P U N J A B    S T O R I E S


Kisan Sangharsh Committee splits
Parallel rallies held
Vibhor Mohan/ Gurbaxpuri
Tribune News Service

Tarn Taran, March 29
The Kisan Sangharsh Committee, which had been fighting for farmers’ issues, has split, almost vertically. Fissures in the committee came to light today on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the Manawala incident in which one farmer had died in police firing. Both factions tried hard to mobilise support for parallel rallies organised at Manawala Railway station and Bakipur village.

Kanwalpreet Singh Pannu, founder-convener of the committee, said ever since the SAD-BJP alliance had formed government, certain leaders from the area had been trying hard to form a separate body by taking away SAD workers from the parent body.

Asked if this would affect farmers’ movement in the state, Pannu said such splits had only temporary effect and the breakaway factions usually did not match the conviction of the original body.

The committee, formed eight years back, came into news in 2000 when it raised the issue of ‘cut’ being demanded by officials of the Mandi Board during the sale of paddy. After an agitation for nearly two years, the money taken from nearly 800 farmers was returned.

After that, the committee was instrumental in helping the farmers get arrears of Rs 47 crore of sugarcane purchased by the state government., he said. The committee has stronghold in five districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran, Kapurthala and Ferozepur.

The breakaway faction, led by Satnam Singh Pannu and Jasbir Singh Piddi, organised parallel gatherings at Bakipur village today. Bakipur is native village of Angrez Singh Bakipur, a farmer who allegedly died in police firing

on protesting farmers at Manawala Railway station in March 2004. The incident has been in the memory of farmers of the area and every year functions are organised to remember his sacrifice.

The issues pertaining to farmers in the area were raised by both factions today. Both Satnam Singh Pannu and Piddi have had a long association with the parent committee and have their share of following. Both factions decried the unprovoked use of force against farmers, denying them democratic right to protest.

A third faction, the Kisan Sangharsh Committee (Ekta) with Sawinder Singh Chutala and Balraj Singh Bhail, is presently working in tandem with the committee led by Pannu.


Kin say ex-KLF chief Sekhon dead
Jupinderjit Singh and Mahesh Sharma
Tribune Reporters

Ludhiana/Mandi Ahmedgarh, March 29
Relatives of one of the most wanted terrorists, Dr Pritam Singh Sekhon, former KLF chief and main accused in Romanian diplomat Radu’s kidnapping, have declared him dead. He had been on Interpol’s wanted list since 1997. His posters can be seen on notice boards of all police stations in the state.

His mother and sisters will organise his bhog at his native village here tomorrow. Villagers have decided to stay away from bhog and the management of the local gurdwara refused to allow the Akhand Path and bhog on its premises.

Sekhon was listed as most wanted by the Indian security forces and intelligence agencies, including the CBI. According to the intelligence reports, he was either in the USA or Pakistan.

His over 70-year-old mother Gurnam Kaur, alias Bebe Thakri, and two middle-aged sisters reached the village a few days ago and opened the ancestral house, which had been locked for several years. They have not told to anyone how and where Sekhon died.

Station house officer (SHO) Parminder Singh revealed the Bhog of the terrorist would be held tomorrow as per the information given to the police by members of the terrorist’s family.

Sources said no special security had been arranged but the police in plain clothes apart from intelligence personnel would be present at Bhog venue.

Sekhon basically belonged to Hansa village. His father had settled with his in-laws at Dulmaan village immediately after his marriage. Sekhon’s father had died when he (Pritam) was four years old.

Sekhon had become the head of the KLF after the killing of Gurjant Singh Budhsinghwala in Ludhiana in 1992. He had done a course in veterinary science from Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. He is said to have left for Pakistan in 1992.


Cremation of Unclaimed Bodies
NHRC proposes panel for identifying remaining 657
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 29
The issue of the cremation of what the police had described as unidentified and unclaimed bodies in Majitha, Tarn Taran and Amritsar in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Punjab went through a turbulent period is back in the reckoning.

In its latest order the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has proposed to set up a committee under the chairmanship of the divisional commissioner of Jalandhar to make a fresh effort to identify the remaining 657 bodies in the districts concerned. Other members of the committee will be DIG, border range, and a retired district and sessions judge from Punjab. Deputy commissioner, Amritsar, will be its convener.

The findings of the committee will be subject to the endorsement of the commission that has fixed the next hearing on May 15 in Delhi. There were reported 2,059 unidentified bodies cremated in Majitha, Tarn Taran and Amritsar districts. On December 12,1996, the CBI was directed to investigate the issue by the Supreme Court.

For the adjudication of the issues involved and effective determination of compensation, the commission issued public notices on January 30, 1999, and July 18, 2004, inviting the next of kin of those whose names figured in the lists submitted to the Supreme Court by the CBI to submit their claims. In all, 1,857 claimants responded to the public notices and filed claim petitions. The commission was able to identify 1,245 bodies till October 10, 2006.

For the identification of the remaining bodies, the commission appointed Justice K.K. Bhalla, a retired Judge of the high court, to act as commissioner. He was told to join the Punjab Police, Committee for Information and Initiative on Punjab( CIIP) and Committee for Coordination on Disapperances in Punjab (CCDP) in this regard.

Justice Bhalla forwarded the names of 90 deceased persons as identified for grant of compensation. He stated that names of 14 were in duplication in the list prepared by the CBI. Besides, of the 54 names forwarded by R.S. Suri, an advocate, 53 names were approved for grant of compensation. The remaining task of identification has been now given to the proposed panel. It is supposed to complete its work in four weeks from the publication of the notification by the state government.

The commission found many flaws in the approach adopted by Justice Bhalla. In its order it says : “Needless to say the bodies labelled as unidentified were cremated in three districts in a clandestine manner. No direct evidence of such cremation can be available. Inference from attending circumstances can be drawn to fix the identity of dead.”

The advocate for the CIIP had submitted that evidence was produced before Justice Bhalla but it was discarded by him on the ground that the witnesses had neither seen the body nor attended the cremation. The commission said, “Circumstantial evidence shall be crucial for identification in this case and the learned commission erred by discarding such evidence.”


Custodial Death
State told to pay compensation
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 29
In yet another case of custodial death, the Punjab State Human Rights Commission has directed the State government to pay compensation of Rs 1 lakh to the widow of Avtar Singh, a convict, who died in Civil Hospital, Khanna on November 13, 2006.

Avtar Singh (46) was undergoing imprisonment in Central Jail, Ludhiana. The condition of Avtar deteriorated on November 9, 2006. Thereafter, the jail doctor referred him to Civil Hospital, Ludhiana.

From there he was referred to Rajindra Hospital, Patiala, on November 13, 2006. He was being taken to Patiala by the Jail escort party but his condition deteriorated on the way.

To provide him immediate medical aid, he was admitted to Civil Hospital, Khanna. At that time, son of the deceased was also accompanying the escort party. The doctors gave medical aid to Avtar but he died soon after.

According to the report of senior medical officer, Central Jail, Ludhiana, the deceased was admitted in the Jail Hospital on November 9, 2006, as he was suffering from gastric pain. On that very day, the deceased was referred to the Civil Hospital, Ludhiana.

Neelam, wife of the deceased, moved an application to the commission blaming that the jail authorities did not pay heed to the requests of her son to promptly arrange a vehicle to shift her husband from Ludhiana to Patiala. She alleged that due to the negligence on the part of the jail authorities in providing transport promptly lead to he death of her husband.

A magisterial inquiry was conducted by SDM Khanna and he has also referred to the opinion of the board of doctors, who had conducted post-mortem examination. The board was of the opinion that had Avtar Singh been shifted in time to Rajindra Hospital, Patiala, probably he might have survived.

It has been observed by the SDM that the delay of about four to five hours in shifting of the patient was unexplainable. It was further observed that the callousness and delay on the part of the jail authorities cannot be ruled out and they cannot escape from their responsibility.


CM keen on houses for poor
Tribune News Service

Mohali, March 29
Punjab will soon have a state housing and habitat policy. A meeting of leading builders of the state and chief administrators of various urban development authorities was held here recently under the chairmanship of secretary, housing and urban development, Arun Goel to discuss the policy.

Representatives of National Housing Bank gave a presentation on the draft Punjab State Housing and Habitat Policy, 2008. Goel emphasised that the government would provide at least one lakh affordable houses to members of poor sections of society in rural and urban areas. “The Chief Minister is very keen in this regard ,” he said.


No promotions for docs even after 20 yrs
Unavailability of ACRs cited reason
Lalit Mohan
Tribune News Service

Ropar, March 29
Doctors in the state are ruing lack of promotions and poor pay scales. Many have not been granted any promotion even after more than 20 years of service. Lack of promotion is also leading to exodus of doctors from the Punjab Civil Medical Services.

An applicant, Sanjeev Gupta, had recently sought information regarding the number of doctors who had been denied promotions and related payscales and the reasons for it. Initially, he was not provided the information by the office of director, health. He had to move the state information commission for this. Initially, the officials concerned said just 10 doctors had been denied promotions. However, on allegations of inadequate and wrong information in subsequent communications the number of such doctors increased to 56.

The doctors, however, alleged that the number of doctors denied promotion was much more and the officials concerned were not giving a true picture. The basic reason for denial of promotion to doctors is stated to be unavailability of annual confidential reports (ACRs). In the information provided under the RTI the officials in Directorate of Health had maintained that the 56 affected doctors had not been promoted as their ACRs were not available or there were some discrepancies in them.

The doctors are, however, alleging that the updating of their ACRs was the duty of civil surgeons or principals of government medical colleges. If any discrepancy was found in their ACRs it was the duty of the officials of the heath directorate to get them clarified. They alleged that the unavailability of ACRs was just an excuse by directorate officials.

Some doctors like Surjeet Kataria, who was posted at Ropar, have died waiting for promotions. The doctors have written to health minister Laxmi Kanta Chawla in this regard. 


Bias adds to woes of HIV-positive patients
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 29
Fifty persons living with HIV/AIDS yesterday showed how the issue of stigma and discrimination was deeply rooted in a debate on the pandemic. Each one of them has at some point in his life suffered discrimination during treatment. Naturally, they seemed desperate to know what legal recourse could be taken to battle biases.

“I was thrown out of my matrimonial house,” said a middle-aged woman from Patiala, who tested HIV positive five years ago. One of the 50 persons from North India, who yesterday attended Human Right’s Law Network’s (HRLN) legal training session for stigmatised PLHAs (People Living with HIV/AIDS), she wept bitterly as she spoke, her infected child by her side. Others joined in as she made her wounds public.

Many of the participants said they had lost their jobs, even rented accommodations, after their HIV infection became public. The most shocking of revelations at the session was about repeated breach of confidentiality of the HIV status of people.

A participant from Sangrur spoke of how HIV-infected children in some cases were being handed out paediatric formulations (syrups) bearing the logo of the red ribbon. “Everyone knows what the red ribbon symbolises. Infected children have to sometimes take three doses of the medicine in a day. So they have to carry their syrups to school. The logo of red ribbon on the bottle is enough to disclose the child’s HIV status to anyone. We have been increasingly encountering such cases,” he said, hoping the Bill for the rights of HIV-infected individuals, pending with the Centre for consideration, will address these sensitive issues.

Another major problem for HIV/AIDS positive people is the disclosure of their HIV status on their medical cards. “Whenever we seek reimbursement, we have to submit a copy of these cards. It hardly does us any good. The moment we submit it, our status is disclosed. And that’s the end of everything for us,” a participant from Karnal told The Tribune.

For its part, the HRLN made notes of the problems being encountered by the people living with HIV at a time when National AIDS Control Programme-III has entered its most active phase. Special participants at today’s session were members of the Deaf Way Foundation, an NGO.


Fraud marriages: UK to back police
Naveen S. Garewal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 29
The British government is working out an arrangement with the Punjab police to provide it access to public records of immigrants with a view to check growing marriage frauds. There is already an arrangement to share information between the police of the two countries, but keeping in mind the rising number of fake marriages by NRIs, the Punjab police will soon be provided an access to public records, especially areas that reveal the marital status of a person.

Disclosing this here, UK’s minister and deputy high commissioner, New Delhi, Creon Butler said, “Punjab has expressed a desire to find quickly if someone is already married overseas, and if there are ways where we can help, we will be more than willing to discuss those with the authorities”.

Butler said this to The Tribune in an interview in the city where he later participated in a seminar on “Migration - Myth and realities... one year on,” a collaborative effort of the UK High Commission and Malhotra and Malhotra Associates.

Butler said the UK government was willing to work together with the Punjab government and perform a role of skill development in the region, if it helped decrease illegal migration to the UK. “We welcome ideas and proposals that will directly help reduce illegal immigration to the UK,” he said. However, he claimed that though there had been a lot of thinking on the issue, there were no concrete proposals to offer yet. “We are open to suggestions, some relating to collaboration between British educational institutions and Indian partners to run skill upgradation that will help people establish themselves here and not try illegal routes to go to the UK”.

A large team from the UK High Commission is in Chandigarh to evaluate and assess the progress of the programmes launched last year in Punjab to make people aware about the legal way to go the UK and the dangers involved in trying the illegal method.

He, however, denied that the new point-based immigration system had been delayed, but added that the programme would be put into practice in a phased manner. There was no proposal to start a Tier-5 programme for non-skilled workers in India now. 


New visa norms from April 1
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 29
The new UK visa system will come into force from April 1 making the process more transparent and simple for genuine visitors to the UK. All five categories under the new visa system will, however, not be introduced in India yet as the UK does not need low skilled migrant workers, the requirement for which is fulfilled from the European Union countries, deputy high commissioner Creon Butler has said.

Various measures to curb illegal migration to the UK were discussed at a seminar, “Migration Myths and Realities”, here. A team of the UK High Commission shared observations and plans to curb illegal migration with legal experts of the region who included representatives from Malhotra and Malhotra Associates and Punjab advocate-general Hardev Singh Mattewal.

Mattewal disclosed that the Punjab government was in the process of finalising the draft for the Punjab Prevention of Human Trafficking Act-2008, which was aimed at checking the exploitation of public by travel agents. Anil Malhotra, who assists the UK High Commission in its legal work, said: “The proposed Act defines the offence of human trafficking, provides for a licensing regime for agents and compulsory bank guarantees, power of search, seizure and arrest and creation of special designated courts, etc”. 


Rs 3 cr to develop Maharaja park
Tribune News Service

Ropar, March 29
The union government has sanctioned Rs 3 crore for the development of the site of historic meeting between Maharaja Ranjit Singh and then Governor General Lord William Bentick, as Maharaja Ranjit Singh Bagh situated on the banks of the Sutlej at Ropar as tourist and cultural centre.

The first phase of the work started on Tuesday. Deputy commissioner B. Purusartha, who inspected the development work, said in the first phase Rs 90 lakh had been received.

Under the project the road along the Sutlej in Ropar will be included in the Maharaja Ranjit Singh park. The road will give way to benches and trekking paths for tourists and locals. The place where Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Lord Willam Bentick met will be developed as tourist and culture centre.

The canal rest house along the park will be included in the park area.

Besides water bodies, fountains and fancy lighting are also planned in the park area.

The PWD has, however, earmarked most of the funds for concretisation of parks, digging old pathways and relaying them.

Concretisation is not likely to improve the natural beauty of the spot, already a picture of neglect. Provision for grass lands and horticulture in the park needs to be made to make it a tourist spot.

Besides the development of park, the project also includes development of fish farm at Katli near Ropar.


SGPC ready to pay any price for Guru’s relic
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, March 29
The SGPC has decided to pay any price for the rare relic of Guru Gobind Singh to be auctioned by UK-based Sotheby's after ascertaining its authenticity.

In a resolution adopted here today, the committee members have authorised Avtar Singh, president, SGPC, to take up the matter in this regard with the Prime Minister for urging the UK government for stopping the auction. The resolution further said the Prime Minister should immediately take up the matter with his counterpart in this regard. 


Pak woman prisoner may walk free
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, March 29
Farzana Sheikh of Lahore, who has already completed her seven-month sentence in Central Jail here, may be released shortly even as the state government has asked the Central government for providing her consular access at the earliest. She was arrested at the Attari railway station on April 26 last year on charges of bringing fake currency in the 
Samjhauta Express.

Deputy commissioner-cum-district magistrate Kahan Singh Pannu has also written to superintendent of jails S.P.Singh and the state government to expedite Farzana’s case. The case was brought to the knowledge of the district magistrate by social activist and lawyer Ajay Vermani. The lawyer succeeded in securing the passport of Farzana from the immigration authorities after getting an attorney from the jail superintendent.

On the other hand, the Central government has sought a detailed report from the Punjab government regarding the 47 internees languishing in state jails. The status of these nationals in the local jail is internees as they have already completed their sentence. The consular access could not be provided for the past 21 months. As per rules, it should be provided to foreign nationals after every 
six months.

The jail superintendent said for all 47 Pakistan prisoners the local Central Jail was a transit camp since they had already completed their sentences.

In many cases the government of Pakistan has been showing indifference for early repatriation of its nationals. There are certain glaring examples when Pakistan officials have refused to help the internees despite consular access. Many of the prisoners have not even been granted consular access, which is mandatory under international conventions.

The most disgusting case of a Pakistani national languishing in jail is that of 60-year-old Mukhtar Ahmad of Kasur, who has spent 17 years in prisons across India. He has spent nine years more than his sentence and still there is no sign of his repatriation. Earlier, Mohammad Yusuf, 94, a Pakistan national, had died in an Amritsar jail in August 2001 as Islamabad refused to seek his repatriation, jail sources said.


Punjabi: Bains seeks report in a week
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 29
Harcharan Bains, media adviser to the Chief Minister, Punjab, today asked the director, Information and Public Relations, Punjab, to submit a report in a week after studying the language policies of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

At a meeting held on how to implement unanimous a Vidhan Sabha resolution on the use of Punjabi in the state, Bains underlined steps at three levels to translate into reality Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s decision. First, making needed amendments it would make the Punjab State Language Act more effective, ensuring work in Punjabi in offices and thirdly, action against officials violating these guidelines.

Bains said a major challenge before the government was to effectively implement teaching of Punjabi as first medium language in all schools from class I to X. 


Man kills brother in accidental fire
Tribune News Service

Sangrur, March 29
Ravinderdeep Singh (15) was killed when a gun, wielded by his elder brother Ramandeep Singh, as per police investigations, went off accidentally. The incident happened at Longowal village, about 20 km from here, last night. Ravinderdeep had reportedly appeared for Class IX examination recently.

Talking to The Tribune over the phone today, SP (D) Bhupinderjit Singh Virk said Kuldeep Kaur, who had been posted at Longowal’s primary health centre, had been watching TV at her residence in the village last night when some persons came to her house looking for a doctor. However, they could not locate the house of a doctor and came back to Kuldeep. Suspecting their intent to visit his house, her elder son Ramandeep Singh took out a rifle, which accidentally went off. One bullet hit Ravinderdeep while the second hit the floor, the SP (D) added.

He said earlier on a statement of Kuldip, the police had registered a case against unknown persons. She had stated that certain persons had opened fire on his son. But, during investigations it was revealed that the gun had went off accidentally. The police investigating into the case was on.

According to the Longowal police, Ravinderdeep, who had appeared for his Class IX examination in a school at Sirsa, had come to the village on March 18 and he had to return to Sirsa on March 31.

According to a doctor on emergency duty at the local civil hospital last night, Ravinderdeep was brought to the hospital in an injured condition. He had been referred to the Government Rajindra Hospital, Patiala. He died on the way.


Irregularities in arms records detected
Our Correspondent

Tarn Taran, March 29
The district administration has detected serious irregularities in the records of the Arms Branch of the deputy commissioner’s office.

DC Ajoy Sharma, giving details of the irregularities in a written press note issued here today, said the irregularities had been found in the records sent to this office by the DC’s office (Amritsar) after the formation of this town as district.

The DC further said, after scrutinising the records sent by the Amritsar office, it had been found that some unauthorised person or persons had wrongly made entries in the records while computerising the arms records. He added that it was suspected that employees of the DC office, Amritsar, and some arms dealers, with their connivance, had done so.

No proper authority had signed the entries that had been verified by the authorities.

The DC said the administration had decided to lodge a criminal case at Amritsar. 


Youth misbehaves with traffic cops
Sushil Goyal
Tribune News Service

Sangrur, March 29
A youth from Maur Mandi in Bathinda district yesterday allegedly misbehaved with traffic policemen, including ASI Gursewak Singh, at Mahavir Chowk here when the policemen were checking vehicles.

Gursewak said when they challaned the driver of a pick-up (jeep) vehicle for violating traffic norms, an occupant of the jeep Kapil Mittal “misbehaved” with them and even tried to slap him. On this, the policemen on duty caught him.

The ASI said Kapil had told them that he was a journalist as he had a plate of “Press” on the vehicle. He later on showed an identity card of a weekly newspaper of his father. The occupants of the vehicle also refused to accept the copy of the challan and when the policemen tried to keep the copy of the challan in the vehicle, Kapil tried to put the same forcibly in his pocket.

Later, the policemen took him to a local police station to register a case against him for creating obstructions in the performance of duties by public servants and misbehaving with them while on duty.

City in-charge of the police station informed over phone that the matter was over as Kapil had tendered a written apology.


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