P U N J A B    S T O R I E S


Allowance for Kashmir, wife; son gets job
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 7
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal today announced a monthly allowance of Rs 5,000 each to Kashmir Singh and his wife Paramjit Kaur, besides a house and a job for their physically challenged son. Kashmir and Paramjit met the Chief Minister. He honoured the couple at his residence and said the two would get a special monthly allowance.

He also announced that the government would get a house constructed for them at Mahilpur town, close to Kashmir’s village. It would be constructed on a plot owned by media adviser to Chief Minister Harcharan Bains. Badal also announced a government job for Shishpal Singh, the couple’s 40-year-old physically challenged son.

Meanwhile, giving credit for his release and home coming to Pakistan Human Rights minister Ansar Burney, who met him at the Kot Lakhpat jail, Kashmir said he was nothing less than an angel for him.

Interacting with the media during a meet the press at the Chandigarh Press Club, the oldest Indian national, who was on death row in Pakistan, said: “I gave up my religion for the country’s sake, but neither me nor my family got anything in return”.

He said as an agent for the Indian intelligence, he cut his hair short and became a Muslim. “I learnt to recite namaz and even followed the rozas so that I could pass off as a Pakistani,” he said, adding that he used different names at different occasions. At the time of his arrest, he was known by the name of Ibraham.

Stressing upon the need for framing a policy for the welfare of undercover agents and their families, his counsel-cum-human rights activist Ranjan Lakhanpal said he would soon be seeking compensation for Kashmir by filing a petition before the Punjab and Haryana High Court. He added a case had already been filed on behalf of Kashmir’s wife in the High Court.


Rs 45-cr wheat scandal being probed
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 7
Another scandal, which is being probed at the preliminary level, is with regard to sale of wheat. Sources said three state government organisations - Punjab Agro Foodgrains Corporation, Markfed and Warehouse - were involved in it.

Wheat worth Rs 45 crore was sold to private parties for export. However, the parties concerned have not made the payment to the state government organisations involved in the sale of the wheat. The matter is being probed at the senior level.

Sources said following the completion of the probe the matter would be put before the authorities concerned for initiating action against the officers concerned, who, without taking adequate guarantee and other appropriate measures, had sold the wheat.

“If the officers concerned had taken appropriate measures to protect the interest of the government organisations concerned, the companies concerned would have to made the payment by now by following the legal channels,” said a senior officer of the state government.

Source said the wheat was sold during the time of the previous government. However, the matter came to the notice with regard to the non-receipt of payment during an audit. The officers concerned were told to recover the money from the companies concerned, but they failed to do so. 


Panchayat Poll
Model code’s shadow may eclipse Budget
Naveen S. Garewal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 7
A unique situation has emerged for the Punjab government after the state Election Commission today announced the schedule for holding of elections to gram panchayats, panchayat samitis and zila parishads simultaneously on April 7. 

This brings the Model Code of Conduct into force with immediate affect barring the Punjab government from announcing any sops in the ongoing Budget session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha, where the Budget for the next fiscal will be presented on March 17.

Though voices expressing concern over the presentation of the Budget have started echoing in the corridors of power since Friday evening, it is unlikely that the presentation of the Budget will be put off till after these three simultaneous elections. But surely, the government will not be able to announce any sops for rural sectors that will mainly participate in these polls.

Will the Budget be postponed? Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal came out with a categorical “No” for an answer. “Why should the model code of conduct affect the Budget in any way? After all, our annual plan was made and approved by the Planning Commission almost two months ago”.

Political detractors, however, say that the government can do a lot to influence voters by making announcements or promises like “waiving loans in the future, talking of providing subsidies, grants etc”.

State election commissioner A.K Dubey is more direct in his answer. “Unlike some people believe, these elections too are governed by the Model Code of Conduct. The code has been sent to the government for information and compliance”.

Punjab Congress president Rajinder Kaur Bhattal said, “Holding of election in an indirect manner and in a hurry raises suspicion over the whole issue; it seems that the government is not ready to face people with a Budget”.

As the elections were announced on Friday, there is talk in some quarters about the government seeking a “vote on account” now and present its Budget after the polls, the process to which would be completed by April 17. 


Left-ruled states have more unemployed
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 7
The problem of unemployment among youth of 15-29 years is more severe in the Communist Party Marxist-ruled West Bengal than states like Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Punjab is much better placed than its immediate neighbours like Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

Information based on unemployed youth registered with employment exchanges throughout the country till December 31, 2005, reveals that while there are 46,42,000 unemployed youth in Bengal, the number of youth in the 15-29 age group looking for jobs in Punjab is 3,18,000 only.

In Himachal, the number of unemployed youth is 6,44,000, while Haryana tops the list in northern states with 7,37,000 youth still without a regular job.

Though Haryana has been witnessing a quick growth in its territory forming a part of the National Capital Region (NCR) with several new Special Economic Zones (SEZs) coming up, its unemployment figures are alarming. These are more than double than those in Punjab.

Kerala, which like Bengal, remained under the CPM rule for a long time, has also a serious unemployment problem. It has 24,65,000 youth on registers of its employment exchanges throughout the state.

States like Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, however, have a much smaller ratio of unemployed youth to the total population than either Kerala or Bengal.

In Uttar Pradesh, according to figures placed in Rajya Sabha yesterday, Bihar, which has the lowest per capita income in the country, has only 10,57,000 registered unemployed youth while in Uttar Pradesh the number is 13,34,000.

In Madhya Pradesh, the problem of employment of youth is less serious than in Maharashtra. In Madhya Pradesh, the number of 15-29 age group available for different jobs is 16,13,000 against 30,29,000 in Maharashtra.

In Maharashtra, the party led by Raj Thakre, a breakaway group of the Shiv Sena, has been asking North Indians, especially Biharis and Uttar Pradeshites, to go back, and leave jobs for the  local people. The problem of unemployment of youth in Jammu & Kashmir is also bad. This thinly populated state had 83,000 unemployed youth on its rolls.

In Chandigarh there are 39,000 youth, in the  15-29 age group, who still have no jobs.


4 Moga Congress leaders expelled
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 7
Punjab Pradesh Congress president Rajinder Kaur Bhattal has expelled Mahesh Inder Singh Nihalsinghwala, Amarjit Singh Manuke, chairman, Block Samiti, Bagha Purana, Sukhdev Singh Khema and Randhir Singh, sarpanch, Phoolewala village, Moga district, from the party’s primary membership for six years. Jagmohan Singh Kang, former minister, disclosed this here today.


Suicide-hit Families
Farmers submit 2,755 applications, reminders
Sushil Goyal
Tribune News Service

Sangrur, March 7
In an effort to remind the district administration about 733 applications of suicide-affected families of farmers, submitted on January 21 last, and submitting 189 new applications of the same, members of these strife-torn families today gathered at the New Grain Market here to compel the state government to redress their debt-related problems.

The protesters, members and activists of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) and the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union demanded the writing off the entire debt, Rs 5 lakh as compensation to suicide-affected families, government job to one member of each family, allotment of 5 acres of government land to landless farmers and farm workers and the formation of a farmer and farm worker-oriented agriculture policy by the Centre.

The protesters, led by state president of the BKU (Ugrahan) Joginder Singh Ugrahan, started their protest march from New Grain Market to the district administrative complex. On reaching the complex, they staged a dharna in front of the deputy commissioner’s office.

Despite the protest no official came to the dharna site to receive the 2,755 applications and reminders (733 reminders and 189 new applications of suicide-affected families, 1,833 applications of landless farmers of 76 villages of Sangrur district). At this a leader of the union threatened to jam traffic if the administration failed to receive their applications, reminders and memorandum soon.

To avoid any trouble, district revenue officer (DRO) Rajbir Singh came to the site and received all applications.

The protesters were also addressed by BKU (Ugrahan) leaders Hardeep Singh Tallewal, Bukkan Singh Saddowal, Darbara Singh Chhajla, Dilbag Singh Harigarh, and the leaders of Khet Mazdoor Union Balwinder Singh Jhaloor, Bhola Singh, Model Town Sheron and Harmesh Malrri. 


Power crisis, who cares
Panel tells chemists to install ACs in shops
Lalit Mohan
Tribune News Service

Ropar, March 7
The state is reeling under power crises. The PSEB has issued notice directing consumers to install low voltage lamps in their houses and government offices so that the power could be saved in summer. However, the state drug advisory committee seems to be unmindful of this.

The committee has directed all chemists running retail outlets in the state to install ACs on their premises. If the direction of the committee is implemented, about 45,000 more ACs will have to be installed in retail pharma outlets in the state. A normal AC consumes at least 2 units per hour. If an AC works for about eight hours in a chemist shop it will consume 7,20,000 units of power daily in the state.

Sources here said the committee that comprises members of chemists associations, drug controllers and is headed by director, health, was based on the justification that drugs should be kept at temperature less than 25° C to retain their effectiveness and quality.

The state chemists associations are up in arms against the directive. They allege that most retail chemists are located in small towns and village and cannot afford to install ACs. They said they had already installed refrigerators in their shops to preserve certain drugs. So there was no need to install ACs, they added.

The association has also submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, expressing their inability to install ACs. They submitted a memorandum through adviser to the CM Daljit Singh Cheema, who was on a visit to the district. Cheema also expressed concern over the directive. He said the state was suffering an acute power crisis. Installing additional 45,000 ACs would worsen the problem.


New tender system in place
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 7
While clearing several big construction projects, including railway over bridges, the Punjab government made drastic changes in inviting tenders for the construction of big projects to bring about transparency in the allotment of contract.

A meeting of senior officers was held today under the chairmanship of chief secretary Ramesh Inder Singh to approve the new tender system. “We have approved several projects, besides approving the new system to invite tenders,” said R. I. Singh. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had given instructions to put in place the new system to check rip-offs from major construction projects.

First of all e-tendering has been introduced. One can download the tender form from the website and submit the same through electronic mail system. There will be no need to personally approach the authorities concerned. Earlier, the authorities concerned in the PWD and other departments, which have established their own construction wings, the form used to be given to only a few ‘select’ contractors.

Even the tender form used to be given after charging a huge bribe by officials placed at the lower levels. Even at the time of submission of tenders, the contractors, who used to be outsiders and not part of the understanding, were denied submission of tenders under one pretext or the other. The new system approved today would be applicable to all construction wings of various departments and will not be confined only to the PWD or the Punjab Infrastructure Development Board (PIDB).

Secondly, splitting project work would not be allowed. Earlier, executive engineers and superintending engineer-level officers used to split the work to approve the execution of work at their level.

Work was split to be carried in many phases to enable the officer concerned to bring the same under his competency for approval. For instance, if a project is worth Rs 3 crore and the officer’s competency to approve is only worth Rs 1 crore, then the project will be split in four parts to bring its approval under the officers competence.

Any split in the work will now have to be approved from higher authorities, notified by the state government. Then for each work worth Rs 3 crore and above, an independent quality-control consultant will have to be hired by the government agency concerned. That consultant will examine the estimate, execution of the project and quality and report to the government from time to time. The Executive Committee of the PIDB approved the names of 19 consultant firms, and of those who can be engaged by the agencies concerned.

The government approved three major bridges to be constructed on the Sutlej on the Nakodar-Makhu road, on the Beas on the Sultanpur Lodhi-Chola Sahib road and on the Sutlej at Sarai Ke Pattan.

The PIDB will also construct 12 railway over bridges. Among these one will be at Budhlada on the Budhlada-Ratia road, another one near Jakhal on the Jakhal-Budhlada road. One sub-way under the rail line will also be constructed at Sunam near the grain market. Another will be near the Malerkota-Raikot road, Gidder Baha-Lambi road and the Amritsar-Bhikhiwind road.

Apart from this, the government approved the setting up of an institute of hotel management in public-private partnership mode at Boothgarh village near Mohali.


Dispute over freedom fighter’s land
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Attari, March 7
Kin of freedom fighter Tarlok Singh Attari, a close associate of founding president of the Ghadar Party Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, and owner of B.M. Resorts on the Amritsar-Attari border today locked horns over the possession of a seven-acre orchard.

The police allowed Amandeep Singh and Gagandeep Singh, grandsons of the freedom fighter, to replace the old lock on the tubewell and hand over the keys to a police official in the presence of state CPI leaders. The old lock, put up by Maktool Singh of B.M. Resort, was cut with an iron blade.

The CPI leaders, including Balwinder Singh Dodhala, alleged that some “unscrupulous elements” were intimidating the kin of Tarlok Singh Attari with a view to “grabbing the land”.

However, Maktool alleged that it was “Tarlok Singh Attari and his family who fraudulently got the revenue record tampered with”. He claimed that the close relatives of the late freedom fighter who have been living in Uttar Pradesh got the land record rectified and gave the power of attorney to them. He further claimed that the orchard belonged to the relatives of the late freedom fighter.

On the other hand, the relatives of the freedom fighter alleged that Maktool damaged the orchard. They claimed the girdawris were still in the name of Tarlok Singh Attari. Nobody could either sale or purchase this land as per law while it was the right of the kin of the freedom fighter to pocket earnings from the land. They said both tubewell connections were still in the name of the wife of Tarlock Singh Attari.

The CPI threatened to launch an agitation if the administration failed to give justice to the family of the freedom fighter by getting the land record straightened. The leaders alleged that the owner of the resorts had been using his connections to take possession of the entire chunk of seven acres.

However, Maktool alleged that the kin of Tarlok Singh Attari had legal rights on five marlas out of total seven acres.

The SHO, Kahngarh, assured both parties of settlement on the basis of the revenue record.


Probe into Agro scam begins
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 7
The Punjab government has started a regular inquiry into the alleged irregularities by senior Punjab IAS officer Kirpa Shankar Saroj and others during his tenure as MD Punjab Agro Food Grain Corporation. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had signed the suspension order of Saroj yesterday, after he received a report indicating that the IAS officer had caused losses to the corporation to the tune of Rs 20 crore.

The government has also chargesheeted Saroj’s then additional MD Amarpal Singh, a PCS officer, for being party to the irregularities. He is being charged for major penalty, which if proved could lead to his dismissal from service.


Amarinder allowed to attend Assembly
Our Correspondent

Ludhiana, March 7
The Court of Sessions Judge, G.K. Rai today allowed the application moved by former Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh seeking permission to attend the state Assembly session on March 10.

The court also exempted his personal appearance in the alleged multi-crore City Centre Scam, in which the hearing was fixed for March 10. An application was filed by his counsel on March 5. The prosecution today opposed the grant of exemption to him. But after hearing the arguments, the Judge allowed the application.

Meanwhile, the same court also exempted the personal presence of family members of G.K. Gambhir, managing director of Today Homes company, namely Sunita Gambhir, N. Gambhir, Yeshu and Vikram Gambhir for the next date of hearing.


Tension at murder case hearing
Tribune News Service

Ropar, March 7
There was tension once again on the local court complex today with supporters of both Rajbir Singh Padiala and Kiranbir Singh Kang coming face to face.

The murder case against both SAD leaders came up for hearing in a trial court. The hearing pertained to a fresh challan presented in the court by the Ropar police, exonerating Kang in the case.

In the morning, Kang came to the court along with around 100 supporters and security guards. Padiala also came with around 50 supporters. They came prepared for a possible clash.

Both sides tried to provoke each other with threatening postures.

Sources said Padiala and his supporters came prepared to hit back at Kang who had trashed one of the supporters and handed over him to the police at the last hearing.


Humanitarian Punjab gets firm
Withdraws reinstatement orders of officer convicted for corruption
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 7
In an unprecedented move, the Punjab government has withdrawn the reinstatement orders of a naib tehsildar taken back into service despite being convicted for corruption. Several such cases have recently surfaced in Punjab forcing the government to undertake a face-saving exercise.

Prem Lata, posted as naib tehsildar at Patran, was convicted for corruption on March 18, 2004, by Special Judge, Patiala. Subsequently, commissioner, Patiala division, dismissed her from service in line with the Supreme Court guidelines.

The dismissal was, however, short-lived, with the then financial commissioner, Revenue, Rupan Deol Bajaj setting aside Patiala commissioner’s orders and reinstating Prem Lata. Bajaj even ordered to be treated as leave the period between the dismissal of Prem Lata’s service and her rejoining following fresh orders.

The case naturally came in handy to people convicted for corruption, who started quoting it to get back into jobs after being dismissed. The rot was first highlighted by The Tribune on January 31 this year. Later, a PIL on the matter was filed by H.C. Arora.

Taking a serious view of the reinstatement of Prem Lata despite her conviction, the Punjab government has finally set aside the orders of the then financial commissioner, Revenue, terming them as “erroneous” and against the spirit of the apex court judgment in the matter.

In its review order, following The Tribune expose of the matter, the Punjab government has now said, “In her orders dated December 28, 2005, the then appellant authority while accepting the appeal of Prem Lata, did not appreciate the provisions of Punjab government rules and instructions based on the apex court’s judgment. There was no occasion to reinstate Prem Lata only on grounds that the sentence awarded to her by the trial court had been suspended by the High Court. Since the conviction of Prem Lata has not been suspended by the high court and only the benefit of suspended sentence by the trial court has been confirmed, the criminal charge of corruption by the special judge, Patiala, is still sub judice”.

On the above-mentioned grounds, the state government has dismissed Prem Lata from service in its attempt to undo the past wrongs.The final dismissal will, however, be subject to the outcome of the criminal appeal pending in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.


No warning before tanks used: Brig Rao
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, March 7
The officer who executed Operation Bluestar, Brig D.V. Rao (retd), here today appeared in the court of Harjit Singh Khalsa, Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate (First Class), in connection with a case filed by some Jodhpur detainees, who were taken into custody after the operation, against the Union of India and others for compensation.

He told the court that the Army had moved towards Akal Takht from three directions - Ghanta Ghar, langar hall and sarai. He admitted that no warning was given before tanks opened fire to flush out the militants.

March 28 has been fixed as the next date of hearing.


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