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MLA Dhanda loves the forest
Hell-bent on ‘saving’ govt money, he ‘summons’ officials for disallowing stay in lodge
Chitleen K. Sethi
Tribune News Service

Harish DhandaChandigarh, July 2
Punjab’s chief parliamentary secretary and MLA from Ludhiana Harish Dhanda, in an unprecedented request, has asked the chief secretary to allow him to “live” in the forest rest house at Pallanpur near Chandigarh, as he had not been allotted an official residence. “This will save the Rs 30,000 that I am entitled to as house rent allowance,” he stated.

The strange request sent less than a fortnight ago might have elicited more than a just a smile from the chief secretary Ramesh Inder Singh who marked it to the personnel department for discussion.

But even before the government could react to the request, the matter reached an unsavoury flash point between forest department officials and the chief parliamentary secretary and now threatens to become a source of embarrassment for the Akali government.

Dhanda had been putting up on and off at the Pallanpur rest house (near Badal farms in Chandigarh’s periphery) in the past month. However, the last time he went to stay there he was told that the district forest officer had locked the rest house and he would have to show a permit to be allowed to use it.

“Dhanda sahib had stayed here earlier twice. But this time, we politely requested him that he cannot stay here as he did not have a permit,” said Gurcharan Singh, the watchman at the Pallanput rest house.

Dhanda, however, felt differently. In no time, he shot off a complaint to the principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) B.C. Bala asking him to “appear” before him along with his subordinate officers. The complaint was also sent to the minister of forests Tikshan Sood for information.

The complaint, three pages long, virtually held the entire forest department from the PCCF down to the rest house guard responsible for not allowing him to use the rest house and causing him humiliation.

The PCCF along and the chief conservator of forests (CCF) “appeared” before Dhanda on June 29.

Accompanied by another chief parliamentary secretary Avinash Chander during the “hearing”, Dhanda held court as it were with the PCCF and CCF in attendance.

Expressing displeasure at the failure of the other officials to appear, he fixed July 10 as the next date of “hearing” and issued a formal communication to the principal secretary cum financial commissioner revenue (forests) R.N. Gupta for that purpose.

Appalled, forest officials are at a loss on what to do next. “We are looking into the matter,” said R.N. Gupta. “I have brought the entire matter to the notice of government. We will proceed as per orders,” said Bala.

“The forest rest houses are not guest houses. These are used during inspection of the forest area. Both the inspection huts at Seonk (near Chandigarh) and Pallanpur cannot be used for residential purposes. This will be a violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980,” said a senior official of the department.

When contacted, Dhanda said he enjoyed a Cabinet rank and he was well within his authority to summon any government official. “I have not been allotted a house. I have earlier stayed at the rest house for a day or two. Now I want to know on whose instructions was I stopped from using the rest house and under what rules? I intend to find out everything from the concerned parties for which I have called them,” he said.

“All that I can be refused are files with secret notings,” added Dhanda. “No official of the government can refuse to meet me if I call for him. They are subordinate to me.”

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