the government to sanction mutations of the wakf properties as early as possible. He also demanded a substantial grant to the board as it was short of funds.

Under the Prime Minister’s 15-Point Programme for the welfare of minorities, the board has sent the names of 165 students to the Chandigarh administration for admission to mostly vocational courses. — TNS



Cong PIL on Saini ‘amusing’

Chandigarh, March 21
Former member of parliament Gurcharan Singh Dadhahoor today said the public interest litigation filed by a group of Congress MLAs, challenging the appointment of IG Sumedh Singh Saini as Vigilance Bureau Chief, was rather amusing.

“Sumedh Saini’s credentials as an honest police officer are well-known to everybody. Why should Congress leaders find fault with this appointment? What are they afraid of?” he asked. — TNS



Booklet released
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 21
The UT administration today celebrated the World Forestry Day by organising a function for the preservation and conservation of forest and gardens. To mark the occasion, adviser to administrator Lalit Sharma planted a sapling of Rudraksha at the Botanical Garden, near Sarangpur village, Chandigarh.

The adviser also released a booklet, “Herbs for everyone”, and “Greening Chandigarh action plan 2007-08”.



Notices to mobile cos

Chandigarh, March 21
The land acquisition officer yesterday issued show-cause notices to different mobile companies for setting up mobile towers on agricultural land behind Sukhna Lake. — TNS



Scooterist dies in accident

Chandigarh, March 21
A scooterist was run over by a tractor-trailer on the Mauli Jagran-Baltana road this morning. He was taken to the PGI, where he succumbed to his injuries.

The police said the victim, Anand Kumar of Baltana, in his mid-40s, was on his way to Industrial Area, Phase I, where he worked as an accountant in a needle factory.

According to an eyewitness, the accident took place when the speeding tractor-trailer, laden with sand, collided with the scooter while overtaking.

In the process, the scooterist lost balance and fell on the road. The tractor-trailer ran over his legs, causing multiple fractures to the victim.

He was taken to the hospital, where he died during treatment. The police has arrested Ram Chander of Baltana village, driver of the tractor, on charges of causing death due to rash and negligent driving.

In another incident, a couple were injured after being hit by a car in Sector 30 yesterday.

The police said Ashwani Kumar of Sector 30 and his wife Naresh Kumari, who were walking on the road, were seriously injured when they were hit by a Maruti Alto car (CH-02-1710) near Kali Mata Mandir, Sector 30.

The two were admitted to the Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32.

The police has arrested the driver of the car, Surjit Singh. — TNS



Boy’s body found in pond

Chandigarh, March 21
The body of a four-year-old boy was found in a pond near Shaheed Bhagat Singh Colony in Mani Majra this evening. The victim, Imran Nazir, had reportedly gone missing from his house since Tuesday.

The police said the death came to light when some children playing near the pond at the colony outskirts chanced to spot the body floating in the water.

The police was informed, which called the victim’s family for identification. The pond, about 3-ft deep, was filled with the sewerage water.

In charge of the Mauli Jagran police post sub-inspector Bhupinder Singh said the victim could have slipped into the pond. The body was taken to the Sector 16 General Hospital. The cause of the death would be ascertained after post-mortem.

Khalil Ahmed, the victim’s father, had lodged a complaint in the police post on Tuesday night, saying Imran had followed his sister to a nearby shop. When she reached the shop and found him missing, she rushed back home, only to find that he was not there either. — TNS



Thieves decamp with gold, cash
Our Correspondent

Mohali, March 21
Thieves decamped with gold, silver and cash from a house in Sector 68 here today.

Dr Vijay Lakshmi Sharda complained to the police that when she returned home from the office, she found that someone had broken into her house and taken away three tolas of gold, two silver coins and Rs 1,000.

The police has registered a case under Sections 454 and 380 of the IPC.

Meanwhile, in separate incidents thieves stole a motor cycle and a scorpio vehicle.

Parvin Kumar was detained for possessing a motor cycle which was allegedly stolen by him from Ludhiana. Jasmit Singh, a resident of Sector 71, complained to the police that a Scorpio vehicle, bearing a Chandigarh number, was stolen from his house. Kamlesh Singh, security supervisor at Fortis Hospital, complained that Gudu, who worked as a sweeper, allegedly stole a brass article from the hospital premises.



UP resident held for theft
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 21
The local police has arrested an Uttar Pradesh resident for theft.

Aman of Sector 30 A reported to the police that Mohammed Nahim of Uttar Pradesh was caught red-handed while stealing articles from his residence after breaking the locks of the house on Tuesday.

The matter was reported to the police, which arrested the accused.

Rs 11,000 stolen

Amarbir Singh of Sector 9 reported to the police that his purse containing Rs 11,000, a driver’s licence and other documents were stolen from his car parked at Bal Bhavan, Sector 23, on Sunday.

A case of theft has been registered in this regard.

Scooter stolen

Pardeep Kumar of Sector 47 D lodged a complaint with the police that his Bajaj Chetak scooter (CH 03 8272) was stolen from his residence on March 12.

A case has been registered in the police station, Sector 31.



Association cuts medicine supply to Subhiksha
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

The association has asked chemists and stockists of pharma goods in the tricity not to offer any discounts or special packages to Subhiksha.
— Subhiksha
Subhiksha has not paid its dues to stockists in Gurgaon and Faridabad for the past one year. So we have asked it to get supplies on cash payment.
— Association

Chandigarh, March 21
The price war in pharma goods, fuelled with the entry of discount retailer Subhiksha, has allegedly led the Chandigarh Chemists Association to cut supplies of all medicines and pharma goods to the retail major.

Though the association claims that they have blocked supplies to Subhiksha only in those cases where they were not paying in cash, officials of Subhiksha allege otherwise. The latter claim that the association has floated letters to all chemists and stockists of pharma goods in the tricity asking them not to offer any discounts or special packages to Subhiksha “as retail chains are a threat to small retail stores”.

Subhiksha, which operates in four verticals - supermarkets, fruits and vegetables, telecom products and pharma goods - offers medicines and other medical equipment to its customers at a 10 per cent discount.

“Since Subhiksha pharmacy offers medicines at a lesser price than the existing market price, the chemists are fearful of losing out its customers to our pharmacies in Chandigarh,” said a senior company official at Chandigarh. He said since they bought bulk medicines, they get a larger discount from the suppliers which they pass on to their customers at all 13 Subhiksha shops in the tricity. He said though the stockists could not directly stop supplies, they were creating roadblocks by asking our officials to collect the supplies from the godowns and later telling them that they had run out of stock.

Talking to the TNS today, Mohit Khattar, president, marketing, Subhiksha, said following the blockades from the chemists and stockists in the tricity, they were now sourcing their supplies from other cities in Punjab and Haryana. “Not only are the supplies getting delayed, but we are also losing out on VAT credit by sourcing these from other cities,” he added.

On the other hand, president of the Chandigarh Chemists Association, Amarjit Singh Virmani, said the association had decided not to supply any medicines to Subhiksha on credit. “We had received letters from the Haryana Chemists Association that Subhiksha has not paid its dues to stockists in Gurgaon and Faridabad for the past over one year. We were warned that we might lose our money, so we have asked Subhiksha to get supplies on cash payment,” he said.



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