P U N J A B    S T O R I E S


Badal, Bhattal console fire-hit families
Rajay Deep
Tribune News Service

Midhu Khera/Tharajwala (Muktsar), May 3
To comfort families of victims of the fire which engulfed fields in the Malwa belt on Thursday, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, today visited the villages in Muktsar district.

The CM gave only assurance to the bereaved families, giving excuse of the election code of conduct in force due to rural bodies’ elections.

The Chief Minister visited Midhu Khera village where he met Soma (18), a plus II student, who due to smoke has suffered respiratory problem. He asked the family to shift her to Ludhiana for treatment and assured treatment would taken care of by the government.

After that he met the family of deceased Bimla (32) and her daughter Mamta (14), a student of class VII, and assured her husband Om Parkash for a fixed income in the name of his three children (aged 10, four and two years) and also handed over a cheque of Rs 10,000 on the spot. It has been reported that Badal has assured him of compensation of Rs 2 lakh, but after the elections.

He then moved to Tharaj Wala village, where he met the family members of deceased Agwan Kaur (65), belonging to the Dalit community, who was burnt alive and assured support to the family.

The CM said, “Investigation has been initiated and the loss assessment report has reached the Finance Department, which will decide compensation”.

Meanwhile, Bhattal too visited the affected villages. After a halt at Bathinda and Badal villages, she too in a cavalcade, visited Midhu Khera, Tharaj Wala and Bhullar villages and assured the families of her support. She even sought the photographs of members of the victim families, with a promise to put up the case to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and AICC chief Sonia Gandhi.

As leader of the Opposition, she assured to support the ruling party to pass a Bill or enact a law banning burning of straw in wheat fields.

Tussle with Bhattal to be resolved soon: Capt
Our Correspondent

Nabha, May 3
Former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has said the tussle with PPCC chief Rajinder Kaur Bhattal would be resolved soon.

He was in the town to inaugurate a hotel belonging to Jasdeep Singh, a brother of local Congress MLA Randeep Singh. However, Randeep was conspicuous by his absence. It seems that the ongoing tussle between Capt Amarinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal has led to divisions in the family.

Jasdeep has fielded his own candidates for the Zila Parishad and Block Samiti elections, claiming that they would get endorsement of the Congress. Meanwhile, Capt Amarinder Singh said he would support only those candidates who would fight the elections on the Congress symbol. 


Capt begged me for reconciliation with Bhattal: Singla
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 3
One-time ministerial colleagues are increasingly taking on former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, with former finance minister Surinder Singla too today claiming that Capt Amarinder Singh had sought PPCC president Rajinder Kaur Bhattal’s cooperation at times, but was now finding it difficult to work with her.

Talking to The Tribune here, Singla said Capt Amarinder Singh did not have any right to lecture him on human values and expect blind support from him just because he had served as a minister in his government. “One would like to understand from him where are his human values? He waited for hours together in the Punjab Bhawan to request Bhattal to support him in his candidature for the Patiala Lok Sabha seat in 1998.”

Singla said it was strange that when Capt Amarinder Singh needed Bhattal’s support he was ready to plead with her and even called her a “great leader” besides lauding her family’s role as freedom fighters. “It is strange the same person is now saying he cannot work with Bhattal”.

Giving another instance, the former finance minister said Capt Amarinder Singh had “begged” him to help restore his relations with Bhattal after the latter was appointed deputy chief minister. “I arranged a luncheon meeting between the two in Patiala and it took two more such meetings to ensure a working relationship between them”.

Speaking about Capt Amarinder Singh’s tenure as the Chief Minister, he said it was the first time in the history of the Congress that 32 legislators had revolted against a Chief Minister and demanded his removal. “He was the most disliked Chief Minister ever,” Singla said, adding “we, however, respected Sonia Gandhi’s decision in the matter and dropped our case”.

Reacting to a recent statement by Capt Amarinder Singh in which he had said he helped him to get ticket from Bathinda and also pleaded his case for a ministership, Singla said: “Let him know that we together went to someone’s residence to plead my case after a nomination from Ludhiana West was denied to me”. The Congress leader said as far as the ministership was concerned, he became a minister because Gandhi thought it appropriate. He said Capt Amarinder Singh should also know that the party had made him an MP and AICC spokesperson before he became a minister in his Cabinet.

“I am loyal to the party and individuals do not matter to me,” continued Singla, as he asserted he would always remain loyal to the office of the Congress president as well as those appointed by her. “I would also advise Capt Amarinder Singh to work with Bhattal in the interest of the party,” he added.


Poll Shrills Get Louder
Cong alleges tampering with papers
Tribune News Service

Gurdaspur, May 3
Up in arms against a revenue official who rejected nomination papers of six Congress candidates for the Block Samiti and Zila Parishad elections in the Kahnuwan constituency allegedly at the behest of Akali leadership, Congress leaders today staged a dharna at Kahnuwan.

Congress leader and former PWD minister Pratap Singh Bajwa lodged his protest against Kahnuwan naib-tehsildar-cum-assistant returning officer (ARO) Fuman Singh with the chief election commissioner and deputy commissioner, Gurdaspur. He has alleged that the officer tampered with the nomination papers of the Congress candidates, leading to their rejection.

Bajwa alleged that the office of the ARO was kept locked from 11 am to 3 pm at Kahnuwan today (date of scrutiny) with an attention of tamper with the nomination papers of the Congress candidates. The ARO reached the spot under security cover and displayed the list of screened candidates. He alleged that the officer, at the behest of certain Akali leaders, took away the nomination papers from Kahnuwan to Gurdaspur and after rejecting the candidatures of “six Congress candidates (four for Block Samiti and two for Zila Parishad)” displayed the list at about 3.30 pm.

He apprehended rigging by the ruling SAD-BJP government in the elections.

Meanwhile, Gurdaspur deputy commissioner Gurkirat Kirpal Singh said Bajwa had been asked to send a written complaint in this connection. “I will not spare any officer if he is found guilty,” he claimed.


Bularia files papers
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, May 3
Candidate of the SAD for the Amritsar (South) byelection Inderbir Singh Bularia filed his nomination papers before returning officer Vimal Kumar Setia here today. He was accompanied by senior Akali and BJP leaders, including Bikram Singh Majithia, Gulzar Singh Ranike, Laxmi Kanta Chawla (all ministers), MP Navjot Singh Sidhu, Mayor Shwait Malik, MLA Anil Joshi, and president of the Youth Akali Dal Kiranbir Singh Kang.

Before filing his papers, Bularia paid obeisance at Gurdwara Baba Deep Singh and held a number of public meetings in the constituency.

Sidhu appealed to the voters to support Bularia and give him an opportunity to turn his father’s dreams into reality and develop the constituency as a model area.

According to the details of assets furnished by Bularia, he owns two pieces of non-agricultural land worth Rs 40 lakh and Rs 7 lakh, respectively, Rs 1.8 lakh in cash, bank deposits worth nearly Rs 1 lakh, two cars, gold ornaments worth Rs 1,20,000, a pistol and household goods worth Rs 5.30 lakh.

He has taken loans worth Rs 23 lakh.


Bhattal warns rebels of action
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, May 3
President of the PPCC Rajinder Kaur Bhattal today asked the SAD and the BJP to clarify their respective stand on the demand of separate Sikh Homeland by Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, Jathedar of Akal Takht, here today.

The PPCC president warned the rebel party leaders of strict disciplinary action if they continued to oppose official nominee Navdeep Singh Goldi. Though some loyalists of Capt Amarinder Singh, former Chief Minister, were present on the occasion, she justified the conspicuous absence of other senior party leaders. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal rejected the demand of the Congress for deployment of paramilitary forces in the Amritsar (South) constituency. 


SAD win definite in Benra
Tribune News Service

Sangrur, May 3
Jasbir Singh, a candidate of the SAD for Benra (SC) Zila Parishad (ZP) zone, will be declared elected unopposed as no other candidate has filed nomination papers for this zone.

When contacted, ADC-cum-returning officer for Zila Parishad elections Indu Malhotra said today that Jasbir would be declared elected unopposed after the completion of withdrawal of nomination papers on May 5.

She said 118 persons had filed nomination papers for 21 zones of the Zila Parishad of this district, of which nomination papers of only three candidates had been rejected on technical grounds. Whose nomination papers had been rejected were Nambardar of Bhullran village Devinder Singh (Bagrian zone), a Nambardar of Babla village Taranjit Singh (Maholi Kalan zone) and Bodha Ram of Chandu village (Andana zone).


Tempers run high over certificate

Amritsar, May 3
A scene was created in the office of estate officer-cum-returning officer here today when Congress and SAD nominees from zone number 15 indulged in a verbal duel over the delayed submission of SC certificate by the Akali nominee.

Congress leader Sukhjinder Raj Singh Lalli said Surinder Bir Kaur had forgotten to submit the SC certificate with her papers. She inserted it in her papers after the stipulated time for filing of papers had elapsed, he claimed. However, returning officer Jasbir Singh said under the Act only a declaration was needed and there was no need to submit a copy of the certificate. — OC 


Poll takes toll on teachers
Deepkamal Kaur
Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, May 3
There is resentment among teachers of government and aided schools and colleges. Despite repeated assurances, they have been put on election duty for the coming Zila Parishad and Block Samiti elections.

While in the Assembly poll last year teachers were put on poll duty in minimal numbers, this time it is the other way round. Unlike in the last elections, women teachers have been put on poll duty.

Education minister Upinderjit Kaur, however, said she too felt that after much opposition in this regard, the teacher had been put on poll duty. She expressed her helplessness saying that the apex court had said that it would depend on the election commission whether to take the teachers or not for the poll duties.

“It, however, had restrained the authorities from assigning duty to them on a day other than a holiday”, she said, adding that the duties had been given even on working days. “I have full sympathy with the staff and students and would like to ensure that this does not get repeated. I cannot intervene at this juncture as the elections are just nine days away.”

Nearly 100 teachers are learnt to have been taken for poll duty from DAV College alone. All this at a time when the final Guru Nanak Dev University examinations and paper checking is being conducted. Similarly, almost eight or 15 teachers from each government school have been put on election duty. The teachers are also anguished over the fact that they have been assigned the first rehearsal duties at far-off places to be held on May 6.

A teacher from Government High School at Samrai pointed out that nine teachers, including him, received orders in this regard today. “While one of the teachers will be leaving for Jandiala, the other ones have been asked to go to Shahkot, Nakodar, Lohian and Phillaur.

While the election officers claim that this had been done to maintain secrecy and ensure that minimum acquaintance of a teacher in the area of her duty, I believe that all such tactics were not possible these days in the presence of polling staff and agents,” he said.

...and on ex-deputy speaker
Our Correspondent

Amritsar, May 3
The tumble and heat of the byelection took its toll on a senior Congress leader and former deputy speaker of state Vidhan Sabha, Darbari Lal, who felt uneasy following which he was admitted to Escorts Superspeciality Hospital here on Friday.

A family member of Lal said he (Lal) felt exhausted in the afternoon at Congress MLA O.P. Soni’s house and was admitted to the hospital. 


Dalbir to pursue release of 45 Pak prisoners
Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, May 3
Struggling for the release of her brother Sarabjit Singh, Dalbir Kaur has now decided to pursue the early release of 45 Pakistani prisoners lodged in different jails of India.

Dalbir has already sent the copies of list of those 45 prisoners with details to external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi in this regard.

She said Brig Rao Abid Hamid (retd), a Pakistan Human Rights activist, working with chairperson of Pakistan Human Rights Commission Asma Jahangir, had handed over the list of these prisoners to her during her last week visit to the neighbouring country.

Having made up his mind to take up the cause of Pakistani nationals behind bars in India, she said she had decided to work for the release of 45 condemned Pakistani prisoners so that they could be reunited with their respective families. Most of these prisoners had already completed their sentences whereas some of them were arrested on petty issues, she added.

Having inspired by former Pakistan human rights minister Ansar Burney’s crucial role in the release of Indian prisoner Kashmir Singh, Dalbir said she would continue her campaign for the release of Pakistani prisoners even if Sarabjit was not released by the Pakistan government, though the chances of his release seemed bright.

When she visited Pakistan recently, many people met her with names and addresses of their relatives lodged in Indian jails, she added.

Meanwhile, Dalbir advocated the abolishment of capital punishment in both India and Pakistan. If newly formed coalition government headed by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani could think of abolishing death penalties and was in the process of enacting a law for commuting death sentences to life term, India should also reciprocate by doing away with capital punishment on humanitarian ground, she added.

In reply to a question about granting clemency to Parliament attack mastermind Afzal Guru, who has been sentenced to death, she said he should also be pardoned on humanitarian ground.

Giving an example of two Indian women prisoners lodged in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore, who have lost their mental balance, she urged the government to expedite the process of bringing all such prisoners to their respective countries so that they could be treated of their illness.

Dalbir said she had requested Asma Jahangir to help in getting those two Indian women prisoners released from Kot Lakhpat Jail.


Family hopes for Sarabjit’s early release
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, May 3
The family members of Sarabjit Singh, who was to be hanged in Kot Lakhpat Rai Jail, Lahore, on April 1, today celebrated the decision of the Pakistan government to put off his execution till further orders.

Dalbir Kaur, sister of Sarabjit, said her brother had been a victim of mistaken identity and by the grace of God, he would soon walk free. Sukhpreet Kaur, Sarabjit’s wife, said human rights activists and common people of Pakistan were convinced that her husband was not involved in the bomb blasts that killed 14 persons in 1990, and hence, innocent person should not be hanged due to his being non-Muslim.

They also thanked President Pervez Musharraf for delaying the execution of Sarabjit. The Pakistan’s Supreme Court had earlier rejected an appeal against Sarabjit’s death penalty.


Labourer falls into well, dies
Tribune News Service

Patiala, May 3
The body of a 65-year-old labourer was recovered from a 35-ft-deep well at Jahla village, near here, after he accidentally fell into it. He remained buried there for more than six hours.

The labourer, Surjan Singh, was working to install a submersible pump in the well, which was being dug up for a tubewell.

Passersby noticed Surjan’s sudden disappearance and called for help. Patiala SDM Gurmeet Singh, tehsildar of Patiala city Vinay Sharma and a medical team formed by the district administration carried out a rescue operation. However, all they could do was to bring out the body of Surjan.

Sources say the district administration pressed into service 4 JBC machines, a fire brigade engine and an ambulance. According to SHO Daljit Singh Virk, the body has been sent for the postmortem examination.


Fire at Paharpur village forestland
Tribune Reporters

Anandpur Sahib, May 3
More than 20 acresof forestland was gutted in a fire at the Paharpur area village today.

The ravaging fire was reported in the morning and villagers raised an alarm. The Forest Department officials were immediately informed, who reached the place. The rescue work continued till late evening.

Forest officials said the Fire Brigade officials were not informed, as the area under fire was forestland and not human habitation.

District forest officer Amit Mishra said the Fire Brigade is not effective in the mountainous areas. "The terrain is steep, which makes it very difficult for the Fire Brigade vehicles to move ahead. In many cases, even the hosepipe of Fire Brigade fails to reach the area. He added that usually forest fires are difficult to control.

Boharpur/ Janheri (Rajpura):Fire broke out in wheat stubble on 1,000 acres at Boharpur/Janheri and Alampur villages near Rajpura today.

The crop standing on land had already been harvested and it was the stubble that caught fire. The fire began at around 12 noon from near a power grid in the village.

Two fire tenders were rushed to the spot from Patiala and Rajpura.

Some hay was also destroyed in the fire.

Meanwhile, villagers working in the fields, firemen and some mediapersons had a narrow escape when speed of the wind suddenly picked up and the fire assumed a threatening proportion. 


Transport Appellant Tribunal
‘Reducing pendency of cases top priority’
Saurabh Malik
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 3
Punjab’s District and Sessions Judge Birender Singh is all set to put the State Transport Appellant Tribunal back on the track, again.

After taking over as the tribunal’s presiding officer only recently, Birender Singh says reducing the pendency of cases is top on his priority list. He also plans to carryout detailed inspection of regional transportation authority’s offices across the state.

His assertion assumes significance in the light of the fact that complaints have over the months piled up, as the post has been lying vacant for nearly half a year.

The sources in his office assert as many as 600 complaints are currently waiting adjudication before the tribunal. In the driver’s seat, Birender Singh, earlier posted at Ferozepore, has a tough task in his hands, sources assert. Giving details, they say, out of the total, a substantial number of complaints are against close associates of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s family. These associates are involved in transportation business. Some other complaints pertain to evasion of taxes.

Otherwise also, the infrastructure at Birender Singh’s disposal is just not adequate.

Currently, the government has set up the tribunal in a rented shop-cum-office in Sector 39. The site needs to be changed, as it does not give the impression of a courtroom, the sources add. The tribunal deals with appeals against orders of the State Transport Authority, Punjab. On an average, it hears 150-175 cases on a daily basis.

The state government, it may be recalled, had in December last year stated before a Division Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that “all future Budget requirements of the office of the State Transport Appellate Tribunal, Punjab, would be favourably considered and made available as and when any such requirement.”

Appearing before the Bench, comprising Justice Vijender Jain and Justice Mahesh Grover, state’s senior deputy advocate-general A.G. Masih had added as such a judicial officer be appointed.

After taking on record the statement, the Bench had asked the state to make a request in this regard on the administrative side. Subsequently, Birender Singh’s name was cleared for appointment.

Successive governments have otherwise, almost always ignored the tribunal. Until recently, the presiding officer was compelled to sit before the computer, typing orders.


Levy on Basmati
Farmers, exporters seek PM’s help
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, May 3
The farming community and rice exporters have sought the intervention of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to review the proposed levy of US $ 200 on the export of basmati rice.

In a missive to Dr Manmohan Singh, the Punjab Rice Millers and Export Association has stated that it will lead to negative impact on the exports and will allow its competitors in Pakistan to recapture the rice markets abroad.

It is pertinent to mention here that angry reactions had erupted among various stake holders in the agriculture-dominated state of Punjab over the imposition of levy.

Rajeev Setia, president of the association, said priority should be given to the agriculture segment which was the mainstay in the country and provide quality basmati produce to the world. He said the imposition of the levy would damage the business and ethical reputation of Indian exporters which had taken many years to gain entry into the foreign market after a great bit of investment and hard work.


World Bank team to evaluate projects
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 3
A group of 12 executive directors of the World Bank has arrived in Punjab to monitor the progress of the ongoing World Bank-aided projects.

Taking this opportunity, Punjab has proposed four new projects that include Ground Water Management Project, Multi-State Agricultural Competitiveness Project, Urban Infrastructure Project and Education Improvement Project.

The delegation, comprising Felix A.Comarasa, Rogerio Studart, Shuja Shah, Toru Shikibu, Nuno Mota Pinto, Sid Ahmed Dib, Michel Mordasini, Agapito Mendes Dias, Mat Aron Deraman, Merza Hussain Hasan, Dhanendra Kumar and Julijana Amiel, held consultations with Ramesh Inder Singh, chief secretary, Punjab.

Referring to the Ground Water Management Project, the chief secretary said World Bank assistance was required to strengthen and upgrade the technical knowhow and have cost-effective, environment-friendly, efficient and latest technology-based measures.

The state was facing acute problem of water-logging, declining water table and water quality in different parts. He, however, said Punjab was in a perfect position to repay the loans raised from the World Bank. Steps were already being taken to reduce the fiscal deficit of the state for the past few years, said Singh.

Referring to the Multi-State Agricultural Competitiveness Project, Singh said the preliminary project report of Rs 500 crore had already been approved in January, 2008. Similarly, to improve the quality of schools in the state, a comprehensive programme with World Bank assistance of Rs 800 crore, which includes teacher training, teaching methods and materials, school curricula and teacher evaluation school performance parameters would be initiated.The World Bank Mission has expressed satisfaction over the on-going projects in the state.

Principal secretaries of the departments of finance, local government, irrigation and power, school education, planning and water supply and sanitation were also present at the meeting.


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