P U N J A B    S T O R I E S


Samjhauta, Punj-Ab cancelled
Assassination casts shadow on retreat ceremony
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Attari, December 28
Samjhauta Express has been cancelled till further orders following assassination of Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, according to railways authorities. The Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus, Punj-Ab, was also cancelled at the eleventh hour on a request made by senior officials of the Pakistan authorities in the wake of the crisis there. 

Manager of the international bus terminal, Amritsar, Shrikant said he had received a call from Col Khalid Sarfraz, Lahore, for not sending the bus. Meanwhile, the goods trains ran as per schedule.

However, Dosti, the bus of Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, brought 23 passengers, including 10 Indians, who reached here after cutting short their visit. Panic was writ large on the faces of passengers who arrived here in the Lahore-Amritsar train. Alma Ansari (30) of Dehra Dun, who was married in Lahore, said she had brought her daughter Uzma (5) along so that she could study in an Indian school.

Vibhor Mohan adds: The assassination of Benazir Bhutto cast its shadow on the traditionally well-attended retreat ceremony at the Indo-Pak joint check-post here today with very thin presence on the Pakistani side.

An uneasy calm could be felt across the border with virtually nobody to cheer the Pakistani Rangers. The audience gallery was completely empty and even uniform-clad school students, who usually do most of the clapping, were missing.

In sharp contrast, the Indian stalls were jam-packed with audience from far and wide jostling to get a view of the ceremony amidst heavy clapping and chanting of “Vande Matram” slogans.

Security was also beefed up on the Indian side with dog squads, positioned on the entry point to the Attari check-post, keeping a vigil on the baggage being carried by scores of visitors who had come to watch the ceremony.

Pradeep Khanna, a Patiala-based advocate, who had come to watch the ceremony with his NRI friends, said it was a disappointment to see empty stalls across the border. “I have come here before as well, as there is always a competition of sorts between the audience to outdo each other with louder clapping and sloganeering. But all this charm was missing today,” he said.

Dr Ashima Grover from Ludhiana, added, “My heart goes out to the people of Pakistan. The situation reminds us of the aftermath of Indira and Rajiv Ganshi’s killing. The rioting in different parts of Pakistan must have added to the problem. I wish I could speak to the handful of them who had turned up for the ceremony.”

“Even the trademark Pakistani gentleman with flowing grey beard, sporting a green shirt and waving Pakistan’s national flag was missing,” said Narain Dutta, a civil engineer from Dehra Dun.

Chandigarh, December 28
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto will result in a big setback to the peace process and normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan. “It is a great tragedy and is bound to affect the ongoing peace process”, CPM general secretary, Parkash Karat said here today.

''A stable and democratically elected government in Pakistan will have been more ideal for continuing the peace dialogue,'' he said while talking to journalists after addressing the inaugural session of the 19th Punjab State CPM Conference here. 


Shingaar Cinema
Blast mastermind arrested
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 28
The Punjab Police has finally been able to solve the mystery behind the Shingaar Cinema blast with the arrest of a group of Babbar Khalsa activists. The arrest includes Gurpreet Singh, who had escaped while carrying a huge quantity of explosives, before the blast.

Highly placed sources disclosed that Gurpreet, a Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) trained youth, was nabbed last week on a tip from a woman accomplice of one of the suspects. Fifteen accused, mostly trained and extremely motivated youth, have been interrogated by eight teams, comprising about 55 security personnel. The week-long investigation was done by teams of the Intelligence Bureau, RAW, Uttar Pradesh Police and special teams of the Punjab Police from Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Kapurthala districts at the Ludhiana Police Lines.

“We are very alarmed at the revelations made by these young men while interrogation. None of them has any police or criminal past and have been highly motivated by agencies across the border”, a senior police official said.

High quality explosive (RDX) was brought into India via the Bikanair border in Rajasthan before being distributed across Punjab. All 15 persons are trained in the use of IEDs and are very familiar with the use of computers. Each one of them is unknown to each other and assigned tasks separately.

The police has confessions that confirm that this group caused the blast in Ludhiana’s Shingaar Cinema. They were also planning to cause explosions at the Ludhiana railway station, it has been revealed in the interrogation.

The tip that led to the arrest of Gurpreet Singh came after a Phagwara-based girlfriend of one of the boys spilled the beans. The police circles are tight-lipped on the issue, but have praised the Ludhiana police for solving the blast case, while most other recent blasts in the country, including those at Hyderabad, Uttar Pradesh, in the Samjauta Express and at Ajmer Sharif, remain unsolved.

Interestingly, the police has given out a story that Gurpreet has escaped to Dhaka, while he has been in their custody after he was nabbed from Ludhiana itself. 


‘I may visit Chandigarh one day’
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 28
“I would have loved to meet you, but doctors have advised me complete bed rest,” is how Benazir Bhutto responded to my telephone call during one of my several visits to Pakistan in early ’90s. “In fact, anybody who is from Shimla or Chandigarh is welcome to visit me. Do you come to Pakistan often? I promise I will not disappoint you when you visit Pakistan or Karachi next time.”

But it was not to be. During my subsequent visits to Pakistan she was not there as she had gone on a self-imposed exile.

In early ’90s, it was during one of my sports assignments that I had a day off in Karachi. I was putting up at the YMCA Hostel in Karachi and thought of interviewing her as her first term in office as the first woman Prime Minister had been cut short by the then President on charges of corruption. I got her direct contact number from one of my friends who was an office-bearer of the Karachi Press Club and last evening had taken me around the city and showed me the area where Bhuttos lived.

She was pregnant and at her Clifton House in Karachi. She, however, talked to me on the phone for a few minutes and enquired how Chandigarh was coming up.

She asked about how The Tribune was doing as she fondly remembered the coverage our newspaper had given to her and her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. “My father appreciated the way the Indian media, in general, and The Tribune, in particular, had covered every aspect of our visit there. I still have very fond memories of Shimla,” she told me regretting that she missed visiting and spending time in Chandigarh.

“I have heard that Chandigarh is like Islamabad, a neat, clean and planned city. Insha Allah, I may visit your city one day,” she said. And before she ended the conversation she asked me if “I was comfortable or needed any help or assistance for my stay in Karachi.” 


Siswan as tourist spot planned
Chitleen K.Sethi
Tribune News Service

Mohali, December 28
The Punjab government is considering development of Siswan dam and surrounding areas as a tourist spot. A detailed proposal to develop the area and exploit its tourism potential has been mooted by local MLA Ujagar Singh Badali. 

The proposal would be handed over to the Punjab minister for tourism, who is due to visit the area soon.

Total area of village Siswan is about 13,000 bighas. This does not include the Siswan dam area, which had been acquired earlier by the Irrigation Department.

The dam and area surrounding is, however, to be developed into a tourist attraction. Badali’s proposal is based on the premise that since the entire region falls in the eco-fragile foothills of the Shivalik range, the area can be developed into a tourist spot but with minimum human intervention.

The tourist potential of the area has been divided into two zones. It has been suggested that the catchment lake of the dam can be developed into a man-made lake. The possibility of boating would also be considered. “Some fishing jetties can be made on the other end of the lake to facilitate fishing. The Fisheries Department can be involved to breed fish here,” states the proposal.

A floating ship-shaped restaurant could become a major tourist attraction here and can be given to a private party through an open auction.

A host of tourist attractions have been recommended for the area around the dam. Picnic enclosures, complete with straw shades, swings, parks, kiosks, have been mooted to encourage city residents. Those making use of the picnic enclosure would be charged a fee.

A cycling range with rough and smooth terrain is also being planned for the outer area. Since the area is naturally undulating, minimum intervention would be required to create a perfect cycling terrain. A smoother terrain can be developed alongside for children.

Other than a cycling terrain, an obstacle terrain has also been suggested in the proposal. Ex-servicemen would be involved in developing it. This can include rock climbing, rope climbing and rope-mesh walking.

Other than these, the site would have a bird-watching enclosure, a botanical garden and a flower garden. Restaurants and eating joints would be part of the complex.  


Police laxity in probe benefiting accused: HC
Saurabh Malik
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh , December 28
In what is being seen as strictures against police functioning, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has ruled that the cops are resorting to casual investigations in drug trafficking cases, resulting in undue benefits to the accused.

The high court has also expressed a need for issuing comprehensive directives to ensure meaningful and proper investigation in cases registered under the NDPS Act.

Taking up an appeal filed by a convict in an NDPS case, Justice Ranjit Singh has observed: “In far too many cases, it is noticed that the police resort to very casual investigations into such serious cases as a result of which undue benefits accrue to the persons accused of serious offences under the Act. There may be a need to streamline and regulate the manner or mode of investigation. It is noticeable that generally similar or identical pleas are raised in various cases for acquittal. In majority of the cases, the plea of conscious possession, or violation of statutory or mandatory provisions of the NDPS Act, are raised.”

“It is not understood as to why the police would not follow such provisions or otherwise properly investigate the source of contraband so that aspect of possession or the accused being in conscious possession, is properly investigated. There is a need for some comprehensive directive to ensure meaningful and proper investigation.”

The observations follow an appeal filed against the state of Punjab by convict Nachhatro. She was booked by the police after assistant sub inspector Jaswinder Singh ‘by chance’ effected recovery. The prosecution’s case was that on September 23, 2004, he noticed a woman running at the sight of the police car. On suspicion he, along with a police party, followed her into a house and found her pushing two bags lying under a cot. Poppy husk was also scattered on the ground. She was found guilty and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for 10 years, coupled with fine of Rs 1 lakh.

After hearing the arguments in the matter, Justice Ranjit Singh ruled: “The prosecution in the instant case was not able to prove that the contraband was recovered from the exclusive conscious physical possession of the appellant.”

“The submission made in regard to the possibility of tampering with the seal and samples also cannot be ignored. Here the police officer, being conscious of the fact that the seal was required to be handed over to an independent witness, did so but again took the seal back, casting a serious doubt besides violating the requisite safeguards required to be ensured in such cases.”

The Judge added: “Taking the cumulative effect of these infirmities into account, I am of the considered view that the prosecution has failed to prove the charge against the appellant beyond reasonable doubt. It will not be safe to maintain the conviction in this case in view of the infirmities.” Allowing the appeal, the Judge directed the setting aside of conviction and sentence awarded to her.  


Financial Crisis
Bhattal dares CM to open debate
Tribune News Service

Dhariwal, December 28
Punjab Pardesh Congress Committee chief Rajinder Kaur Bhattal has sought an open debate with the SAD-BJP government on the alleged financial crisis in the state.

Bhattal clarified that the state coffers had Rs 812 crore when the Congress was voted out. The SAD-BJP government had been misleading the public on the issue, she added.

Bhattal was in Sujanpur to express sympathy with the family of former PUDA minister late Raghunath Sahai Puri, who had died of renal infection at the PGI, Chandigarh, recently.

The state Congress chief also kickstarted an offensive against the SAD-BJP government for the alleged police atrocities against Congress supporters. She threatened to launch protests from March 2008 in this regard.

Addressing a rally at the grain market here, Bhattal said while the SAD-BJP leaders were illegally occupying panchayat lands and burial grounds of the Christians, the Chief Minister at a rally in Dhariwal had announced that he was their well-wisher.

Former Punjab PWD minister Partap Singh Bajwa, former parliamentary secretary Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, former chairman of Pollution Control Board Tript Rajinder Singh, senior Congress leader Pritam Singh Bhinder, former minister Lakhmir Singh Randhawa also addressed the rally.  

Badals’ security
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 28
A day after former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed by assassins, security agencies in Punjab today issued a written warning about the security of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Badal saying frequent security breaches were occurring at functions attended by the father and son duo.

Senior functionaries of the Intelligence wing of the Punjab police spoke to security officials guarding the two leaders and made it clear that lapses had been occurring.

A written note has also been sent to all district police chiefs telling them to closely monitor people at all functions.

Sources said it had been found that at several functions, people had managed to reach the dais without undergoing the mandatory frisking by policemen. 


Badal congratulates BJP on HP win
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 28
While senior leaders of the Punjab BJP led by Balramji Dass Tandon here today celebrated the victory of the BJP in Himachal Pradesh by dancing to the beats of the drums, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal today congratulated the BJP high command and its HP unit on its resounding victory in the just-concluded Vidhan Sabha elections.

In a message to the BJP high command, including Rajnath Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishan Advani and Prem Kumar Dhumal, Badal described the poll results as “people's verdict in favour of the NDA policies and a rejection of the Congress bad governance in Himachal Pradesh”.

Meanwhile, leaders and workers resorted to bhangra in front of the Punjab BJP office here and sweets were distributed to celebrate the BJP win in Himachal Pradesh. As Badal has good relations with Dhumal, who will be next Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, there are possibilities of a joint investment by both states in hydro-power projects in the hill state. 


Withdraw decision on security deposit: Cong
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 28
Punjab Congress has flayed the decision of the SAD-BJP government to enhance the security deposit of industrial electricity connections equivalent to their two months consumption.

Party spokesman Jagmohan Singh Kang lamented that this step would cause irreparable damage to the industry in the state. He said the octroi abolished by the previous Congress government had been imposed in the garb of entry tax.

Kang urged the Chief Minister to roll back its decision regarding electricity security and to adopt industry and people-friendly policies to stop the migration of these units and save the small and medium industry from closing down. 


 ‘Iran influenced Punjab’ 
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, December 28
“Iran had a striking impact not only on Punjab’s paintings, music and architecture, but also on its language and thought. The Golden Temple, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Fort at Gobindgarh and his ‘Kachi Garhis’ near Amritsar are a fine mixture of Indo-Iranian style.”

This was revealed by Prof Azarmi Dukht Safavi while delivering her presidential address at the 28th International Session of the All-India Persian Teachers Conference held at Guru Nanak Dev University here yesterday.

She said many gurdwaras in Punjab were an excellent example of this twin culture. The portraits of Sikh Gurus and Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Dalip Singh etc also showed a definite resemblance to the Mughal style of portrait paintings. Besides, the Punjabi music centres like Multan and Patiala were influenced by Iranian music. She said bhangra is a faster form of Persian Sufi dance.

Earlier, veteran journalist and former member of Parliament Kuldip Nayyar, in his inaugural address, emphasised the need for reviving the old composite culture and economic ties in the region. The conference is being held by the Department of Guru Nanak Studies of the university in collaboration with the All-India Persian Teachers Association.

Ambassador of Islamic Republic of Iran S.M. Nabi Zadeh, Sayeed Makhdoom Raheen, Ambassador of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, who participated in the inaugural session of the conference, also expressed their views. Prof Jai Rup Singh, vice-chancellor, welcomed the dignitaries and the delegates, while R.S. Bawa, registrar, also presented his views.

Nayyar suggested that the political parties should not mix religion with politics to procure votes. He hoped that the proper functioning of democracy in Iran and Afghanistan would enrich cultural interaction in Asia. “If we lose our spiritual heritage, we lose everything,” he added.

Jathedar Vedanti highlighted the importance of Persian in the verses of Guru Gobind Singh in Zafarnama and writings of Bhai Nand Lal, in particular, and Sikh religion, in general.

Dr Balkar Singh, a Sikh scholar, expressed dismay over ignoring the scholarly work of Bhai Nand Lal in Persian.

Arjun Singh, union minister for human resources development, in his message which was read on the occasion emphasised the significance of Indo-Persian poetry in Asia. A message from Hamid Karzai, President of Afganistan, was read in Persian.

S.M. Nabi Zadeh, Ambassador of Iran in India, said the Persian language had preserved the history of India’s 800 years.

Eminent Persian s cholars Professor Pritam Singh, Dr Mahdi Khawaja Peeri and Dr Amarwant Singh were honoured for their contribution to Persian studies on the occasion. Professor Dr Jai Rup Singh received the award on behalf of his father Professor Pritam Singh.

Earlier, an exhibition of Persian manuscripts, rare books, photographs and portraits was inaugurated. 


Minority commission soon, says Badal
Our Correspondent

Dhariwal, December 28
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has announced that a state minority commission will soon be set up to sort out problems and welfare of the Christian community.

Addressing a mammoth gathering at a state-level function organised at the Egerton Woolen Mills ground in Dhariwal, about 60 km from here, yesterday in connection with the celebrations of the birth of the Christ, Badal said the contribution of the Christian community in the development and prosperity of the state was unparalleled.

He said Christianity had become a major religion across the world and the teachings and message of Christ on communal harmony, peace and love were as relevant today as was in his times. The Chief Minister said the government was committed to the welfare of the Christian community which was a minority in the state. He asked leaders and parsons of the community to work for the welfare of their brethren who were socially and financially weak.

Responding to the demand of the Christian leaders in the conference, with regard to providing government and panchayat land to be used as graveyards, Badal said the government would soon bring a policy in this regard.

He also announced a grant of Rs 10 lakh each for the renovation of buildings of the Christian hospital and school of Dhariwal, respectively.

Transport minister Master Mohan Lal and agriculture minister Sucha Singh Langah also spoke on the occasion.  


PSEB unbundling unviable: Assn
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 28
Unbundling of the Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB) is not mandatory to meet the legal provisions in the Electricity Act, 2003. Unbundled electricity boards have failed to become commercially viable entities and attract private investment. 

This is what the PSEB Engineers Association has told the Punjab government while giving a presentation to it with facts and figures.

The state government had invited the association to give its view on the proposed unbundling. The union government had given time to the state government to unbundle the PSEB by February 2008.

H.S. Bedi, president of the association, said they had made legal aspects of the Act clear to the Punjab government. The Act was enacted to achieve commercial viability by corporatising the boards. However, no desired objective had been achieved in other states, claimed Bedi.

For instance, before restructuring the loss of Haryana power board was Rs 635 crore in 1996-97. But after restructuring it went up to Rs 1,688 crore in 2005-06. In Andhra Pradesh the losses after restructuring went up to Rs 1,241 crore in 2005-06. Same was true in case of Karnataka, Rajasthan, UP, MP and Assam, he said.

Bedi said the real issue was not the structure, which was being blamed for mounting commercial and line losses, of the boards concerned but the policies framed by the Union government from time to time.

To ensure 16 per cent rate of return to private investors in power sector, the government allowed the hike in tariff and the National Thermal Power Corporation enhanced power rates. This led to mounting of losses of the boards concerned. Per unit cost of power purchase had increased by about 60 per cent since 1997-98 because of this factor.

Line losses, which should have come down after unbundling, also increased. In Karnataka line losses in 1996-97 were 18.86 pc, which went up to 26.08 pc in 2004-05, in MP it touched 41.3 pc in 2004-05 from 20.59 in 1996-97. Rajasthan was no better with 44.68 pc in 2004-05 from 25.88 in 1996-97. In Haryana line losses remained stagnant at 32.11 pc. Only improvement was in AP, where line losses came down to 23.96 pc from 33.09. 


Bachchans’quiet visit to Amritsar 
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, December 28
It was a quiet visit of Bollywood mega superstar Amitabh Bachchan, wife Jaya, son Abhishek, daughter-in-law Ashwarya Rai, brother Ajitabh and family friend Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh, who reached the Rajasansi International Airport in a charted plane bare-footed, this evening to perform “ardas” for the eternal peace of Teji Bachchan (mother of Amitabh and Ajitabh) as per the Sikh maryada.

They were received by DC Kahan Singh Pannu, his wife Mandhir Kaur and district police chief Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh at the airport.

They would stay in the local four-star hotel for the night. The Bachchan family, including Jaya Bachchan, Naina Bachchan and Namrita Bachchan, would visit the Golden Temple tomorrow morning. They had also brought the mortal remains of Teji Bachchan which were likely to be immersed in the Beas tomorrow.



PU survey on Punjab
Smriti Sharma
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 28
On a request made by Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Panjab University has engaged its teachers along with the research scholars in conducting study tours across the districts of Punjab state.

It was during his first visit to the university after becoming the Chief Minister, that he made a request to vice-chancellor Prof R.C. Sobti asking him to get a study done in the state to find out the state of improvement in terms of economy, academics and social life. Finance minister of Punjab, Manpreet Singh, reaffirmed the request as well.

Acting upon it, recently the university had sent its teams to Muktsar and Hoshiarpur districts. The vice-chancellor said the surveying teams had already completed the study in Muktsar district taking help from the local bodies there. The team had given statistics as to how many males, females and children are educated, number of dispensaries, schools in villages under the district and total population of the place.

“A full report on the study is awaited though the government has already sanctioned Rs 2 lakh for the purpose. Necessary action would follow once the report comes,” Prof Sobti said.

According to him, a similar survey is underway in Hoshiarpur district.

In fact, Prof Sobti himself went to the district on December 27 to find out the progress there.

“After the survey is completed a separate amount would be sanctioned for carrying out the necessary works in Hoshiarpur as well. Two more districts -Ferozepur and Ludhiana are remaining and similar surveys would also be conducted there,” averred Prof Sobti. 


Board tightens noose around pvt schools
Tribune News Service

Mohali, December 28
Dr Dalbir Singh Dhillon, chairman of Punjab School Education Board (PSEB), today stated that the class V examination to be conducted by the board in February this year would help curb the “racket” being run by many private schools in the state.

Reacting to a statement issued by some affiliated schools regarding the class V examination, the chairman said the board’s decision that it would be compulsory for class V students to pass their exams to be promoted to the next class was taken with the consent of district education officers (elementary). The meeting was attended by the DEOs from all over the state on November 2.

Dr Dhillon added that the board was responsible for the syllabus, textbooks and examinations in Punjab. Some years ago the SCERT has started conducting the class V examination to improve the quality of education in state. But last year the state government handed over the conduct of the class V examination to the board. The board had given a one-year relaxation to the private schools but it was made clear that in February 2008 the examination of class V would be conducted by the board.

Dr Dhillon further said this decision was shared with the association of affiliated schools and with the office bearers of the association in chairman’s office. The decision was conveyed to the concerned schools and students through public notices. Dr Dhillon added that he had personally visited schools in Muktsar and Ludhiana, where students were ready to appear in board’s exams.

Dr Dhillon said it was important to present the factual position about these exams. “Some private schools are running the education shops. They sell books of private publishers to the students on high prices. The board has received many complaints in this regard. Following these complaints the board took the decision regarding the class V examination.

Dr Dhillon suggested that class V students should read the books, which they read last year for the preparation of examination. “There is no change in the syllabus or books or system of examination as compared to last year,” he said.

The board has decided that from this year the private schools can take the class V exams at their own level using question papers and answer sheets provided by the board. The schools would compile the results after getting the answer sheets evaluated under the supervision of the principals of the concern affiliated schools. The result would be sent to the board for declaration of the result. The chairman added that this decision too had been accepted by the representatives of the association of affiliated schools. 


Body of Dawood man handed over to Pak
Tribune News Service

Attari, December 28
The dead body of Noor Baksh, sharp shooter of the Dawood Ibrahim gang who was shot dead by the state police on October 24 at Lucknow, was handed over to Pakistan here today.

Third time proved to be unlucky for him. Lodged in a Lucknow jail for the past two years, he tried to escape on way to the local court. Four accomplices who had come on two motor cycles to rescue him,however, escaped. One 9-mm US-made pistol, two cartridges, and one magazine were seized.

The main case against him in Uttar Pradesh was of fake passports and escaping from police custody. Originally said to be a resident of Balochistan in Pakistan, Noora or Noor Baksh had reportedly served in the National Guard of the UAE and had also been part of the Dubai police. 


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