P U N J A B    S T O R I E S


CM, Sukhbir on stone-laying spree in Malwa
Rajay Deep
Tribune News Service

Damdama Sahib (Bathinda), September 26
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal laid a number of foundation stones in Talwandi Sabo. After paying obeisance at Takht Damdama Sahib, they laid 12 foundation stones for beautification and development projects, for which the Centre had sanctioned around Rs 100 crore.

At a rally of the ruling party held at grain market here, the audience was requested to reach Takht Damdama Sahib to hear Harsimrat Kaur on September 19 at a Nanhi Chhaan programme.

SAD general secretary Balwinder Singh Bhunder urged people not to appreciate Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the Golden Temple and interactions with Sikh people, recalling the days of Operation Blue Star and its consequences.

Stone of  Rs 20-cr studies centre laid

The effort of Punjabi University, Patiala, to take higher professional education to the doorstep of underprivileged villages got a shot in the arm with Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal laying the foundation stone of the Rs 20-crore advanced professional studies centre at Guru Kashi campus here today.

Addressing the gathering, Sukhbir said: “Take these developmental initiatives of the party as the Lok Sabha poll bugle and rise above factionalism to support the party.”

The Chief Minister said: “You people have demoted MLAs and ministers of the Malwa region to constituency in charges. It was just the support of voters of Doaba and Majha, which enabled me to stand on this dais.”

Terming the reports of Congress MLA from Bathinda Harminder Singh Jassi for being approached to join the SAD as total false, the Chief Minister said: “It was Jassi, who put us in huge loss throughout Malwa during the recent Assembly polls. We can never think to take him in the party.”

Meanwhile, when Sukhbir was asked that despite his statement to convert the state into power surplus in three years, the PSEB had signed an agreement with a company to purchase power for 25 years, he parried the query saying “it is a scheme to purchase power units at cheaper cost and resale it”.


City Centre Scam
Defence ‘delaying’ start of trial
Rajneesh Lakhanpal

Ludhiana, September 26
Framing of charges in the City Centre scam case has witnessed a record delay due to the inspection of case file being carried out by the defence lawyers for the past more than six months.

The inspection work of a challan has never ever taken such a long time. The delay has set a new record in the judicial history not only in Ludhiana courts but probably in the state. The Vigilance Bureau is all set to take up the matter in the court to request for its expedition so that the process of framing of charges against the accused, including former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, be initiated. The case comes up for hearing tomorrow.

The bureau had chargesheeted 36 persons, including the former Chief Minister, his son Raninder Singh, Ch Jagjit Singh, former local bodies minister, Improvement Trust chairman Paramjit Singh Sibia, managing director of Today Homes G.K. Gambhir, in the scam.

The charge sheet was filed in the court of sessions judge G.K. Rai on December 12, 2007. It comprised more than 20,000 pages. After the filing of the challan, it had been inspected by the court concerned to ensure that the documents mentioned in the list filed along with the challan were complete in all respects.

After the checking, the court had issued summons to all accused for January 10, 2008. On January 22, 2008, and February 13, 2008, the prosecution supplied the copies of challan to almost all accused.

The process of filing of applications for the inspection of case file by certain accused started on March 10, 2008. On April 4, 2008, the prosecution moved an application in the court informing it that they had already supplied the copies of challan and other documents annexed with it to all accused. It was submitted that the accused had even acknowledged the receipts. Special public prosecutor Mitter Sain Goyal had alleged that the accused were adopting tactics to delay the matter.

Then the court fixed the timing of inspection of challan from 2 pm to 4 pm everyday. After few days the timing for inspection were increased from 12 pm to 1 pm and from 1.30 pm to 4 pm.

In order to speed up the inspection work, the bureau provided its certain officials at the time of inspection for extending help to the defence lawyers. Terming the inspection work by defence lawyers to be a calculated move to delay the start of trial, the bureau had requested the court to fix the time limit for inspection. 



Rahul’s visit successful: Tanwar
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, September 26
The recent visit of Rahul Gandhi, general secretary, All-India Congress Committee, will have strong and long-term impact on Punjab politics. The visit has become a cause of worry for the SAD-BJP alliance, besides boosting the morale of Congress workers.

Stating this, Ashok Tanwar, national president, Indian Youth Congress, in a press conference here today said the “Punjab Discovery” visit of the Nehru-Gandhi family scion had given a new impetus to Congress workers. Tanwar was here to see the ongoing open membership drive launched by the Congress party. He said contrary to the claims of the SAD-BJP that Rahul’s visit was worthless, it had dented the confidence of the alliance leaders and their statements were a prove to it.

Terming the open membership drive as a revolutionary one in Indian politics, he said about one lakh youth had joined the Congress in Punjab and the number would increase till the last date (of the drive). He said the Youth Congress would review the districts and areas where the membership was less. The YC had decided to appoint three organising secretaries in every block which would include a girl, one Scheduled Caste and one general category person. He said acceding to the demands of Dalits and SC youths, the YC had also reduced the membership fee to Rs 5 for them.


Rahul’s visit a gimmick: Badal
Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

Patiala, September 26
Lashing out at Rahul Gandhi and his much-publicised “Road Show”, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal asserted that Rahul’s visit would not fetch any benefit for Punjab and also advised that if he was “serious and concerned” about the people of Punjab, he should have come with some relief package or big projects.

“Rahul’s tourist-like attitude will neither bring prosperity for Punjab nor will the state’s people get any benefit from it. People of the state were well-aware about false promises often made in the past by top Congress leaders during their Punjab visits. Rahul had come to Punjab for the first time. In fact, it was his moral duty to come with some relief package or big projects. At least, what he could have done was to bring some Central minister along and hand out some compensation to the flood-affected people of the state,” said Badal.

Referring to the SAD-BJP government’s development projects, Badal, who was here to hold his favourite “Sangat Darshan” programmes, said a Rs 5,500-crore plan had been chalked out to provide basic amenities to people of the state. “Rs 3,000 has been earmarked to make each household enable sewerage and drinking water connection and another Rs 2,500 crore have been reserved for betterment of streetlights and for providing power connections for one and all,” said Badal, adding that Patiala’s ward no. 34 would be developed at a cost of Rs 2 crore. He also assured Patiala residents that the waste disposal place would be shifted out of the Tej Bagh colony of the city.

“Sangat Darshan programmes have been a big hit as these have bridged the gap between the administration and people. Any ordinary citizen can put up his or her grievance in these programmes,” said Badal.

Badal was accompanied by a team of senior SAD leaders and top administrative officials including, Prof. Prem Singh Chandumajra, Surjit Singh Rakhra, Patiala Mayor Ajitpal Singh Kohli, Patiala division commissioner S.K. Ahluwalia, deputy commissioner Vikas Garg and DIG Patiala Paramjit Singh Gill.


AISAD (1920) keen on alliance with Cong
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, September 26
The All-India Shiromani Akali Dal (1920), headed by Jaswant Singh Mann, has expressed willingness to have an alliance with the All-India Congress Committee and its UPA partners before the Lok Sabha elections if they agree to accept genuine demands of the Sikhs.

Mann said on Wednesday the three-day visit of Rahul Gandhi, AICC general secretary, which started with his paying obeisance at the Golden Temple had opened ‘fresh chapter’ of relationship between the Sikhs and the Congress. He said it was wrong to criticise Rahul for not apologising for Operation Bluestar since his mother Sonia Gandhi, president of the party, had already expressed deepest regret for the Army operation during her visit to the Golden Temple on December 28, 1999.

He, however, said before a formal alliance, the AICC should assure to rectify past mistakes that had antagonised the Sikhs.


Randhawa disputes CM’s remarks
Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, September 26
Taking strong exception to the statements made by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, senior Congress leader Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said today that the Chief Minister was frustrated with a huge response to Rahul Gandhi’s visit in the state.

Terming the statement of Badal that Rahul had not brought anything for Punjab as incorrect and against the facts, Randhawa said the present state government was surviving on financial grants from the Centre only. And the recent increase of wheat quota for the atta-dal scheme was another example that the Centre cared for the state, he said.


Cotton procurement from Oct 1
S.P. Sharma
Tribune News Service

Bathinda, September 26
The Cotton Corporation of India will start procurement of cotton here on October 1 at the recently announced minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 2,800 per quintal.

The Centre has this time made a substantial hike of Rs 850 for per quintal of cotton compared to last year’s MSP of Rs 1,950.

The state is expected to produce about 20 lakh bales of cotton against 20.5 lakh bales produced last year as the acreage under cotton cultivation has reduced by nearly 15 per cent. Many farmers in Bathinda district have diversified to paddy while those in Fazilka and Muktsar have shifted to basmati as rain had destroyed cotton crop twice at the sowing stage. However, the yield has been good this time.

Commercial buying of cotton by various private units had started here earlier this month and so far 12,700 quintals of cotton has been procured. The procurement price is fluctuating between Rs 2,700 and Rs 2,950 per quintal. Initially, it touched as high as Rs 3,020 per quintal.

Market experts expect the market price to remain above Rs 2,800.

An officer of the corporation said for Haryana the MSP would be Rs 2,700 per quintal while for Rajasthan it would be Rs 2,650 per quintal. Gujarat is the highest producer of cotton recording total yield of 1.15 crore bales.

India had witnessed an improvement in the cotton sector last year. Productivity was recorded 570 kg per hectare last year against 521 kg per hectare during 2006. Cotton exports had reached an all time high of 85 lakh bales earning over Rs 9,000 crore in foreign exchange last year.


Potato glut hits farmers hard
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, September 26
Potato growers in Punjab have been hit hard owing to glut in the national market. The price of potato has crashed to Rs 150 per quintal in the wholesale market, whereas during the corresponding period last year it was Rs 1,000 per quintal.

Most of the cold stores in Punjab are filled with potatoes to the brim. “In the absence of demand from other states, cold stores continue to be stacked with potato,” said Jaswinder Singh Sangha, a leading potato and its seed grower.

Besides Punjab, states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal have done well as far as the production of potatoes is concerned. And the new crop of potatoes will be ready for harvesting in November. “As the old stock is already lying in stores, the arrival of the new crop will further add to the glut,” said Sangha. Moreover, the potatoes stacked in cold stores could not be processed for preparing eatables because of the high level of concentration of sugar in it that leads to its browning at the time of processing.

Potato seed growers say they will also face problem in selling seed to farmers during the next sowing season. The seed price has also crashed, it is learnt. There is about 77,000 hectares of area under potato crop this season. And the government authorities concerned are expecting a production of 16 lakh tonnes.

Asked with regard to potato glut, director, Horticulture, Punjab, said it was true that there was good yield of potato in the state this year. He said the association had not brought any problem faced by it in his notice.

Meanwhile, Sangha said the Union government should help potato growers. He said already representations had been given to the Union government to find some way out of the problem of plenty faced by potato growers not only in Punjab but in other states also.


Staff crunch affects VAT collections
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 26
The next time you sit down for butter chicken, beware as VAT you pay on your bill may not find its way to the state government treasury. The inability of the Excise and Taxation Department to conduct audit checking of quarterly returns filed by VAT collectors is leaving scope for evasion on this account.

According to sources in the department, a severe staff crunch is resulting in an almost negligible audit of collections.

Though an ever-increasing consumptive Punjabi lifestyle is ensuring an increase in collections for the past few years, the sources said what was slipping through was something the state could ill afford.

In the first five months between April and August last year there was a combined VAT and CST collection of Rs 2,200 crore. This year during the same period the collection has been Rs 3,100 crore amounting to a growth of 38 per cent. The government has projected a VAT collection figure of Rs 6,290 crore for 2008-09, a 20 per cent hike from last year’s figures.

The sources said while these figures indicated an increasing trend in VAT collection, there was still a mismatch in the collection of VAT when compared to income tax returns. They said income tax collections were increasing at the rate of 45 per cent in Punjab and this year the increase was 50 per cent.

While VAT seems to have grown with more than 16,000 new businesses being taken under the tax umbrella this year, excise collection in the state has decreased if the collections of the first five months of this year are compared with those of the last. Excise collection from April to August this year was Rs 750 crore as compared to Rs 850 crore realised during the same period last year.

Apparently the lack of staff as well as political will is coming in the way of more tax collections. As far as staff is concerned, there is a shortage of 190 inspectors and around 100 excise and taxation officers (ETOs). This is making not only the task of audit, but also that of recovery difficult with officers having to look after two or more jurisdictions at one time.

The Excise Department as such is also suffering due to lack of infrastructure, according to Paramjit Singh, chairman, ETOs Association. He said presently officers did not have any vehicles to conduct checkings. “If they hire vehicles on their own initiative for this purpose, the bills do not get cleared”, he said.

The association head also claimed that department officers were also being demoralised with PCS officers being posted as assistant, deputy and additional excise and taxation commissioners even when they were not well versed with the functioning of the department.


Daily wage hike on the cards
Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

Patiala, September 26
The government has decided to increase minimum daily wage of a labourer from Rs 100 to Rs 123 and monthly wages of other workers from Rs 2,610 to Rs 3,200.

Meanwhile, the Labour Department has resurrected three labour courts of the state in its bid to speed up disposal of cases relating to workers. The government has also accorded the status of industrial tribunals to labour courts of the state.

“The notification regarding the hike in daily and other wages will be issued shortly. Besides, the government has launched a health insurance scheme for workers,” said labour minister Tikshan Sud, who was here to inaugurate a state-level labour lok adalat today.

The government, in its bid to attract more and more industries to the state, has already directed the Labour Department to speed up the disposal of cases relating to industrial workers. “More than 50 per cent of cases are being disposed of through a specially set up department-level committees for removal of workers’ grievances. The workers can now approach the labour courts directly,” said Sud.

On the other hand, the state government has exempted medicine and other essential commodity shops from mandatory one-day closure in a week. But, at the same time, it has put a condition that if the shopkeepers wanted to open such shops, they could do so, but they would have to work on their own on that day.

Meanwhile, of 1,200 cases taken up at the state leval labour lok adalat, around 900 cases were disposed of today, thus, providing a greater relief to workers.

Principal secretary, Labour Department, P. Ram said the department had planned holding state-level lok adalats while the labour commissioner Raminder Singh said the workers whose cases were disposed of in the labour court today would get compensation.


HC puts BDS counselling on hold till noon today 
Saurabh Malik
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 26
The Punjab and Haryana High Court has put on hold till Saturday noon counseling for BDS courses in colleges across the state. Baba Farid University of Health Sciences was to commence the same at Patiala from tomorrow.

The directions were issued this evening by a Division Bench of Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice Kanwaljit Singh Ahluwalia on a petition filed by Arshdeep Kaur Pannu and three other students.

The Bench is giving top priority to the matter due to the urgency involved. It is evident from the fact that the case will now be taken up on Saturday - a court holiday.

The students were granted admission to first year BDS course in the initial counselling session and were granted admission in private institutes, but were debarred from appearing in the extended second round of counselling.

As the matter came up for hearing before the Bench, advocates Amit Sharma and Bikramjit Singh Pannu contended “that the petitioners are higher in the merit and, thus, entitled to the free seats, whereas the candidates lower in the merit are being admitted against the free seats in the extended second round of counselling, which is scheduled to commence tomorrow at 8 am”.

Issuing notice of motion to the state of Punjab and other respondents, the Bench added that Punjab assistant advocate-general Ambica Luthra and another advocate Vivek Kumar, present in the court, had accepted notice on behalf of the respondents.

The Bench also directed the listing of the case on Saturday. “We have adjourned the case to September 27 at 9 am keeping in the view the urgency of the matter and the fact that the extended second counselling is fixed for tomorrow at 8 am. In the meantime, the respondents shall defer the counselling till 12 o’clock on September 27”.

In the petition, the students had contended that they had taken admission in various colleges across the state on the basis of first counselling. But as some seats were vacant, second counselling session was called. The students appearing in the first session were allowed to participate and were permitted to shift to state-run colleges.

However, in the extended second round of counselling for filling up the remaining seats, it was decided that those admitted earlier, would not be allowed.


Dera chief’s plea dismissed as not pressed
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 26
Dera Sacha Sauda chief’s plea for quashing the first information report registered in the Bathinda case was today dismissed as not pressed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The case was registered for allegedly causing disharmony among communities. It was alleged the Dera head had donned a dress similar to the one associated with Guru Gobind Singh.

Taking up the matter, Justice Rajnit Singh observed: “Before the arguments could be advanced further in the case on behalf of the state, counsel for the petitioner stood up to submit that the stand of the state appears to be that they wish to rely on the material collected during the investigation, and which according to the state would be sufficient to show that the offences as alleged against the petitioner are made out.

“Counsel for the petitioner also points out that according to the stand of the state, the investigation is still in progress. In this view of the matter, the counsel says that he will not press the present petition for quashing at this stage and he may be permitted to withdraw the same with the liberty to file a fresh one, if so advised, on the completion of investigations”.

Justice Ranjit Singh added: Dismissed as not pressed at this stage with liberty prayed for.

Maini is additional advocate-general

Advocate Sushant Maini has been appointed Punjab’s additional advocate-general. He is the son of former Punjab finance minister Krishan Lal Maini. Praveen Chander Goyal too has been appointed to the same post.

Meanwhile, Ajay Kaushik and Onkar Singh Batalvi have been appointed central government counsel.

Another advocate, Ashwinie Kumar Bansal, has been appointed “presiding arbitrator panelist” in a panel of three experts to decide international commercial dispute by a Malaysian body - the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration


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