P U N J A B    S T O R I E S


Greater Mohali master plan a ‘disappointment’
Chitleen K. Sethi
Tribune News Service

Mohali, January 20
Much to the “disappointment” of bureaucrats and politicians in the state who have bought land in Chandigarh’s periphery, the company preparing master plan of Greater Mohali has planned the area as “green” belt.

Almost in tune with what the creators of Chandigarh envisaged, Jurong Consultants, the Singapore-based company, has affirmed that forest area in Greater Mohali should be “respected” and suggested waterways in the area be greened to prevent soil erosion.

The company representatives recently released the vision document for the Greater Mohali region for discussion. This area includes the Chandigarh’s periphery and SAS Nagar district extending from Kharar to Lalru.

The Shivalik hills belt is protected under the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900. Urban growth in the area is also controlled by the Punjab Capital Periphery Control Act, 1952.

While the Periphery Control Act has been amended from time to time to factor in the haphazard and illegal urban growth here, the state is now desperate to repeal the PLPA and allow urban growth. Other than the local population, a large number of VIPs who own land in the area are waiting for the restricting forest Acts to go.

In the vision document prepared by the company, the fact that large parts of the greater Mohali area is fragile eco zone, has been factored in while suggesting a course for this area’s future development.

The company had highlighted strengths of the region, include that it is located next to Chandigarh and residents here have the highest per capita income. The area is cosmopolitan where over 68 per cent population is literate.

The company, however, adds in this region there is high economic dependence on the primary sector and there is competing threat from Panchkula. The company has listed factors like rich economy, availability of highly skilled workforce, growing number of regional tourists and spillover from Chandigarh and Delhi which would generate futrure opportunities.

Stating total investment in the Greater Mohali area in 2007-2011 is expected to be Rs 40,000 crore, Jurong has laid down blue print of economic development. Suggesting the area should build on existing and diversify into IT/ITES and other knowledge-based industry like bio-technology etc., the company has pointed out other than tourism industry catering to education, sports, recreation and medical, the real estate industry, hotel and entertainment industries can also be nurtured.


ASI suspended for challaning MLA’s man
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, January 20
High drama was witnessed here today when the ruling BJP MLA, along with his supporters, sat on a dharna for over two hours at the Novelty chowk here over the challaning of one of his supporters by an ASI of the Traffic Police.

Anil Joshi, MLA, while talking to the media said he would not allow high-handedness of the police. He said he would lift the dharna only when SSP Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh would intervene in the case and suspend the concerned ASI in this regard.

The dharna was lifted by the MLA and his supporters only after arrival of the SSP. He suspended the ASI after listening to the grievances of the MLA. The SSP said though he had suspended the ASI, an inquiry would be conducted in the case.

Sandeep Arora, who was challaned for attending to a phone call on his mobile while driving his Santro, besides not fastening the safety belt, alleged that the ASI had misbehaved with him and the MLA when he urged him (ASI) to talk to the MLA over the issue.

However, Pritpal, the ASI, refuted the allegations and said he was just following the rules. He added that he had simply requested the MLA that he could not cancel the challan as per the recent direction of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.


Fast-food joint turns its back to North India
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 20
Wimpy, a UK-based fast-food company, which was among the first few to enter India in the early ’90s, has reportedly turned its back and instead chosen West and South India for further investments. The company, which started its first fast-food joint in New Delhi in 1990 and had 32 other outlets in the rest of North India, recently made its debut in Mumbai by opening a 300-seat joint at the Churchgate Railway station in Mumbai.

Besides a couple of outlets in the union Capital, Wimpy had its restaurants in Chandigarh, Jalandhar and a few more places in the ’90s.

In fact, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Dominos Pizza, Subway and other MNCs specialising in fast-food joints followed Wimpy in India.

The reason given for the company turning its back to Punjab, Chandigarh and Delhi, according to sources, is the reported persecution of its chairman and NRI Kanwal Sidhu and other senior functionaries of its Delhi corporate office by the previous Congress government in Punjab.

“Five years of political victimisation and persecution has not only made the company suffer huge business setbacks, but also shattered its faith in the system. Now when the prosecution in the Badal family corruption case is heading for the judicial adjudication stage, none of the charges levelled against the company and its top executives could be proved. Naturally, none from our company was named in the challan and the chargesheet. But who will compensate us for the harassment and agonising times our senior executives underwent all these years ?” said a senior functionary of the company.

“In case, there was anything against the company or its top brass, they should have been given a fair chance to explain their position rather then being threatened with third-degree torture, harassment and custodial interrogation. While some employees underwent a harrowing time at the hands of the Punjab Vigilance Bureau, chairman of the company Kanwal Sidhu was virtually declared persona non gratis by the Bureau as he was charged with hawala transaction with Sukhbir Badal in his Orbit Resorts project,” he added. The company had maintained that all its financial dealings with Sukhbir’s company were genuine and accounted for.

After Mumbai, the group now plans similar outlets at other places in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad other metro towns. None other than cricket magnate Raj Singh Dungarpur inaugurated the Churchgate joint.

India must abide by the norms, which are observed and followed worldwide for investigating any violation of economic offences or irregular financial transactions rather than treat NRIs or MNCs with contempt and persecution.

Change of government in Punjab, the sources reveal, has not influenced the decision of Wimpy to make new investments only in South and Western parts of the country.


Sikh bodies not to allow naam charcha
Tribune News Service

Bathinda, January 20
Hardening stand against the Dera Sacha Sauda, various Sikh religious organisations today announced here that they would not to allow followers of the dera to hold “naam charcha” (congregations) in Punjab.

The decision to implement with an “iron hand” the hukamnama of Akal Takht against the congregations of the dera followers was taken at a meeting of leaders of various organisations that was convened by Balwant Singh Nandgarh, jathedar, Takht Damdama Sahib, here today.

Through a resolution, participants at the meeting criticised the district administration for not taking action against the dera followers booked by the police in connection with the violent incidents here on May 14 and 15, 2007.

They will submit a memorandum in this connection to the deputy commissioner here tomorrow.

Among others who participated in the meeting were Sant Baljit Singh Daduwal, Sant Hardeep Singh, Bibi Devinder Kaur and Sukhdev Singh Bhaia (both SGPC members), Guriqbal Singh Chahal, Rajinder Singh Sidhu and Bhola Singh Gill Patti, district chief of the Youth Akali Dal (B).


Sidhu for rail freight corridor up to Amritsar 
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, January 20
Amritsar MP Navjot Sidhu today led a protest march demanding that the rail freight corridor proposed to be built from Delhi to Ludhiana be extended to Amritsar. He threatened that the issue could snowball into a widespread agitation if the Centre ignored the interest of the border region.

Talking to The Tribune, Sidhu said the BJP and the SAD were united for the cause of the industry and a committee of leaders of both parties would be set up to draw up the future course of action, after consultations with traders and industrialists of the Amritsar area.

He said he would raise the issue in the winter session of Parliament. Sidhu accused Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of neglecting the Majha region by not setting up adequate infrastructure here, as had been done in other cities of Punjab, including Ludhiana and Mohali.

Leading a large number of party workers and traders, Sidhu marched from the Circuit House to the deputy commissioner’s residence, where a memorandum addressed to the President of India was submitted.

The memorandum points out that the extension of the corridor to Amritsar will not only give a fillip to the struggling industry of the border areas of Punjab but will also boost the Indo-Pak trade by projecting Amritsar as a gateway to trade with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and other central Asian countries.

Sidhu said the extension of the corridor to Amritsar would bring prosperity to the region, tapping the full potential of the Attari-Wagah land route. Moreover, he said a corridor has to be between two landmarks and it cannot be left midway in Ludhiana. Logically speaking, the corridor should link an important border destination like Amritsar to achieve its real objective.

Amrit Lal Jain, president, Punjab Pradesh Beopar Mandal, added that the issue had been taken up with the UPA government through letters but to no avail.

“As of now, if Re 1 is paid as freight by bring goods from Mumbai to Amritsar by road, it can come down to 25 paisa if the rail fright comes to Amritsar. A separate rail line will be set up as part of the project,” he said.


NDA Leadership
Sorry, not me, says Badal
Our Correspondent

Mandi Ahmedgarh/ Samrala, January 20
Parkash Singh Badal, Chief Minister, has said he would not lead the NDA front at the national level. After addressing a gathering at the annual sports fair at Gujjarwal village, near here, today, Badal denied reports about his name being considered for leading the NDA.

"Neither am I capable of performing duties as leader of the NDA, nor have I ever aspired for this," he said this while answering a question.

He called upon office-bearers of civic bodies to focus on the development of sports in their respective areas. He said winners of Olympics and national games medals would be felicitated with cash prizes ranging from Rs 25,000 to Rs 1 crore. The Chief Minister announced a grant of Rs 5 lakh for the host club.

Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, MP, Jagdish Singh Garcha, former minister, Sumer Singh Gurjar, DC, Ludhiana, Sanjiv Kalra, IG, Jalandhar Range, and G.S. Bhullar, SSP, Ludhiana (Rural), were present on the occasion.

Later, the Chief Minister presided over the prize distribution function of the annual sports tournament organized by the Malwa Sports Club at Samrala and announced a grant of Rs 5 lakh for the organisers. Another grant of Rs 10 lakh was announced for the development of the stadium.

Jagjiwan Singh Khirnia, MLA, Sukhdev Singh Libra, MP, were also present there.


Turban Issue 
Talk to Sarkozy, Vedanti tells SGPC chief 
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, January 20
Akal Takht has directed SGPC president Avtar Singh to take up the issue of ban on turbans in French schools with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, during his proposed visit to New Delhi on January 26.

Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, jathedar, Akal Takht, has been under tremendous pressure to motivate Sikhs masses the world over to find a way out to get the ban removed, yet he (Jathedar Vedanti) preferred to assign the task to SGPC chief Avtar Singh to get the matter resolved.

In a missive to the SGPC president, he said the Sikh community, including the Sikh diaspora, had been expressing serious concern over the issue yet they could not succeed in their mission to get the ban lifted so far.

Jathedar Vedanti directed the SGPC chief to work out some concrete strategy to find a permanent solution to the problem before holding meeting with Sarkozy. He said the SGPC chief should evolve the strategy by taking other Sikh organisations into confidence so that proper case could be made out.

A law banning Islamic head scarves and other religious symbols from French state schools came into effect in 2004. The ban lays down that "conspicuous" religious items may not be worn in schools.

The forbidden items include veils, turbans, Jewish skullcap and large Christian crucifixes.

The Sikhs the world over have been impressing upon the government of France that turban was an integral part of their dress.

Earlier, the United Nations had taken up the issue of banning turban by the government of France, imposed on schoolchildren by enacting the school scarf ban law.

The issue was reported to the United Nation by the Sikh Nation Organisation, led by Dr Manjit Singh Randhawa. 


First phase of Talwandi Sabo thermal power plant by 2011 
Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

Patiala, January 20
The first phase of the Rs 10,000-crore Talwandi Sabo thermal power plant will come up in 2011, while the Rs 6,500-crore Rajpura thermal power plant is likely to be completed by the middle of 2012.

Both plants will help ease the power situation in Punjab by adding 3,320 MW in the proposed addition of 5,000 MW of the PSEB in the existing power availability and enable the board to provide 24-hour power in the state. On the completion of the first phases, the Talwandi Sabo plant will generate 2,000 MW and the Rajpura plant 1320 MW. The Talwandi Sabo plant is being set up on 2,100 acres in and around Banwala village of Mansa district and the Rajpura plant at Nalesh village near Rajpura on 1,100 acres.

Meanwhile, nine of the 10 companies, which had submitted bids for the construction of the Talwandi Sabo plant, have qualified and been issued request for proposals.

These companies included Sterlite Energy Limited, Mumbai, Torrent Power Limited, Ahmedabad, Reliance Power limited, Mumbai, Consortium of Lanco Infratech, Aban offshore and OPG Energy Limited, Hyderabad, Jindal steel and Power Limited, New Delhi, Larsen and Toubro, Devona Thermal Power and Infrastructure, Gurgaon, Essar Power, Mumbai and Gujarat Paguthan Energy Corporation, Mumbai.

“Two companies,Talwandi Sabo Power Limited (TSPL) and Nabha Power Limited (NPL) owned by the Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB), have been floated as special purpose vehicles (SPVs) to do all groundwork for the construction companies. The SPVs will acquire land, obtain environmental, forest and other clearances and get water and coal linkages apart from conducting the bidding process,” said Anurag Aggrawal, member (finance and accounting), PSEB, and chief managing director, TSPL and NPL.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has approved terms of reference and environmental studies have been completed.

Regarding the Rajpura plant, Aggarwal said land for the project had been identified. Environmental studies for the project were going on. The Ministry of Coal had approved coal linkage of 5.7 mt per annum for the project and the Railways had agreed to provide rail link. He hoped the first unit of the project would come up in mid-2012.


Probe sought into spurious insecticides
Our Correspondent

Tarn Taran, January 20
The Kisan Sangarsh Committee (KSC) has sought a high-level probe into spurious insecticides sold by a Delhi-based company which caused great loss to wheat crop of nine villages in the area.

Satnam Singh Pannu and Harbans Singh Nathuchak, leaders of the KSC, at a press conference here today said fake insecticide, Keshar, manufactured by Insecticide India , New Delhi, caused loss to wheat crop.The leaders said it affected 200 acres of wheat crop of Jaura , Nathuchak, Lauhka, Dhariwal, Boparai, Khabbe, Jawande, Jatta, Chambal villages etc of the area. The farmer leaders said when farmers of the area brought the matter to the notice of the company it sent its team to the area which found some fault on the part of the company.

The kisan leaders added that the company had given Rs 11,000 per acre compensation and a total of Rs 22 lakh had been distributed among the affected farmers in the area by the company.

The kisan leaders said as this was a serious matter and it should be probed to know the exact loss caused due to this fake insecticide. The leaders said officials of the Agriculture Department too should be held responsible for this lapse.


Theatre Fest gets underway
P. K. Jaiswar

Amritsar, January 20
The Fifth National Theatre Festival began here with children of Natrang from Jammu depicting the agony of children forced to carry burdens of “dreams and desires” of parents, teachers and relatives. The festival is dedicated to noted theatre and TV personality Harbhajan Jabbal, who passed away recently.

The play, “Aap Hamare Hain Kaun,” compels elders to look around and clear the mess created due to their ambitions. The play, directed by Balwant Thakur, puts a question mark on the current education system where teachers force students for tuitions and parents and teachers put pressure for top scores with little time for rest.

The 10-day festival is being organised by the Manch Rangmanch in collaboration with the Punjab Naatshala, Punarjyot, National School of Drama, New Delhi, and the North Zone Cultural Centre, Patiala.

The festival started with the lighting of the lamp by Anil Joshi, MLA, renowned Pakistani artiste Usmaan Peerzada, Sameena Peerzada and their Indian counterparts. Usmaan was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award on the occasion for contribution to theatre.

He said on this side of the border there were a lot of people who appreciated and enjoyed theatre, while in Pakistan they were trying to make people appreciate theatre and drama. 


Dist status for Pathankot demand gains ground
Tribune News Service

Pathankot, January 20
With Punjab BJP chief Rajinder Bhandari demanding a district status for Pathankot, a movement in this regard has gained momentum. The Pathankot Bar Association and the Pathankot Zila Banao Sangharsh Committee have formed units to raise their voice in this respect.

However, the move is being resisted by residents of Gurdaspur and surrounding areas.

The Pathankot committee has decided to rope in at least 45 social organisations.

Committee chief Rakesh Kumar and adviser Dr Samrendra Sharma today held a meeting of the members and decided to form committees at village, town and city levels to educate people of the areas to be included in the district.


Mining contractor flouts norms with impunity
Bipin Bhardwaj
Tribune News Service

Kiri Khurd (Gurdaspur), January 20
Enjoying political patronage, a well-connected mining contractor has allegedly been charging exorbitant royalty from vehicles carrying boulders, gravel and sand from the Ravi for the past over five years.

Charging royalty allegedly without issuing genuine “slips” to the carriers by the contractor is not only in violation of the mining norms, but also a huge loss to the state exchequer. The contractor has even laid nakas beyond his limits for collecting royalty.

Having a contract to charge royalty from vehicles carrying material from the only auctioned quarry at Siunty village, contractor Shyam Singh has deployed his men at Kiri Khurd village which is beyond his area of operation.

Up in arms against charging royalty illegally by Shyam Singh, villagers and transporters have taken up the issue with the deputy commissioner many times, but to no avail. The villagers alleged that the practice has been going on in connivance with officials of the mining department and an influential lobby of political leaders of the area.

Ravinder Singh, a resident of Kiri village, alleged that Shyam Singh had been charging royalty from tractor-trailers carrying sand and gravel from stone crushing units without issuing receipts the uneducated drivers.

Moreover, the contractor had been illegally collecting royalty from the truck drivers lifting gravel and sand from the river-bed in Mera Kalan, Kiri Jaswan, Dhupsari, Sarif Chak, Kathlaur, Mangial, Gajju, Malpur, Kiri Gandian and Kiri Khurd despite being having the contract of mining in Siunty (Narot Jaimal Singh) village.

Tara Chand, a Pathankot-based transporter, alleged that the contractor had been illegally collecting money from certain construction companies.

Shyam Singh when contacted claimed he was charging royalty from the tucks and other vehicles carrying boulders, gravel and sand. He denied exorbitant charging from vehicles. "Since the department of mining has auctioned Siunty village for mining, I am charging royalty from every vehicles carrying the material," he claimed. He described the allegation as politically motivated.

District mining officer D. S. Sandhu, when contacted said he would look into the matter in a day or two. @


Punjab rules contradict RTI Act, claim activists
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 20
The Right to Information Rules, 2007, notified by the Punjab government last year has a section of rights activists and legal experts up in arms on the contention that the rules contravene the very provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act which they are supposed to implement.

The rules, circulated to all departments recently, make seeking information a tough task and provide grounds for rejection of RTI requests which go beyond the provisions of the Act and complicate the process for obtaining information, they claim.

Under Sections 8 and 9 of the Act, information may not be provided on grounds such as security, breach of court orders or breach of commercial confidence.

Form-E introduced under the Punjab Rules, however, provides that in addition to the aforesaid sections of the Act requests fro information can also be rejected on grounds such as “unsatisfactory identity” of the information seeker, information already available in published material, information available on website and a vague premise called “any
other reason”.

“The Act does not provide for rejection of information requests on any of these grounds,” a local lawyer claimed. “Introducing such provisions is detrimental to the interest of the public,” he further added.

Further, Rule 3 (4) of the Punjab Rules state that information not accompanied by the requisite fee would be rejected straightaway without any notice to the applicant.

This rule, lawyers contend, is also contradictory to Section 7 (3) of the Act which ordains that the public information officer concerned shall inform the applicant to deposit more fee in case of insufficient fee.

The Punjab government has also introduced a form for seeking information, whereas the Section 6 of the RTI Act does not provide for any such form and simply states that information can be sought on a simple paper or electronic application with just the contact address of the applicant.

Punjab government’s prescribed Form-A, on the other hand, seeks information on nine queries from the RTI Applicant before the application can be processed. “The form also expects an applicant to first browse the website of the concerned department or research through published material before seeking information otherwise the application can be rejected,” a lawyer said. “The Act nowhere confers power on a state government to frame rules prescribing reasons for rejection of a form since these subjects are covered by the Act itself,” he contended.

Punjab government officials, on the other hand maintain that the Rules were framed under provisions of Section 27 (1) of the Act and the state can frame rules it deems appropriate to streamline the functioning of its departments.


Look beyond dollars: Ruby Dhalla
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 20
The relationship between Canadian NRIs and Punjab has to go beyond looking at just investment in dollars and should be expanded to sharing ideas, implementing best practices of governance and best options in the health sector, said Canadian MP of Indian origin Ruby Dhalla.

Dhalla, who is a qualified medical practitioner, is an MP from Brampton-Springdale in Canada. She, along with her full time executive assistant Seema Bhayana and a 20-strong delegation, was in India to attend NRI conferences.

While talking to The Tribune, she said the Punjab Government should build trust between itself and the NRIs. Rules, regulations and legislations need immediate amendment in India so that NRIs feel comfortable and get transparent and an accountable administration to deal within India.

Today, NRIs fear buying property in India. Fraud marriages are on the rise. In certain cases, the sole concern of the Indian boy or girl is to reach Canada using marriage as a ladder, she said.

The time had come to encourage partnerships in health and real estate, said Dhalla. With 65 per cent of India’s population being less than 35 years of age, the time has come to train the youth. Dhalla said she had proposed internship programmes in Punjab under Canadian students of Indian origin.

She will be initiating scholarships for two girls every year. She has asked a school in Muktsar to convey the expenses for educating them and the same would be provided.

Dhalla made history in 2004 as the first South Asian woman to be elected to federal parliament in Canada and was subsequently re-elected in 2006. 


Information over 20-yr-old can’t be withheld: Panel
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 20
The Information Commission, Punjab, has ordered the Forest Department information which is more than 20 years old cannot be withheld by any office or authority on the pretext of provisions made under sub- section 3 of Section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Upholding point raised by K.S Rupal, counsel forRajiv Bajaj, who had sought information related to the record with reference to a notification issued by the Punjab Forest Department dating 1914, information commissioner P K Verma, has termed the argument of Forest Department to deny the information under Section (8)(3) as unsustainable. Under the RTI Act, information more than 20 years old can only be withheld in circumstances when a grave threat or injury to the sovereignty and integrity to the nation is posed under Section (8)(a) of RTI.

Adjourning the matter to February 1, the commission has directed the principal information officer, Forest Department, Punjab to comply within 15 days and provide the information sought directly or through any subordinate office regardless to the fact whether it is 20 years old or not.


Mann writes to CJ on Jalandhar jail firing
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh January 20
In a letter to the Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice, Mr Justice Vijender Jain, SAD (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann has sought the registration of a case for attempt to murder against policemen involved in firing on prisoners in the Jalandhar jail.

He also sought immediate steps for improving the condition of jails in Punjab. Mann wrote the letter from the Faridkot jail during his confinement there.

Asking the Chief Justice to treat the letter as a writ petition, Mann also sought directions for a CBI probe into “uniform scandal” in the police, home guard and jail departments. In the letter sent through his counsel-cum-human rights activist Ranjan Lakhanpal, he has also alleged that the Punjab Police, Home Guards and jail personnel had not been provided regular uniforms for the past eight years.

Mann has added that high court and sessions court judges should pay a “meaningful” visit to the jails. “In prison, we are in judicial custody… thereby judiciary is responsible for the good or evil within these premises.”


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