P U N J A B    S T O R I E S


Visa to Sarabjit’s kin not rejected: Burney
Says will prevail upon govt to defer hanging
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, April 15
Member of the advisory committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council Ansar Burney said today that he would prevail upon the Pakistan government to defer the hanging of Sarabjit Singh, lodged in Lahore’s Lakhpat Rai Jail, for three months. This would help Sarabjit’s family and relatives to explore the legal system in Pakistan to save him.

Before winding up his 14-day visit to India, Burney, however, promised to save Sarabjit. “I will meet President Pervez Musharraf to urge him to convert the hanging of Sarabjit into life imprisonment.”

A lukewarm send-off

Only a naib tehsildar and officials of the Customs Department reached Attari as Burney left the country

Burney refuted Indian media reports that the visa pleas of Sarabjit’s kin had been rejected by the Pakistan government. In their applications, they had wished to meet the ministers of Pakistan, instead of mentioning the reason of the visit as a meeting with Sarabjit. This led to delay in dealing with the visa applications, he clarified.

The hanging of Sarabjit has been stayed till April 30. His family wants to personally urge the Pakistan authorities for mercy to Sarabjit.

Burney said the kin should also meet the families of those 14 persons who were killed in bomb blasts in Pakistan, allegedly engineered by Manjit Singh in 1990. “By doing so, they may win the sympathy of the families, which may ultimately help in saving Sarabjit from gallows,” he said.

He said the evidence collected from Bhikhiwind, the native border town of Sarabjit, were not clinching ones to prove his innocence. He, however, said he would try his level best to get his death sentence converted into life imprisonment as Sarabjit had already spent 18 years in jail.

Burney expressed surprise over the lukewarm send-off given to him by politicians and the administration.

Public relations minister Bikram Singh Majithia and a number of politicians and senior officials of the state government had reached the Attari joint check-post on April 2 to receive Burney and his family and a glittering media press conference was arranged at the local M.K. Hotel on his arrival.

However, today, only a naib tehsildar and officials of the Customs Department reached Attari as Burney left the country.


Day 2
Lehra power plant unit-III shuts down
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, April 15
A few hours after the inauguration by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal yesterday, the 250-MW unit-III of the Lehra Mohabbat thermal plant was shut down. Sources said today that the unit stopped generation of power at 5.54 a.m. following a major fault in its boiler part.

The unit had generated only 2.5 million units when it had to be shut down. It would take about 24 hours to repair the boiler, the sources said. What has surprised the staff at the plant is the leak in a tube of the boiler. It is unheard of a new boiler, the sources said.

Confirming the fault in the boiler, a senior official of the PSEB said these were the routine problems encountered by every new unit at the initial stage. However, he said, he should not be quoted in this regard.

In fact, the unit-III, that was synchronised with the grid in early January this year, has not functioned smoothly right from its start. During its construction, some of the PSEB officers had pointed out use of poor quality welding electrodes, which were not suitable for work on a boiler. The matter had been brought to the notice of BHEL, which has constructed the unit, with the warning that poor quality of material and workmanship would lead to frequent leaks in the boiler part.

During 2005-06, the record of non-stop running was set by the NTPC. One of its 500-MW units ran non-stop for 405 days. The present record too is held by by 210-MW unit III of NTPC’s Vidhyachal thermal station in Madhya Pradesh (552 days). The 200-MW Kaiga unit II of the NPCIL Kaiga station (Karnataka) ran non-stop for 529 days.

It is a wake up call for BHEL that is constructing the unit IV (250-MW) of the Lehra Mohabbat plant.


Eye on LS Elections
Govt puts bus fare hike, transfers on hold
Naveen S. Garewal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, April 15
The Punjab government has decided to put all transfers and enforcement of new taxes, raising of bus fares, etc in the state on hold till July 1. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal reportedly has turned down several proposals over the past week on the ground that these could hit poll prospects of the SAD-BJP alliance.

The government’s transfer policy is ready and had to be put on hold as it will take at least four weeks for implementation . But as new schedule for panchayat polls is expected to be announced soon and the model code of conduct will then come into force, the government has thought it prudent to postpone implementing of the policy rather than face embarrassing situation.

Similarly, the Transport Department has revised fare schedule due to hike in diesel prices, already announced in Budget session of the Vidhan Sabha. But the Chief Minister has asked the department to hold implementation till after the panchayat and municipal polls. There is a proposed increase of Rs 6 in the bus fare for travelling up to 95 km, while there would be no toll for travelling up to 9 km.

Punjab is duty-bound to impose certain tax reforms under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The JNNURM, a national level initiative to enable Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) catalyse investment in the urban infrastructure sector. Its mission is “to encourage reforms and fast track planned development of identified cities. Focus on efficiency in urban infrastructure and service delivery mechanisms, community participation, and accountability of ULBs and its agencies towards citizens”.

It has been debated implementation of the reforms can be put off till three months after receiving the first instalment under the mission programme. Since Punjab received Rs 199 core on March 31, this imposition of house tax, etc in Punjab can be put off till July 1.

Punjab has signed a MOU with te JNNURM to include Ludhiana, Amritsar and SAS Nagar (Mohali) be part of the initiative, agreeing to adopt accrual-based double entry system of accounting, introducing e-governance, reform property tax, raise collection efficiency to 85 per cent in seven years. Besides they also agreed to reform rent control laws, rationalisation of Stamp Duty to bring it down to no more than 5 per cent, etc.

Punjab will get over Rs 5000 crore under the mission if it adopts the above listed conditions. Besides it will also generate a revenue of around Rs 900- Rs1000 crore for the state from property tax and an additional Rs 250 crore from user charges for sewerage, water supply, etc. The central government has also approved an additional outlay of Rs 307 crore for SAS Nagar. The JNNURM works on the principle as mission provides 50 per cent for a project, while the remaining will come from state and the municipal corporations.


Labour pangs for farmers
Sanjeev Singh Bariana
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, April 15
Worried over the poor availability of labour as the harvesting of wheat is reaching full swing, a number of farmers from all over the state are camping at the Railway station here for hiring farm labour to reap wheat. Labourers come in groups and their destination usually is pre-determined making things difficult seekers of workforce.

Balkar Singh from Batala, Faqir Singh and Gurmail Singh from Sangrur, Jarnail Singh from Jagraon, Balbir Singh from Nawanshahr and Ramesh Kumar and Gurmail Singh from Ropar have been "stuck up" at the station for a couple of days for hiring farm labour.

Balkar Singh said, "We come to Ludhiana because this is a central landing station for workforce of outsiders in the state. There are also chances of engaging persons who had come here for joining the industry. We offer them high wages for short-term jobs on the farm. These labourers usually land in a group. Their destination usually is pre-determined by their relatives or acquaintances who live here. "

Maghar Singh from adjoining Jandiali village rues, “This is my third morning in a row at the railway station. I am looking for a group of at least six labourers to help me in harvesting, but to no avail. They come in groups and the group leader decides on their job. A couple of days back I was told that migrants had gone home to Uttar Pradesh or Bihar mainly for Chhat Puja which has a special significance in their lives. Arrivals till date are poor.”

Karamjit Singh, a farmer from Chhabewal village, said, “There has been a definite decline in the number of migrant labourers from outside states in couple of seasons. We faced a similar situation during the last harvesting season for paddy”.

Ravinder Kumar, a farm labourer engaged in harvesting at Jandiali Kohara village, said, “Every year I used to go to my village Bharsi in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, to bring with me a sizeable batch of seasonal labour. I used to make the offer on behalf of farmers which generally was accepted. I did not go in the third year because people have stopped believing that they will get the wage they are offered”.

“One of the biggest reasons for the decline in migrant labourers in recent past has been lower wages. I came here eight years ago and quit harvesting a couple of years ago on the same account. I have experience here, so manage a slight better wage. However, young seasonal labour faces a lot of trouble at the hand of paymasters”.

Lakhbir Singh, engaged in harvesting near Sahnewal, said, “At least six different farmers have visited my group since morning. They are looking for labour and willing to pay us better. Lower wage has been a major reason for the labourers keeping away from the task. We are given less than the share of the yield offered and even that is not measured on properly”.


Punjabis attract big brands to state
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, April 15
Inflation be damned, no one knows how to live it off like the Punjabis. Be it the high end fashion labels, high speed cars or leisure travel, the region is now on top of the radar for these luxury brands trying to carve their niche in the Indian market.

From designer labels like Gucci, Chanel, Versace and Prada, to the custom-made vacations in Europe or any exotic locale in Africa- companies are now trying to dig in the deep pockets of Punjabis. With a vast diaspora in the foreign shores, Punjabis are now well aware and can easily differentiate their Versace from a local Femme Fatale. No wonder that these top fashion labels, including Chanel, Loiuss Vouitton and Prada, are now looking at the high end malls coming up in Ludhiana and Amritsar to set shop.

It is not without reason that the success of Daimler Chrysler in the region is being touted by most phoren brands, as they decide to launch their exclusive services here.Daimler Chrysler has reportedly sold around 175 cars in the region. BMW, which opened its dealership in April last year, has already sold over 200 units. 
The success of these brands propelled Volvo cars to set base in the region, much before they opened a dealership even in Mumbai. “Punjab is an important market for us as it has a huge potential for selling luxury cars. As the sales pick up here, we plan to expand our dealership network and open shop in Ludhiana as well as Amritsar,” says Paul de Voijs, managing director, Volvo Cars, as he inaugurated the company’s dealership in Chandigarh. Volvo Cars plans to sell at least 100 cars in this region in a year - which is one fifth of their total sales targets for the country.

It is not just material possessions that are catching the Punjabis’ attention. “The well heeled globe trotting Punjabis now have a taste for luxury. Every time they travel abroad, they want to stay in the best of hotels. Gone are the days when people would book into a conducted tour, more and more Punjabis now opt for a custom-made tour. It is for this section that we have now introduced a private luxury tour from Rome to London, in a chauffeur driven luxury van. Seeing the demand for dinner on Eiffel Tower, exploring a whisky distillery in Scotland or catching up with a folk show in Austria, we have inculcated such lavish experiences for the tour,” says Haresh Koyande, business head, Kuoni Holidays.

He adds that seeing a great demand for luxury travel, they have set shop in Chandigarh. “Since we expect a good response from Punjab, we will also be opening office in Ludhiana,” he said.


SAD party set-up recast
Badal remains patron, Sukhbir president

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, April 15
With an eye on the next Lok Sabha elections, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has announced the restructuring of the party by retaining Parkash Singh Badal as its patron and Sukhbir Singh Badal as president.

Releasing the first list of office-bearers and members of the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) of the party, Badals have tried to keep a balance in giving representation to all sections of society.

Party spokesperson and secretary Daljit Cheema said out of the 38 members of the PAC announced today, four are from the Scheduled Castes, six from the backward classes and two from the Hindu community. In addition, there are two women and one urban Sikh in the list of the PAC. Among the 43 office-bearers announced, seven are from SCs, three from backward classes, six from the Hindu, two from the Muslim and three from the Christian communities.

Following a please-all policy, Sukhbir has announced the formation of several wings of the party . These include the youth, women, kisan, SC, backward classes, legal, industry, trade, student organisation of India and NRI wings.

Cabinet minister Ranjit Singh Brahmpura and MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa have been retained senior vice-president and secretary-general of the party. The old Akali warhorse Jagdev Singh Talwandi, SGPC president Avtar Singh and Naresh Gujral, a Rajya Sabha member from Punjab have been made members of the PAC.

Former SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur will be one of the five senior vice-presidents, while public relations minister Bikram Singh Majithia, a brother-in-law of SAD president Sukhbir, has been made the patron of the youth wing of the party. Charanjit Singh Atwal, Lok Sabha deputy speaker and Punjab Assembly speaker Nirmal Singh Kahlon have been retained members of the PAC.

Manjit Singh Greater Kailash will head the Delhi unit of the SAD in place of Avtar Singh Hit who has been made general secretary of the SAD. Manjinder Singh Sirsa, a Delhi Municipal Corporation Councillor will head the youth wing of the Delhi unit of the SAD.

There is criticism of the appointment of Kiranbir Singh Kang as youth wing president on the ground that he is overaged for the post and Ludhiana MP Sharanjit Dhillon has been removed because he too was overaged to be the youth wing president.


BJP, CPI (ML) open front against price rise
Tribune News Service

Sangrur, April 15
Old persons, women and children riding bullock-carts and some of them even wearing garlands of vegetables round their necks, along with workers and leaders of the district unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by district president Jatinder Kalra, today marched through main bazaars of the town in protest against the rising prices in the UPA regime, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Besides flags and banners of the BJP, the protesters also carried placards having slogans against rising prices in their hands. They also carried an effigy of the UPA government. The march which started from Patiala Gate culminated at the traffic lights chowk (near the district administrative complex) here. At the chowk, the protesters burnt the effigy and held ‘siapa’, holding the Manmohan government responsible for the steep hike in the prices of essential and other commodities which had virtually broken the backbone of the poor.

Jatinder Kalra asked the Central government to issue a white paper on rising prices in the country as it had failed in controlling the prices of even essential goods.

State secretary of the BJP Anil Sarin joined the protest at the traffic lights chowk, where he made a speech against the rising prices and the functioning of the UPA government.

This BJP protest march included district president Kalra, a member of state executive committee of the BJP Prem Gugnani, district vice-president Mohinder Baba, state secretary of the BJP Medical Cell Indu Singla.

Meanwhile, on a call of the CPI (ML) Liberation, a large number of workers took out a march through the town against the “anti-people” policies of the Central and state governments and the failure of the government in controlling rising prices. They raised slogans against the unprecedented hike in the prices of essential commodities and the Central government.

The protesters earlier gathered at the local Banasar Garden and from there they marched towards the district administrative complex (DC’s office), where they held a rally.

The protesters were addressed among others by district secretary of CPI (ML) Liberation Harbhagwan Bhikhi, district convener of the Lal Jhanda Punjab Bhatha Mazdoor Union Sher Singh Dhandholi Kalan and district president of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha Pargat Singh Beer.


Capt has no right to blame Oppn: CM
Mohit Khanna
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, April 15
Calling former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh an “awaara gau”, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said today that he did not even enjoy the support of his own party members. The party functioning had been reduced to a mere blame-game.

Badal was speaking to mediapersons on the sidelines of the launch function of the Satya Bharti School programme at Laddowal village. He said: “A leader, who has scant regards for senior leaders in the party, is an undisciplined soldier and has no locus standi to blame the Opposition”.

He rubbished “all allegations” levelled against him by Capt Amarinder Singh, saying those were baseless. The Captain regime had done substantial harm to the state economy and was the main reason for government failure on scores of developmental fronts, Badal said. It was due to the efforts of Akalis that the Bathinda refinery project would be complete soon.

Taking a dig at the rising prices of essential commodities, he said: “Have you read the paper today? Are you not concerned about the growing inflation?” The Centre must do something about it, before the situation went out of control, he added.

He asserted that the state would not witness power cuts this summer. “I have urged the officials concerned to increase the capacity of the thermal plants at Lehra Mohabbat, Ropar and Bathinda from 250 MW to 500 MW,” the Chief Minister said.

Laying emphasis on the need for improvement of the education system in the state, he said the government had received the nod from the Central government to form a Central university in the state. The government was looking for an appropriate site for the project.

Praising Rakesh Bharti Mittal for his initiative to set up such schools, he said: “As Mittal belongs to Punjab, I expect that the state will have a lion’s share in the education project launched by the Bharti Foundation.”

He said the Central aviation ministry had approved a site at Sahnewal for setting up a domestic airport.

Expressing concern for the farmers, Badal said the government was conducting a survey and farmers would be granted a compensation of Rs 5,000 per acre, Rs 3,000 more than what given by the previous government.


Get baptised soon, Patna clergy tell Sukhbir
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, April 15
Now, the Sikh clergy of Patna Sahib have directed SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal to get baptised as per the constitution of the party or face action as per the Sikh Maryada.

At a meeting held at Patna Sahib on Sunday, the Sikh high priests expressed concern that Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had been “misusing” the SAD by appointing its president and other office-bearers arbitrarily. “The intermingling of politics in Sikh religion by the Badals is unfortunate,” he said.

Talking to The Tribune on the phone, Giani Iqbal Singh alleged that action could be initiated against Sukhbir as per the Maryada if he failed to get baptised soon.


Minister defends privatisation of education
Bhartesh Singh Thakur

Tribune News Service

Bathinda, April 15
Upinderjeet Kaur, education minister, Punjab, for the first time on the OBC quota said as far as Punjab was concerned, the state would abide by the guidelines. “OBCs are in all states and the final decision for implementing the 27 per cent quota in the state’s educational institutions would be taken by the state Cabinet,” she added.

On protests by the Sarkari Sikhia Bachao Manch about vacant posts of teacher, she said nearly 14,000 teachers were going to be recruited, including around 8,000 elementary teachers, 4,000 of master cadre and 2,100 computer teachers. She maintained that after coming to power her government had appointed around 438 art and craft teachers, 246 masters and 116 instructors on compassionate grounds.

She said the merit-based recruitment process was transparent so far. The said appointments had not been made on the basis of any entrance test.

She defended privatisation of education and the policy on Adarsh schools. She quipped that globalisation and liberalisation were the mantra of the present age. “It was Rajiv Gandhi who changed the socialistic pattern of our economy to the capitalist one. And we are not running away from our responsibility,” she said.

On the use of mobile phones in schools, she clarified that she had issued a circular regarding that, but in today’s age it was a necessity. She would issue instructions against the use of cell phones by teachers and students inside classrooms.

On making teachers accountable for results in schools, she said, “Earlier, we had included the performance of teachers in the transfer policy, but we were facing acute shortage of teachers. We had the ratio of one teacher per 200 students. How could we expect quality in such circumstances? From now onwards, we will care for quality education”.

She also announced Rs 18 crore for scholarships for the wards of SCs and BCs.

However, Sukhdarshan Singh, president, Berozgaar BEd Adhiapak Front, demanded master cadre posts should be filled first as there were cases where candidates had got appointment letters for ETT and masters.


Medical students resent fee hike for PG courses
Manish Sirhindi
Tribune News Service

Fatehgarh Sahib, April 15
The recent decision of the Baba Farid University of Health Sciences to hike the entrance fee for the postgraduation (PG) courses of various medical streams has provoked widespread resentment amongst students.

This year, the university sold the prospectus for postgraduation courses for Rs 1,000 each, while students were asked to deposit Rs 3,000 for the entrance exam. Besides, those who secured a seat after passing the entrance exam would have to pay Rs 1,500 more for admission before they shelled out money for the annual tuition fees. This would be more than the monthly salary of an MBBS or a BDS doctor.

Meanwhile, the Rural Medical Services Association (RMSA) has decided to take up the matter with the state government. Dr Alsam Parvez, president, RMSA, said a number of medical and dental students had approached the RMSA in this regard.


65-year-old murdered for property
Our Correspondent

Malerkotla, April 15
An old man was murdered here today. On the complaint of the son of the deceased, the police has registered a case under Sections 302 and 34,IPC, against three persons.

According to information, Fateh Mohammad (65) was murdered with an iron rod in his house inside the Dehli Gate area here today. His son Abdul Sattar in a complaint to the police alleged today morning that when he reached their 'tabela' to milk buffaloes, he found three persons were running from there.

He called out to his father, but there was no response. He went in and found him dead. He raised the alarm.

DSP Gurpreet Singh Sikand said a case under Sections 302 and 34, IPC, against three persons, namely Mohammad Iqbal, Kajam Mohammad and Gulfran Mohammad, was registered on the complaint of Abdul.

Property dispute was said to be behind the murder. Abdul alleged that his father had borrowed Rs 5,000 from Mohammad Iqbal for the marriage of his sister. But the amount went on increasing with interest. Iqbal took possession of their house with the help of the administration and a case regarding the same was pending in court. He also alleged that the accused had threatened his father two days earlier.

The body was handed over to his relatives.


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