P U N J A B    S T O R I E S


Near-stampede at Jor Mela
Gurdeep Singh Mann
Tribune News Service

Fatehgarh Sahib, December 26
The concluding day of Shaheedi Jor Mela witnessed a near stampede here today. The number of devotees coming to pay obeisance to Baba Zorawar Singh and Baba Fateh Singh, the younger Sahibzadas of Guru Gobind Singh, had swelled up today as it was the last day of the mela.

Three persons, including a woman devotee, fell unconscious in the milieu, while a mounted policeman and his horse too lost balance and fell down.

The incident happened when a nagar kirtan was being taken out from Gurdwara Fatehgarh Sahib to Gurdwara Jyoti Swarup.

Baton-wielding horse mounted police, escorting a palanquin, resorted to a mild lathi-charge when devotees tried to break the barricades surrounding the palanquin.

Panic spread among devotees who started running for cover. Elderly, woman and children were caught in the chaos and a woman fell unconscious. She was pulled out from the crowd and was taken to a nearby medical camp. Also, two more persons reportedly fell unconscious.

Later, a section of devotees barged into the barricade causing a mounted cop along with his horse to lose balance and fall down. The policeman received minor injuries.

Many elderly, women and children were provided with medicines at different medical camps after they complained of suffocation and nausea.

Meanwhile, a large number of Nihangs demonstrated their fighting skills during the nagar kirtan. Local politicians, schools, colleges and religious organisations also participated in the nagar kirtan.

The palanquin reached Gurdwara Jyoti Swarup around 1.30 pm and the mela was declared closed after ardas.

Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh, SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar, Kesgarh Sahib jathedar Giani Tarlochan Singh and Patna Sahib jathedar Giani Iqbal Singh were also present.

The district administration in a press release said no untoward incident was reported during the mela. Senior administrative officials said large numbers of devotees were expected to visit the town during the next one week.

A light and sound show showcasing the life of younger Sahibzadas, Mata Gujri and Guru Gobind Singh was held last evening by district cultural society. Lok Sabha Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal inaugurated the show.


Youth Congress experiments to revive party
Naveen S Garewal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 26
The successful completion of the elections of the Youth Congress in Punjab will go a long way in reviving the party at the grass-roots level. Visualised by All-India Congress Committee general secretary Rahul Gandhi, the pilot project for injecting a fresh life among party cadres has proved to be very successful. Punjab was the first state were the polls within the party set-up has taken place, based on a new formula that provides equal representation to women as well as the SCs and OBCs.

Though the victory of Ravneet Singh Bittu as the state president of the Punjab Youth Congress (PYC) is being viewed as rehabilitation of former Chief Minister Beant Singh’s family, the manner in which the entire election process took place, it left very little scope for senior party leaders to help their favourites.

Started on September 1 this year in the form of a membership drive, after 30 days of filling forms to maximise the party base, senior political leaders tried to hijack the programme. But, since the programme has been built to elect 14 young leaders elected in each of the state’s 210 blocks, they did not see their influence work beyond one or two candidates.

The Congress targeted youth attaining the age of 18 and wanting to voluntarily join the party. After the completion of the membership drive, the party took two months to prepare a database, feeding details of each membership form into its computers before holding the block elections for the 14 positions. All these 14 elected office-bearers that included seven delegates and as many block presidents (from 210 blocks) then voted for the Punjab Youth Congress president. Thus Ravneet Singh Bittu got elected with 2,439 votes.

Though, on the face of it this may seem to be an ordinary election, the manner in which the election has taken place following a democratic process all the way to the grass roots, will ultimately help take democracy to the very bottom of the party. This, in other words, means that the party is aiming at empowering the worker at the lower-most ladder of the party organisation. This will not only help bring discipline in the party, but will also make the party strong.

The election was very keenly contested and held under the direct supervision of Rahul, who visited Amritsar to ensure a free and fair election. In these elections, the party reserved six districts as follows: Sangrur (SC, women), Patiala Urban (SC, men), Jalandhar Urban (SC, women), Jalandhar Rural (SC, men), Ropar (women) and Ludhiana Rural (SC men).

The implication of this poll is very obvious: In the future only those candidates will come up, who genuinely have a mass base and are elected in a democratic manner, signalling a new era for the Congress for young and popular leaders.


BSF steps up vigil
Sanjay Bumbroo
Tribune News Service

Attari, December 26
The BSF and security agencies manning international border have beefed up vigil at the Attari-Wagah joint check post in view of tension building up between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Mumbai.

Hostile and provocative gestures, which were earlier scaled down by the BSF jawans in view of the thaw between the two neighbouring countries, are noticeable here now.

Strict instructions have been issued by the central government to the BSF to step up vigil at the border and keep a watch on the movement of the Pakistani army along the Radcliff line. The BSF authorities were not allowing the private vehicles of the VIPs, except senior defence forces and commissioners of customs, to enter the Customs Gate at the joint check post.

Security was on high alert at the check post with all kinds of bags and even eatables barred from being taken inside the gates. Dog squads have been pressed into service. The BSF personnel frisked every visitor.

In view of the winter vacations and holidays, there was unprecedented rush of people at the retreat ceremony on the Indian side while the Pakistani side had mediocre presence of people, with women enclosure lying almost empty. Moreover, fewer visitors on the Pakistani side could be attributed to Jumma holiday today.

The galleries on the Indian side remained jam-packed with tourists.

Meanwhile, trade between the two countries through the border route continued as usual.


Pakistan-based girls pray against war
Chander Parkash
Tribune News Service

Qadian (Gurdaspur), December 26
Pakistan-based girls living in this town after their marriage with the local boys want to play a role of peacemaker between India and Pakistan.

Coming out of the fourwalls, these girls have started praying at ‘Baitul-dua’, a special place for offering prayer in this town, so that clouds of the war disappear at the earliest. Apprehending great danger to both India and Pakistan in case a war breaks out, and sensing the tension building up along the LoC, these girls have decided to write to Prime Ministers of both the countries to avoid war in all circumstances so that people could live in peace.

Tahira, a resident of Faisalabad (Pakistan), who got married to local boy Maqbool Ahmad in 2003, says, “How both the countries can allow the killing of innocent people in the war, who are not involved in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, for the inhuman act of few individuals.”

Interestingly, the marriage of Tahira with Maqbool took place amidst high tension between both the countries in December 2003.

“For me and for my two daughters, Shumaila and Soofia, there is no difference between Pakistan and India. And if a war breaks out between these two countries, we will be suffering a lot,” she pointed out, adding she had never been to Pakistan since she got married here.

Another Pakistani girl, Amtul Shakoor (32), who got married to a local boy in 1990, said she firmly believed that her prayers for avoiding war between India and Pakistan would be answered. She added she constantly visited her parents in Pakistan but tense enviornment could cause visa problems for her and her kin living in Pakistan.

Emphasising that people wanted peace, she said both the countries must work hard towards maintaining peace in the region. She added there were about 15 girls belonging to Pakistan, who were married to the local boys. Similarly, many girls belonging to this town had been married to boys belonging to Ahmadiyya community there in Pakistan.

Both Tahira and Amtul Shakoor said they alongwith other Pakistan-based girls would write to the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan to avoid any sort of military conflict.


War of succession in Kirtani Jatha
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, December 26
“War of succession” has started within the 70-year-old Akhand Kirtani Jatha following the death of Bhai Surat Singh Puranji, even as a splinter group elected Bhai Bakshish Singh Phagwara as its Jathedar here today.

Earlier, another faction, having support from different countries, had announced the election of Bhai Mohinder Singh Kalasanghya as successor of Bhai Puranji.

Many senior leaders of the jatha, at a meeting held at the residence of a former Jathedar of Akal Takht, Bhai Ranjit Singh, here had announced that the election of jatha chief would be announced on January 5 at Ludhiana to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh.

Bhai Ranjit Singh described the split in the jatha as most unfortunate. He said the jatha had made supreme sacrifices for the sake of the panth and the country as well. He appealed to jatha members to maintain unity.

The first split in the jatha was witnessed when Bhai Ram Singh Dhillon, head of the organisation, was alive. Some activists of the the jatha had formed Akhand Kirtani Jatha (Prabandhki Panchayan) when Bhai Ram Singh had refused to accept their demand to expand the body. However, Bhai Puranji was elected Jathedar of the outfit when Bhai Ram Singh Dhillon died in sleep on March 2, 2006. However, when an 11-member committee announced Bhai Puranji as the new Jathedar soon after the cremation of Bhai Ram Singh, Giani Baldev Singh claimed that he was the real Jathedar.

The jatha shot into limelight after the Sikh-Nirankari clash on April 13, 1978, in which 13 of its members had been killed. Bhai Ram Singh had “love-hate relations” with Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. He had serious differences with Sant Bhindranwale on the subject of “Raagmala”. The jatha had sunk differences with the Damdami Taksal after the death of Sant Bhindranwale. However, the development was not accepted by a section of the jatha, hence a parallel jatha named “Prabandhki Panchayan” was constituted.

Akhand Kirtani Jatha believes in the efficacy of Kirtani (devotional singing) and regularly holds overnight sessions (rain sabai). The founder of the jatha was Bhai Randhir Singh (1878-1961), who had initiated the movement from his long periods in prison during the British rule.


NRIs slam govt for unfulfilled promises
Naveen S Garewal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 26
Perturbed over growing indifference on part of successive governments in addressing their concerns and problems, Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) from across the world that gathered here today resolved to become a pressure group to get justice for them. Highlighting the failure of the Punjab government in implementing any of the promises made during the NRI Sammelan organised in January this year, the NRIs decided to come together on a non-political forum to help focus attention on issues concerning them.

“Justice for NRIs - The Real NRI Conference” organised by Punjab’s only NRI MLA Jassi Khangura as a NRI well-wisher and not as an MLA had many important dignitaries lobbying for setting up of a NRI tribunal with quasi-judicial powers to deal with issues relating to NRIs. The likes of Sukh Dhaliwal, a member Parliament from Canada as well as Vic Dhillon, also member of legislative assembly of Ontario (Canada) suggested that NRIs should rise above party lines and ask the government to form a committee headed by a gazetted officer with substantial powers to help NRIs settle issues.

Khangura, who launched an NRI “awareness moment of sorts” from Toronto in November, announced that he would travel to the UK, the US and Canada over the next few weeks to consolidate the NRI base and make non-government NRI sammelans a regular feature as “an alternative was required to counter government’s misstatements and deceitful acts perpetuated on NRIs”. He pointed out that the SAD government had failed to fulfill all promises made to the NRI community in January, indicating that the Akalis had given up on the NRI who did not have a vote bank.

Recalling the highlights of the NRI sammelan held earlier this year, Khangura said Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had promised that a gazetted officer would examine all complaints against NRIs, but no such process had been implemented. Other promises too have remained unfulfilled, these include setting up a 11-member advisory committee on NRI issues, setting up a NRI university for the 3rd and 4th generation NRIs, NRI family courts at Hoshiarpur and Kapurthala and publishing a list of all NRI proclaimed offenders on the internet.

At the conference, the NRIs demanded that the government should establish a Protectorate of NRI Assets and give it the responsibility of protecting NRI wealth in India. NRIs like Narpal Singh Shergill from London asked why the Punjab government could not have a ministry of NRI affairs on the pattern of the Central ministry. Most NRIs like HS Kanwal fomer Mayor of Hounslow (UK), Bhupinder Sidhu and Gary Grewal entrepreneurs from Canada and USA, besides many others felt that the government was not serious in dealing with NRI issues because NRIs did not have voting rights. Most problems of NRIs pertained to property and matrimonial disputes.


Another riots witness names Tytler, Sajjan before CBI
Kulwinder Sandhu
Tribune News Service

Moga, December 26
After two days of grilling of Giani Surinder Singh, one of the two eyewitnesses of the anti-Sikh riots being questioned by the CBI in the USA, the two-member panel of the investigating agency questioned the second eyewitness Jasbir Singh at Gaddar Memorial House in San Francisco for more than four hours today.

The CBI recorded his statement with regard to the alleged role of Congress leader Jagdish Tytler in the riots. The questioning would continue tomorrow, revealed Jasbir Singh while talking to The Tribune on the phone this morning.

He said he had told the CBI officials that 26 of his family members and relatives were killed in the riots and he saved his life by hiding himself at the river-bed of Yamuna on November 1 and 2 and in a High School building near the inter-state bus terminal on November 3 during the riots.

“I have told the CBI that the investigating agency should not term it as riots because no person from other communities was killed, therefore, it should be better to term the incident as genocide”, he said.

“I have told the CBI very clearly that both Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were directly involved in the large-scale killings of the Sikh families in Delhi”, he said, adding that he had told the CBI officials that he recognised both leaders.

The CBI has called him again for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, many Sikh organisations gathered outside the Gaddar Memorial House and demanded justice for the victims of riots. They also demanded the arrest of all those who were involved in the riots. They raised slogans against the CBI alleging that they were asking unnecessary questions to the witnesses.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, New York-based attorney and legal adviser to the Sikhs For Justice, who accompanied Jasbir from New York to San Francisco to record his statement, said they believed in the Indian Constitution and laws but there was a need to formulate a “hate crime” law in India, providing special prosecutorial procedures and harsh punishments for crimes targeting religious minorities.

Karnail Singh Peer Mohammad, president of the All-India Sikh Students Federation, announced that his organisation would file a writ petitions in all respective state high courts where Sikhs were massacred.



SAD defers release of list
Amarjit Thind
Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, December 26
Even as the Congress is yet to release its list of candidates for the parliamentary polls, the SAD has been forced to defer its list for tactical reasons.

Sources said SAD’s top brass has finalised the candidates, but is waiting for the Congress to go public with its list so that they can make the necessary changes, if required. While winnablity is the sole criterion followed in the preparation of the list, there is a feeling in the party that declaring candidates at this stage would give the Congress a chance to revise its list.

The party had so far declared the candidature of four persons, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa (Sangrur), Dr Rattan Singh Ajnala (Khadoor Sahib), Hans Raj Hans (Jalandhar) and Paramjit Kaur Gulshan (Faridkot).

SAD’s list is on expected lines, the surprise factor being Harsimrat Kaur, wife of SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is all set to make her electoral debut from Bathinda. She has been in the news lately because of her social project Nanhi Chhaan, aimed at creating awareness against female foeticide. She is likely to face Raninder Singh, son of former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

There had been speculations that a member of the Badal clan would contest the seat, but Sukhbir had not been spelling out who that person would be. The sources said Manpreet Badal had refused to contest the elections, leaving only Surinder Kaur Badal. Since she too was reluctant to enter the fray, the onus fell on Harsimrat.

Talks were on with alliance partner BJP for swapping the Hoshiarpur seat with Ludhiana. The BJP could field cine stars Shatrughan Sinha or Hema Malini from there.

Others under consideration are bureaucrat Som Parkash and Khadi Board chairman Vijay Sampla. The Congress is likely to field former PPC chief Shamsher Singh Dullo although Santosh Chaudhary too is trying to get the party nod from here.

Former minister Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal has been shortlisted for Ludhiana since the sitting MP Sharanjit Singh Dhillon has expressed inability to contest. The name of Jail Minister Hira Singh Gabria too is under consideration. Grewal, on the other hand, is the urban face of the party in this industrial hub.

The Congress candidate here will be AICC spokesperson Manish Tewari, who unsuccessfully contested from here last time.

For Patiala, Prof Prem Singh Chandumajra, Kuldeep Kaur and Surjit Singh Rakhra are under the active consideration of the party. A strong section of the party is inclined in fielding Kuldeep, daughter of late Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra. In such a scenario, Chandumajra might be asked to contest from Anandpur Sahib. Present incumbent Preneet Kaur is likely to be renominated.

Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal will contest from Fatehgarh Sahib. The Congress is likely to choose between SS Dullo and Sukhdev Singh Libra who voted in favour of the government in the trust motion.

The SAD is hunting for a candidate for Ferozepur where the Rai Sikh community is dominant. Sitting MLA Sher Singh Ghubaiya is likely to be asked to contest and face firebrand Jagmeet Singh Brar of the Congress.

On the BJP front, the candidates are Navjot Singh Sidhu (Amritsar) and Vinod Khanna (Gurdaspur).


Stress laid on subsidised health insurance
Anshu Seth
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, December 26
People in the below poverty line (BPL) category in Haryana will be provided with free medical care, including medicines, from January 1. This was stated by chief parliamentary secretary of Haryana Krishna Pandit while addressing surgeons at ASICON 2008 here today.

An alumni of the Dayanand Medical College and Hospital, Dr Pandit expressed her gratitude for the faculty at the institute, adding: “The institute has done a commendable job in the arena of providing best health care services in this region and I am happy that my son and daughter-in-law are part of the efficient brigade of doctors running the hospital.”

Emphasising the fortifying of rural healthcare system in Haryana, Dr Pandit stated that in order to provide best health facilities to villagers, more doctors had been appointed and new equipment bought under the National Rural Health Mission (NHRM).

Meanwhile, the president of the Association of Surgeons of India, Dr Ahmad Abdul Hai, said subsidised schemes for health insurance for underprivileged section of society and medical ethics were two important issues that the ASI was deliberating upon.

“Subsidised schemes for health insurance is the only answer to the ‘unaffordable health services’ for the deprived section of society as it is not possible to stipulate the rates of surgeries,” said Dr Hai. The association has already taken up the issue with the ministry of health and it would be deliberated upon in Parliament, he stated.

However, he supported the cause of privatisation of health services in the country.

Referring to the subject of “medical ethics”, Dr Hai said: “Realising the nobility of the profession, the doctors and surgeons will have to keep away from unfair practices of taking commissions and incentives from pharmaceutical companies and laboratories”.

Uniformity in medical education and basic-minimal standards in health services in India are the two major challenges before the association.


Agriculture and dairy farming
China offers technical expertise to Punjab
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 26
China today offered its technical expertise to Punjab in the field of agriculture and dairy farming. This offer was made by Chinese Ambassador to India Zhangyan, who called on Punjab Coopertion Minister Capt. Kanwaljit Singh at his residence today.

Zhangyan further asked the minister to lead a delegation to China to witness the latest developments in the field of agriculture and dairy farming so that they could be mutually benefitted from each others’ expertise. He said at a time when the entire world was reeling under the impact of economic meltdown, India and China could enhance mutual cooperation to reduce the impact on both the nations.

Till now China was offering cooperation in the fields of power generation, industrialisation, science and technology which could be further extended to the fields of agriculture and dairy farming. At present 160 Indian companies were operating in China successfully in different fields. Similarly, 60 Chinese companies were also making a significant contribution in the economic progress of India, he added.

Capt. Kanwaljit gave a brief outline of Punjab’s agriculture economy and informed the Chinese Ambassador that Punjab, despite being a two per cent geographical area of the country, was making 70 per cent contribution in the total foodgrains of the country.


Manch wants library after Udham Singh
Tribune Reporters

Sangrur, December 26
In view of the birth anniversary of Shaheed Udham Singh today, local NGO Samaj Sewa Manch has asked the Punjab government to include history of Punjab’s freedom fighters in the syllabus books of schools and colleges.

The manch has also urged the government to name local district library after Shaheed Udham Singh as the martyr haileld from Sunam, which is just 13 km from Sangrur. It has also been appealed to set up a special cell for the maintenance of memorials of the martyrs.

The manch submitted a memorandum to assistant commissioner (general) Amandeep Bansal to be forwarded to the deputy commissioner. President of the manch Uday Partap Singh also demanded the construction of Desh Bhagat Hall at every district headquarters to observe the days related to the martyrs.

Amritsar: Members of the All-India Anti-Terrorist Front, along with delegates from Delhi, on Thursday paid rich tributes to Shaheed Udham Singh at Jallianwala Bagh here. The front also paid homage to the martyrs of the terrorist attack on Mumbai. Carrying national flags, the delegation, including students and teachers of Vansthali School, raised patriotic slogans. Senior vice-president of the front OP Jain led the delegation from Delhi along with Mohinder Singh Sidhu.


Coop Dept to fill vacant posts soon
Tribune News Service

Patiala, December 26
Cooperation Minister Kanwaljit Singh said here today that all vacant posts in co-operative banks, Milkfed and Markfed will soon be filled after taking the sanction of the state cabinet.

Capt Kanwaljit Singh said the move was aimed at providing more facilities to the farming community. He lashed out at the Central government, saying that it was following flawed policies as far as disbursement of grants to states was concerned.

He said the Central government had given a packages of Rs 17,000 crore to Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh so as to waive loans of farmers of these two states.

On the other hand, it had not given any worthwhile package to Punjab despite the fact that the state contributed more than 60 per cent to the national food basket.

The union government had announced that Rs 71,000 crore would be given on account of farm waiver in the last budget. However, the Punjab government had received only Rs 500 crore, the minister lamented.


Mattewal felicitated in Melbourne
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 26
The Australian chapter of the Old Boys Association of Sainik School, Kapurthala, felicitated its president and Advocate-General of Punjab HS Mattewal in Melbourne this morning.

Amanjot Singh, managing-director of Della International, presented him a scroll of honour at a function that was attended by 100-odd old students of Kapurthala Sainik School. Brig MPS Bajwa (retd), vice-president of the association, was also hounoured.

Earlier, Mattewal presided over the convocation of Sun Shine Group of Colleges in Melbourne. Sukhminderjot Singh Bedi, director of Sun Rise Colleges, in his report highlighted the achievements of the students of the colleges of the group. Mattewal invited Amanjot Singh and Sukhminderjot Singh Bedi to invest in Punjab.


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