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Posted at: Dec 31, 2017, 3:08 PM; last updated: Dec 31, 2017, 3:58 PM (IST)PUNJAB

Elections kept the pot boiling

Scams, stubble burning and fiscal failings of the Punjab Government left people simmering with anger
Elections kept the pot boiling
Promises half-met: Taking on corrupt politicians was a part of Congress election manifesto, but little was done to put theory into practice

Kuljit Bains

Foremost, it was an election year for Punjab, bringing with it the attendant hopes, euphoria and heartbreaks. The coming to power of the Congress with Capt Amarinder Singh at the helm, and rout for the SAD and AAP, squarely put the onus of addressing the all-round despondency in the state on the Patiala royal. However, even as he reaffirmed his supremacy in the state party unit with a resounding victory for Sunil Jakhar in the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha byelection, the Chief Minister struggled to keep his detractors at bay.

Things were not helped when, early on, revelations pointing at suspected attempt by a minister to illegally grab multiple sand mines rocked the government. It was a shocker for the people of the state, many of who had voted for a major governance overhaul after the 10 years of SAD-BJP rule. Also, lack of action by the government against many of Akali leaders’ businesses, as promised earlier, not only disappointed voters but also fed into the rumours that the two parties had reached a settlement before elections.

What kept the government, especially the bureaucracy, busy amidst pressure from people and media was the toughest of challenges — finding the money to deliver on the two biggest promises, cheap power to industry and loan waivers for farmers. As the year ended, the government was still struggling to see how it could cut back on the handouts, and yet make it look like it had kept its promises. Peppering the desperation were nearly daily reports of farmers continuing to commit suicide. It was also for the first time that the state government came under such scrutiny over the smog caused by farmers burning paddy crop residue.

Amidst all the gloom, there was comfort too. The government’s strongest claim to success came when the police announced they had solved the multiple political killings carried out in the state over the past two years. There was also a perception that the special team constituted to curb the drug trade and addiction in the state had been able to achieve some success. There was an attempt to add some cheer with job melas in the state, where offer letters were handed out to youth.

A colourful closure planned for the year in the form of a Military Literature Festival in Chandigarh by the government was, of course, one thing that received all-round applause, even if the audience was limited.

Of course, for all that didn’t work, there is always the next year!


Mining a controversy

A story dated May 25 in The Tribune reported how four employees of Irrigation Minister Rana Gurjit Singh, including his cook Amit Bahadur, were suspected to have bagged contracts of mining sites in the state. While the minister claimed they had quit his employment before the mining auctions, the controversy has kept the state’s political pot boiling ever since the report came out. 


Targeted killings

The year saw the Punjab Police claiming success in solving the high-profile killings of six religio-political leaders. Its inability to crack the cases had been a cause of major embarrassment. The killings took place between April 2016 and October 2017. RSS leader Ravinder Gosain was also shot in Ludhiana. Five persons have been arrested, including UK national Jagjit Johal.

Another year, same issues

Punjab ran afoul of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which flayed the state for not doing enough to check paddy straw burning. The tribunal questioned Punjab on many misrepresentations, and forced it to submit a time frame to provide the required conservation agriculture practices and farm implements to the farmers. Precious time was lost and straw continued to burn.

Stories of valour

The government, in collaboration with the Army’s Western Command, organised first-of-its-kind Military Literature Festival at Chandigarh in December to commemorate the gallantry and sacrifices of soldiers. The two-day event saw a host of military veterans, experts, writers, journalists, war correspondents and historians coming together to share their experiences on matters military. 


In the News

Making ends meet

The Congress government inherited a debt of over Rs 2 lakh crore from the Akali-BJP dispensation when it took over in March. Four months later, GST was rolled out by the Modi government. This hit the state’s fiscal situation further as the devolution from the Centre became slower and irregular. With the state government avoiding additional resource mobilisation and also planning to dole out financial concessions to various sections, the fiscal situation remained precarious.

Consumed by flames

A total of 16 lives were lost in a fire at a plastic factory in the industrial area in Ludhiana’s Mustak Ganj on November 20. According to reports, the owner had illegally stored chemicals in the building. The dead included six fire personnel and a factory manager. Later, Inderjit Singh Gola, owner of the factory was arrested. Divisional Commissioner of Patiala VK Meena initiated a probe into the incident.

Inquiry commissions

The government set up three commissions of inquiry to look into different allegations. Justice JS Narang Commission looked into the sand mining scandal, allegedly involving Rana Gurjeet Singh. Justice Mehtab Singh Commission was set up to study allegedly false police cases against political leaders. Ranjit Singh Commission was constituted to investigate the incidents of sacrilege in 2015.

Congress sweeps local body elections

Elections to three municipal corporations, Amritsar, Jalandhar and Patiala, besides 31 municipal councils and nagar panchayats, were held recently where the Congress won. 

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