The Tribune – Can’t meddle in gurdwara affairs: Australian envoy

Neeraj Bagga, Tribune News Service

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 17 February 2018. Replying to a query on some gurdwaras in Australia restricting the entry of Indian government officials, Australian High Commissioner to India Harinder Sidhu said the (Australian) government could not intervene as it was the prerogative of the gurdwara management.

Talking to mediapersons during her visit to the Golden Temple today, Harinder said that there was only one gurdwara in her country which did so.

Responding to another query about racial attacks on Punjabis in her country, she said such incidents were reported some 10 years ago and the Australian Government swiftly swung into action. Thereafter, no incident was reported, she claimed.

She said the people of Punjabi origin and the Punjabi language were growing at a fast pace in Australia. “My government wants to work in close cooperation with Punjab in agriculture and dairy farming,” she said.

She said she would work to consolidate bilateral relations between Australia and India in different spheres.

On her visit to the Golden Temple, she remarked: “I feel honoured and deeply pleased over my first official visit to the holiest Sikh shrine. Since I was raised in a Sikh family, I am familiar with its tenets and importance of the shrine”.

SGPC officials, led by its chief secretary Dr Roop Singh, felicitated the Australian High Commissioner with a siropa, a model of the Golden Temple and a set of religious books.

On her four-day visit to the state, she would visit the Partition museum here tomorrow. She is also scheduled to visit Punjab Agriculture University in Ludhiana.


The Times of India – Behbal Kalan firing probe shifted to Ferozepur police from Faridkot

Neel Kamal

Bathinda-Panjab-India, 18 February 2018. The Punjab Police have handed over the investigations into the killing of two Sikhs in police firing on October 14, 2015, at Behbal Kalan village in Faridkot to Ferozepur senior superintendent of police (SSP). The duo were part of the protest held against sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib.

Ferozepur police would reinvestigate the incident after forming a special investigation team (SIT). Bathinda zone inspector general (IG) M S Chhina confirmed the shifting of investigations to Ferozepur from Faridkot.

Sources said the Faridkot police had failed to solve the case even after 28 months of the incident. The Ferozepur police have now sought the relevant record from registration of the FIR to investigation report from their Faridkot counterpart.

Sources also said bullets fired from police weapons had been kept for many days at the Bajkakhana police station before these were provided to the central forensic science laboratory (CFSL) at Chandigarh.

Torn pages of Guru Granth Sahib were found scattered outside the gurdwara at Bargari village on October 12, 2015. Nearly 200 persons were holding protest at Behbal Kalan when police had fired on them on October 14, in which Sarawan resident Gurjit Singh and Niamia Wala resident Krishan Bhagwan Singh had died and others had sustained injuries.

Punjab CM Amarinder Singh had formed a commission led by Punjab and Haryana high court former judge Justice Ranjit Singh (retired) to look into the incidents of sacrilege in the state and the Behbal Kalan incident. The commission has sought time from the CM to hand over its probe report.

The investigations into the case till now were being conducted by Faridkot police through an SIT under superintendent of police (investigations).

IG Chhina told TOI, “The bureau of investigations has handed over the probe into Behbal firing to Ferozepur police, which will investigate the matter by forming an SIT.” He declined to give reasons behind shifting of the investigations to police of another district.

When contacted, Faridkot SSP Nanak Singh said, “An SP-level officer of Faridkot was investigating the case. Now, it has been shifted to Ferozepur police. We have no idea of handing over the probe to another district. It is the prerogative of the DGP.”

Ferozepur SSP Pritam Singh said, “I have not received the formal orders yet to investigate the matter. Anything could be said about the matter after getting the orders.” – Court rejects NIA’s plea seeking transfer of Jagtar Singh Johal to Tihar jail

Sikh24 Editors

Mohali-Panjab-India, 16 February 2018. Mohali based Special NIA Court of Additional Session Judge Ms Anshul Berry has rejected the NIA’s plea seeking transfer of arrested Sikh youths namely Hardeep Singh Shera, Ramandeep Singh, Jagtar Singh Johal (Jaggi) and Taljit Singh Jimmy to the Tihar jail of Delhi.

Notably, quartet of them are currently being detained in the Maximum Security Jail of Nabha.

Advocate Jaspal Singh Manjhpur, who is acting as a defence counsel for these Sikh youths, informed that the NIA Court of Judge Ms Anshul Berry has entertained this plea on February 15 and had kept its verdict reserved for today.

He added that the court today pronounced its decision of quashing NIA’s plea as there was no provision in the law to transfer an under-trial accused to another state.

Advocate Manjhpur informed that he had apprised the Court about Supreme Court’s ruling depriving government and trial courts from the authority of transferring an under-trial accused to another state. “The prosecution lawyer couldn’t cite any legal provision backing NIA’s claim,” he said.

Sikh Federation UK – Trudeau’s visit to Sikh homeland eagerly anticipated

Focus will be on what he says about the experience of the minority Sikh community in India and their campaign for greater rights

London-UK, 16 February 2018. Sikhs in Canada and other parts of the globe have been in private communications directly and indirectly with the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau and some of the Sikh Ministers and Liberal MPs accompanying him before his week-long trip to India that begins tomorrow on 17 February.

Trudeau will be accompanied by his four Sikh Ministers, Harjit Singh Sajjan (defence), Navdeep Singh Bains (innovation, science and economic development), Amarjit Singh Sohi (infrastructure and communities) and Bardish Kaur Chagger (small business and tourism), who is also the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and a number of other Sikh MPs.

As far as the worldwide Sikh community is concerned the peak of Trudeau’s visit to India is when he is in Punjab and the Sri Harmandr Sahib Complex on 21 February with his 35-member media delegation from Canada.

The Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh who last year accused all Sikh Ministers in Trudeau’s Cabinet of being Khalistani sympathisers and refused to meet Defence Minister, Harjit Singh Sajjan will face a major dilemma by being seen to make a U-turn.

Every word Trudeau speaks about the experience of the minority Sikh community in India when he visits the Sikh homeland will be closely watched and dissected by Sikhs not only in Canada, but other parts of the globe.

Privately and publicly there is no doubt the Indian authorities and media will challenge Trudeau on his perceived backing or otherwise for those campaigning for a separate Sikh homeland, Khalistan.

They will also try and get his views on the recent restrictions imposed by Gurdwara management committees in Canada on Indian government officials where he will no doubt have a carefully prepared response.

How Trudeau responds to questions about Sikhs in Canada could determine his political future as he will be conscious that his Conservative predecessor Stephen Harper in his November 2012 visit to India pushed back strongly when challenged by the Indian media.

Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper said merely advocating for a Khalistan homeland was not a crime and should not be confused with the right of Canadians to hold and promote their political views. He added that “we can’t interfere with the right of political freedom of expression.”

It will also not be lost on India that Canada, alongside Italy and Pakistan are leading a counter-proposal at the UN to have more non-permanent members that in essence is designed to stop India and others becoming permanent members of the UN Security Council.

There is no doubt Trudeau will need to walk a fine line during his India visit given the media hype of him being a close ally of the Sikhs. The fact that economic trade between Canada and India is relatively small will help Trudeau stand up to pressure from New Delhi during his visit given the line taken by his Conservative predecessor.

Trudeau also knows next year he will be up against Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), who will have most to gain if Trudeau fails to at least go as far as Stephen Harper in defending the rights of Sikhs in Canada to be able to highlight the atrocities by the Indian authorities i.e. the failure to release Sikh political prisoners who have served their terms and have the freedom to advocate for Khalistan.

Another human rights case that is certain to come up is the case of Jagtar Singh Johal where Liberal MPs have been vocal and the Canadian government has also officially raised concerns.

Trudeau is certain to face questions about the Sikh Genocide motion passed by the Ontario Provincial Parliament last year that was led by politicians belonging to his Liberal Party who have subsequently been promoted.

He will come across as weak on a crucial human rights issue if he chooses to distance the Liberal Party at the federal level from those of his party at the provincial level.

Trudeau should address this challenge head on and point out the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in late December 2014 referred to what happened to the Sikhs in November 1984 as ‘Genocide’.

He continued that ‘justice would be meted out to the victims only when the perpetrators of the crime are punished’ and ‘that until these persons are punished, victims will not get relief’.

It would also be an opportune moment for Trudeau to ask what the BJP government is doing to address the recent revelation of the sting operation that has exposed Congress politician Jagdish Tyler.

He has now been heard confessing to the killing of over 100 Sikhs and separately implicated Rajiv Gandhi by disclosing the two toured the streets of Delhi during the peak of the Sikh Genocide..

Gurjeet Singh
National Press Secretary
Sikh Federation (UK) <>

Dawn – The Dissenter: Asma Jahangir on the role of NGOs in democratising Pakistan

I met Asma Jahangir in 2015. I was conducting fieldwork for my doctoral studies on the issue of NGOs in democratisation in Pakistan.

With great sadness and a feeling of irreversible loss, I wish to share Asma’s thoughts on the subject.

It does not only offer Asma’s insights on NGOs, international funding and the nature of democratisation in Pakistan, it also gives us a peak into her humanist nature.

Asma Jahangir will remain unforgettable for most of us, as she should.

Arjumand Bano Kazmi

Op/Ed, 16 February 2018. It was the midst of June. Nearly four in the afternoon but the heat and humidity of Lahore was still intensifying.

Standing outside a modest commercial building in Lahore, I felt smothered, not because of the heat, but because I was finally going to meet Asma Jahangir.

It took me over a month to set up a meeting with her. Her office assistant kept apologising for making and then cancelling the appointments mainly for the unexpected turn of events and commitments that Asma had to attend.

At last, there I was, hot and nervous as I entered the building. Having no idea which floor of the building the office was situated, I kept going up the stairs. Besides, no lifts were in sight in that narrow and old fashioned concrete structure.

Upon noticing the board with Asma’s name, I pressed the buzzer. The door was opened by a middle-aged, modest looking tallish man, wearing worn grey trousers and a blue-grey lined shirt.

Like his clothes, he also looked worn. His face was made prominent by his thick glassed black framed specs.

Looking exhausted (perhaps after working all day or because of the airless office), he politely welcomed me with a busy and quick smile.

He went behind the counter labelled ‘Reception’. Before I said anything, he asked, “are you Arjumand?” I nodded as he busily affirmed my appointment in a ledger.

“I am Mushtaq, Asma’s assistant,” he said. “You have been conversing with me for this appointment. I am sorry about all the cancellations. Can I get you a glass of water?”

It was an unexpected offer. In the month of Ramzan, when most people in Pakistan were fasting, the offer was unusually fresh. I wasn’t fasting but politely refused the offer as it is commonly expected in response.

He then set off to guide me to Asma’s office. Following him through a small hall, I felt a sense of urgency in the averagely furnished office.

There were three smaller rooms and a big common room, all visible through cheap glass doors. There were people in all rooms, some conversing with each other in a more client-officer look, whilst others busy taking phone calls.

There were some destitute looking people, men but mostly women, sitting on a few seats in the hall. They looked like they were waiting to be seen.

As we approached the end of the hall, I saw Asma, behind the glass door of one of the smaller rooms. Mushtaq opened the door, softly announcing, “Arjumand is here”.

“I am Asma,” a petite woman promptly stood up behind a busy and messy looking work desk, warmly offering a handshake.

Dressed in an inexpensive shalwar kameez with a dupatta casually held across her neck, Asma could be described as any other Pakistani urban woman in her late 50s [She was in her 60s at the time but I was unaware of her actual age].

With her short hair loosely tied at the back, she was wearing a small chain with a single pendant.

Her small and feeble looking hands had a few rings, with a wristwatch visible at the end of her left hand.

What made her unusual, however, was her pensive eyes behind her thinly framed glasses.

While greeting her with a handshake, I seated myself on the chair across her. The busy and messy looking work desk separated us.

The room felt even smaller with a tall bookcase filled with books and files. Next to a small window, covered with blinds, was a table with a desktop.

There was also a carry-along suitcase (as if she was or will be travelling) and large handbag filled with papers.

“Arjumand, your research looks interesting,” she remarked in Urdu in a direct and swift manner. “I read through the description you sent through email. How can I help?”

I was a bit astonished. I was not expecting such a candid, welcoming and direct response from one of the most known human rights activists, for whom I always held high respect and considered as a role model.

Not being able to confirm my appointment with her earlier, I had disappointingly assumed that she must be difficult to approach, perhaps even a little arrogant.

But her presence felt contrary to my assumptions. Feeling a bit relaxed, I began with thanking her for her time to which she reacted quickly and said, “no need.”

I explained that my research was about exploring the roles of internationally-funded NGOs in democratisation.

Since she was leading an NGO with an aim to promote democracy and human rights and had long been involved in pro-democracy resistance movements, I wanted her to share her observations and concerns as she experienced them over the years.

“The role of NGOs in the context of Pakistan has been extremely positive and important,” she began, only this time conversing in English.

“Civil society has always been here in Pakistan before the conventional kind of NGOs that have come in now. These were introduced in the 80s.

“One of the reasons that in a Muslim country, dogmatic Islamic discourse has been resisted, is because of this civil society.

“What I call civil society, are poets, writers, union of journalists, trade unions, legal community, people who are liberal in their thought, who may or may not get together to form certain organisations.

“Even political parties are part of civil society in Pakistan. Pakistan has survived because it has political parties.

“But our state has never recognised this civil society. Nor do they recognise us now. They tolerate us because of international pressures.

“For example, they are compelled to involve us in developing the progress reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at the UN.

“But by and large, since the Ayub era, there has been a regulated effort to hegemonise this civil society, including curbing the development of political parties.

“So to this day, the state does not communicate with us. It makes laws and introduce policies without any consultation, so we have been essentially kept at a distance.

“In a democracy, it is important that everything done in terms of the law and law-making, should not just be thoroughly discussed in the parliament, but also outside the parliament.

“In the colonial times, people were asked to give their opinion and the same should happen now. But, except for the businessmen who are consulted discreetly before the budget is announced or a finance bill is introduced, nothing else is done.

“Laws are made without consultation of lawyers; education policy is made without consulting with educationists and so on.

“So, we are kept at the margins.”

Suddenly the door opened with a knock and Mushtaq entered with a serving trolley carrying covered food trays. Asma slightly nodded and began to clear her desk making space for food.

“You will have to excuse me. I have not had any lunch. And I am advised that I must not miss my meals. Are you fasting?” I shook my head and said, “please have your lunch.”

Asma resumed talking as Mushtaq laid the table. “So, I was saying that despite this discouraging, in fact hostile attitude of the state, we kept demanding to be heard.

“We kept scrutinising them, even the dictators, for failing to deliver [on the] basic needs and security for our people. Women’s rights organisations have, in particular, played a laudable role.”

“Thank you Mushtaq,” Asma broke the conversation as Mushtaq left the room.

“I remember that back in 80s, the chaddar and chardiwari was an ascending slogan in Pakistan under the rule of Zia-ul-Haq.

“But we broke down the framework that they were creating for women. We were few of us as a network, but we managed to jolt people not just in Pakistan but even the international community started asking questions in their capitals against Zia’s Islamisation laws.

“Much credit should be given to the feminists of the West. They came to our rescue, defying their own governments who were supporting Zia’s jihad in Afghanistan.

“A global pressure was generated, and a public outcry compelled the dictator to back off. In this way, the Western civil society played a significant role.

“We have had people like Habib Jalib and Faiz among others who are institutions in themselves. They have given life, thought and progressive mind-set to many of us.

“They too were sheltered by the West and its civil society, when placed in exile by our state. So, for me, civil society in Pakistan has been organised, dynamic and daring.

“It has been guided by the values of democracy, participation, fundamental freedoms for citizens, protection and advocacy for the rights of minorities.”

While speaking, Asma began to unimposingly share food, serving me everything that was there at the table. I gestured to politely refuse, which she swiftly ignored and kept serving.

I noticed, it was home-cooked simple lunch in small portions. Only much later in time I came to know that at the time of our meeting, Asma was undergoing medical treatment for a serious illness.

I still wonder how she did it, taking time for activism and full-time work despite being seriously ill. But that was Asma. A usual looking, but an unusually strong woman.

“What do you think of these new NGOs that are internationally funded for defined projects and programmes? Do you think they are doing what you as an activist used to do or still do?” I asked as I nibbled on the mixed seasonal fruits.

“I consider them non-conventional NGOs as they are different from NGOs in the past,” Asma continued. “I am not against international support.

“Western civil society has always supported our civil society for pursing democratic aims. They also pressurise their governments, so their governments are compelled to support us and pressure our state to have a democratic set up.

“I am also not denying that the West is often guided by its own vested strategic interests. True that the West had supported the most formidable dictatorships in Pakistan.

“Nonetheless, their financial and issue-based support is extremely valuable for our civil society to make even little stitches in the torn fabric of our socio-political experience.

“It has to be our own judgement with which we should balance our priorities. Our organisation is funded by the Western partners, both by the state and civil society institutions. But we set our own agendas.

“I would not say that all NGOs set their own agendas. Some may have their funding agencies’ agendas, I cannot deny that.

“But that doesn’t just happen in the civil society. Our state, including government and the army, follows foreign agendas when compelled to in exchange of financial rewards, so how can they blame us?

“Just because they have been given legitimacy by their institutions doesn’t mean they are beyond the bounds of scrutiny.

“It is all because of this historical hostility against the civil society that we face the charge of following foreign agendas.

“I simply laugh at these charges. As if our society and state is completely innocent of not taking any external influence.

“But I do think that present day NGOs should have a common sense and not poor-judgements. They must understand that in Pakistan, the work they do is political to its core. And they should openly accept that.

“They should work alongside political parties to develop a critical mass but keep their distance from them by not directly engaging and playing a political role. They must work collectively and develop what I call ‘collective wisdom’ for liberal values.

“There must be deep knowledge: I think that an NGO that does not have deep knowledge of its own society is not helpful to democracy.

“I’ll give you an example. When General Musharraf came to power, if you look at the newspapers of those days, and I wish you would, apart from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), not a single NGO opposed the military dictatorship.

“The reason being that they thought liberalism can spring out of the barrel of a gun. There is the contradiction.

“The people at HRCP have for years stood up against dictatorships. They have spent years in jail. They had taken the beating on streets and their members were killed by the establishment. They know what the barrel of a gun is like. So, we must learn from them.

“NGOs should be able to differentiate myths from reality. I would say that what is most important for an NGO is to gain respect of the public that they are addressing.

“To find such respect in a society in which NGOs are under attack is not easy. But who said our work was supposed to be easy!

“A few welfare organisations in Pakistan managed to achieve this status such as Edhi. HRCP is also respected to a certain extent.

“But the rest of NGOs, I don’t see them taking positions as openly as they should.”

Asma’s voice was evenly paced, with clear sentences in sequence. So far. her expression kept a sustained tone.

“From where do you get your funding?” I asked, having been given a chance to speak.

“We have overseas funding from Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, EU and other European countries. But we set the agenda.

“We do not take funding from the US, directly or indirectly. We don’t even take funding from the private citizens of America. We have a distinct worldview.

“Many NGOs in our community do not subscribe to our secular liberal worldview and keep their distance from us. That is all fine. We have nothing against them.

“But I do believe that civil society is only civil if it does not have criminal aims. Our society is fast becoming a violent place.

“Dissent is not accepted here. The right wing is soaring. We all have to fight religious extremism together for our survival.

“I have to say that in a culture where tolerance, equality, and freedom of expression are heavily restrained, NGOs have taken up important issues to advocate.

“If they were not there, there would be no freedom of expression and no talk of taboos in this country. I believe, in fact I know, that there is no option for this country’s survival but democracy.

“There has never been a moment in time when even 200 people got together to bring in the military. If the military has ever been called in, it was done by our weak civilian governments, not by the citizens of Pakistan.

“This is where NGOs should direct their efforts to. To keep in check the governments that they do not resort to calling for the military rule.”

“What makes your or your NGO’s approach different from other NGOs in democratisation?” I probed further.

“We make demands from the government and if the government asks us to come anywhere to speak or inform their approach, we never refuse. We reserve our right to criticise, as we should do.

“Our work is primarily awareness and advocacy for the people who cannot speak for themselves. We also do not ‘train’ parliamentarians or do leg-work for them. We consider this service delivery, and we don’t have resources for it.

“For example, in the making of the 18th, 19th and 20th Constitutional Amendments, we advised when consulted upon. Most of our demands were not addressed.

“For example, on judicial appointments, we pushed for the parliamentary oversight. The CJP refused to accept this and now the Chief Justice is the sole authority for the appointment of judges. This is why, historically our justice system has been influenced by the establishment.”

By now, I have gathered that Asma was a reflective soul with a fire burning in her heart to bring about social change for democracy and human rights.

She was rooted in local culture and history of resistance against anti-democratic forces – including the state and the extremists.

She was not apologetic for her secular liberal beliefs. Neither did she mock international funding but recognised its positive support. She was also critical of NGOs that stay at margins and only engage when they have projects relevant to the issue.

In response to my question on NGOs’ role in law-making, Asma sneered. “I don’t think NGOs can be given a formalised role in law-making. There should always be input from them and there are ways for doing that.

“You have to lobby and ensure that your input is considered. When there was the draft going around of the 18 Constitutional Amendment Act for consultation, to my utter surprise, only a handful of NGOs responded.

“The idea that you should be given a formal role is absurd. Why should you be given a formal role if people have not elected you? Whom do you represent? If you represent an idea then give that idea and let the parliament decide.

“With all my respect to those NGOs who do the leg-work for politicians in drafting laws, I would say please have those laws vetted by lawyers.

“You simply cannot be experts in everything that you manage to get funding for. Just because you can speak English, you cannot understand the legal system of this country.

“This naivety or opportunism – whatever you want to call it – takes its toll as laws get drafted which contradict the previously progressive laws.

“Who suffers, it is the public and those progressives who struggled to lobby for those laws. This is why I say that NGOs’ poor judgement is dangerous.”

“What do you say about volunteerism that’s disappearing fast and is a big concern for our NGOs? This would be my last question. I have already taken plenty of your time.”

We were now being served fresh tea and it was nearly time for me to leave. I thought I must try to add just a few more questions before my one hour was up.

“Don’t worry about time. You are always welcome to contact me again should you need to. I am happy to help,” Asma smiled and then mocked herself to adding, “Certainly you had quite the opposite experience of approaching to me.

“But in my defence, I can only say that my days are often frantically and randomly organised. That’s another thing about NGOs that I do not understand. Since when have we turned into these bureaucratic bubbles which are required to have three to five year strategic plans?

If you have too much bureaucracy you cannot work in a country like Pakistan where there is crisis every day. I will not be able to tell you today what I am going to do tomorrow because I am not a master of things.

“Plus NGOs should stop thinking that they know everything. That they can train the police without reading the police laws!

“And finally on volunteerism, I strongly believe that NGOs should nurture it and the conventional tutorship from senior NGOs’ experts to young volunteers and staff members must continue.

“There has to be some commitment to what we do and stand for. The amount of money NGOs’ personnel are paid these days, breeds corruption and opportunism in my opinion.”

With the close of her sentence, I took my leave and thanked her.

I left Asma, a petite, humble but an incredibly strong woman in that very standard small third floor office with cheap glass doors.

But Asma did not leave me. Her reflective rebelliousness had stayed with me, which I carry to this day.

Arjumand Bano Kazmi is currently an Early Career Fellow at the Institute of Advance Study, University of Warwick, UK. Arjumand has extensive experience working with NGOs in Pakistan and the United Kingdom, with a focus on women’s and minority rights, democratisation, and the voluntary sector infrastructure support. She holds a PhD in Law and an LLM in Law in Development from the University of Warwick.

The Tribune – Pakistan Hindus rue short-term visa, want to visit Haridwar

Tribune News Service

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 15 February 2018. Mala and Shamiya, members of a visiting group of Pakistani Hindu pilgrims, are disheartened for not being allowed to visit Haridwar to immerse the ashes of their relatives in the Ganga.

The pilgrims had arrived here on February 12 on a four-day visa. Most of them are from Pakistan’s Sindh province.

Shamiya has brought the ashes of her mother, who passed away in December last year, to immerse it in the Ganga in Haridwar. Similarly, Mala brought the ashes of her mother-in-law, who passed away about six months ago.

The pilgrims are putting up at Durgiana temple’s dharmshala. Mukesh Rana, their representative, said: “The visa for just four days is insufficient as they could not complete their pilgrimage.

While one day was consumed in travel, documentation and checking at the Attari-Wagah joint check post, for the past three days, they were not allowed to move out of the city.” He claimed that Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had assured them of visa to visit Haridwar, Delhi and Mumbai.

A local BJP leader, Salil Kapoor, who interacted with the pilgrims, said he had talked to state BJP chief Vijay Sampla over the phone. He said Sampla had assured him that he would take up the matter with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj.

The Indian Express – Sustainable Agriculture: Punjab has a new plan to move farmers away from water-guzzling paddy

A promising DBT initiative that incentivises efficient tubewell power use and checks groundwater depletion

Anju Agnihotri Chaba

Jalandhar-Panjab-India, 15 February 2018. For two decades or more, successive governments have tried weaning away farmers in Punjab from growing paddy. Their efforts have borne little fruit, as the area under this water-guzzling crop has only gone up from 11.83 lakh hectares in 1980-81 to 20.15 lakh in 1990-91, 26.12 lakh in 2000-01 and 30.46 lakh in 2016-17.

The primary culprit here has been free power supply to farmers. It has led to groundwater overdraft and incentivising cultivation of paddy over maize, cotton, groundnut and other less water-intensive crops (which also don’t benefit from minimum support price-based state procurement).

The policy to not charge for electricity used in farm pump-sets was initiated in February 1997 by the then Shiromani Akali Dal government under Parkash Singh Badal.

The Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress regime, which took over in 2002, introduced a nominal flat tariff of Rs 60 per BHP (British horsepower) for unmetered agricultural connections and Rs 0.57 per unit (kilowatt-hours) on metered electricity.

But there was hardly any recovery from farmers. The subsequent Badal administration, in January 2010, again levied a flat Rs 50-per-BHP tariff for agricultural producers, only to withdraw it 10 months later.

The end-result: The number of electric tubewell pump-sets in Punjab zoomed from around 28,000 to 79,400 between 1980-81 and 2000-01, and further to 11.06 lakh in 2010-11 and 13.5 lakh by 2016-17. Today, 112 out of the state’s 138 blocks fall under the “dark zone”, with over-exploited, critical or semi-critical groundwater resources.

The only worthwhile initiative in recent times has been the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act of 2009, which bars any nursery sowing and transplanting of paddy during the peak summer before May 15 and June 15, respectively.

But more promising is an experiment, launched as a pilot project in three villages of Fatehgarh Sahib, Chaur Wala, Bhamarsi and Bhagrana, by the current Amarinder Singh dispensation.

Under it, digital meters will be installed on the tubewells belonging to 990 farmers of the said villages.

But the interesting part is that the state government, instead of compensating the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) for its supplying electricity free of cost, will make a direct benefit transfer (DBT) of Rs 48,000 to each of the chosen farmers’ bank accounts.

These farmers would, in turn, have to clear their dues to the PSPCL from the DBT amounts credited, based on the actual number of units consumed.

“We will provide a fixed annual DBT subsidy of Rs 48,000 per tubewell. If a farmer’s electricity bill against the tubewell connection turns out lower, he will be allowed to retain the surplus amount,” said Manpreet Singh Badal, Punjab’s Finance Minister.

Farmers, according to him, may gain monetarily, as their tubewell power bills are likely to be within the Rs 48,000 cash subsidy being transferred.

Punjab has roughly 5,900 rural electricity feeders, supplying eight hours of uninterrupted power to the state’s 13.5 lakh tubewells during the paddy cropping season (from June 15 to September 30) and 3-4 hours for the rest of the year. The tubewells have mostly motors with power rating between 7.5 and 12 BHP.

The subsidy payable to PSPCL is calculated by taking the number of units consumed by the state’s tubewell pump-sets and multiplying this with the tariff for agricultural power. The latter is now fixed at Rs 5.06 per unit, while the annual consumption per tubewell is reckoned at 8,000-9,000 units.

“There’s no clear estimate of how many units farmers are really consuming. The numbers we have are based on supply from the feeders and not at the point of consumption.

Also, while about a fifth of the state’s tubewells have electricity meters, the fact that farmers aren’t paying for the power could be overstating their actual agricultural consumption requirement,” admitted a PSPCL official.

Even assuming consumption at 9,000 units, the resultant power bill of Rs 45,540 would be less than the DBT subsidy of Rs 48,000.

The Punjab government has signed an MoU with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a research centre affiliated to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for the DBT project.

J-PAL — along with experts from the World Bank, Punjab Agricultural University and the state’s agriculture, irrigation and soil conservation departments — will undertake a study of actual power use by farmers and how it might change once they start paying out of a fixed DBT subsidy credited to their bank accounts.

“We believe they will cut down on consumption, as there is an incentive now to save as much as possible from the Rs 48,000 amount. The tendency to waste is higher when you get something free without any upper cap.

All this will ultimately promote more judicious use of groundwater. The farmer may even shift to growing crops that require less water,” noted Jasbir Singh Bains, Punjab’s Director of Agriculture.

The Punjab government plans to take up the new project from the coming kharif season. “We will install the special meters on all the 990 tubewells by early May, before the start of paddy nursery sowings. This would enable monitoring of consumption right through the agricultural season,” added the earlier quoted PSPCL official.

For the state government, there may be no financial savings as such from the DBT project. Even if the fixed amount of Rs 48,000 is extended to all the 13.5 lakh tubewells, the outgo of Rs 6,480 crore is what it is anyway shelling out as power subsidy to PSPCL.

Farmers’ organisations are, however, viewing the latest initiative with suspicion. “Their real agenda is to discontinue the power subsidy for agriculture. DBT is only a step in that direction. Amarinder Singh’s government has already washed it hands off the Congress party’s Assembly election promise to waive farm loans.

They are restricting this at present only to cooperative bank loans of up to Rs 2 lakh to marginal farmers,” alleged Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakunda Group).

Sustainable Agriculture: Punjab has a new plan to move farmers away from water-guzzling paddy – NIA seeks to transfer Jagtar Singh Jaggi to Tihar Jail; Seeks 90 day remand extension

Free Jaggi Now !

London-UK, 14 February 2018. The NIA has submitted a 100 page report in a sealed envelope, expecting to be granted a full 90 day remand extension. However the judge was not pleased with the representations from the prosecutors and their lack of respect when addressing the judge.

Three NIA prosecutors were talking over each other when addressing the judge, and seemed confused as to their arguments.

Strong arguments were made on behalf of Jaggi to oppose the extension. The NIA fully expected to receive a decision today. The judge has stated she will give her decision on Wednesday 14th February. It is expected that ultimately the judge will grant the NIA request as the Indian judiciary has shown a clear bias in every case so far.

The NIA have also filed an application to be granted an order to transfer Jaggi and the other Singhs to Tihar jail in Delhi. A reply to the transfer order will be given on 15th February 2018.

Jaggi will appear in court for the 26th time on 14th February to find out the outcome of the remand extension application by the NIA.

The NIA wish to assert their authority by moving Jaggi and the other Singhs away from their lawyers and families. This tactic of relocating Sikh prisoners to jails outside of Punjab has been used repeatedly by the Indian state in order to subject families, prisoners, and their lawyers to further hardship by putting a drain on all their resources.

The Tribune – Manjit Singh GK takes on CM over ‘clean chit’ to Rajiv Gandhi in ’84 riots

Tribune News Service

New Delhi-India, 12 February 2018. A day after CM Amarinder Singh claimed that Rajiv Gandhi was in West Bengal when the 1984 riots broke out, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) president Manjit Singh Greater Kailash today asked the CM to examine the facts before giving the “clean chit” to the former Prime Minister.

The CM had yesterday accused SAD leaders of resorting to desperate measures to malign Rajiv.

The DSGMC chief said Amarinder Singh either did not want to speak the truth or had been directed by the Gandhi family to issue a wrong statement.

He said former President Pranab Mukherjee’s book ‘The Turbulent Years’ had given details of Rajiv’s whereabouts on October 31, 1984. Manjit Singh GK said Rajiv was informed through a police wireless message at 9:30 am about the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when he was in Contai (West Bengal).

At that time, Cabinet Ministers Pranab Mukherjee and Ghani Khan Chaudhary were with Rajiv. Mukherjee wrote that he had directed senior police officers to bring a special aircraft from New Delhi.

Rajiv, Mukherjee and Ghani Khan reached Kolghat, covering a distance of 100 km by road, from where they departed for Kolkata in a chopper. About 1 pm, Rajiv and his colleagues had left for Delhi in a special aircraft of Indian Airlines, Manjit Singh GK said, quoting the book.

Then President Giani Zail Singh, who was on an official tour to Oman, had returned by 4 pm that day, the SAD leader said.

Manjit Singh GK stated that after being elevated as Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi and ministers Mukherjee, P Shivshankar, P V Narasimha Rao and Buta Singh had called a meeting and directed that Indira’s body would be kept for three days at Teen Murti Bhawan.

The DSGMC chief asked Amarinder Singh to wait for the truth to surface before questioning the SAD’s demand for an inquiry into the Gandhi family’s alleged involvement in the riots.

Asian Image – Jagtar Singh Johal detention: ‘100 days on we are still waiting to hear what exactly Jaggi has been charged with’

Glasgow, 12 February 2018. The family of a Scottish Sikh man detained in India without charge say they do not feel safe to travel to the country.

Jagtar Singh Johal, 31, has now spent 100 days in custody since he was arrested in Punjab on November 4, shortly after his wedding.

Indian authorities allege Mr Johal, who was born and brought up in Glasgow, was involved in financing the killing of Hindu leaders but he has not been formally charged with any offence.

Speaking in Glasgow on Monday, Gurpreet Singh Johal said his brother, known as Jaggi, was a friendly, bubbly person, who should be enjoying “the happiest time of his life” after his wedding.

Gurpreet said: “Various allegations have been made against Jaggi that he has been accused of funding right-wing murders, however no evidence has been provided in relation to any of this.

“No charge sheet has been filed and 100 days on we are still waiting to hear what exactly Jaggi has been charged with.

“We are also concerned that the UK Government are not able to protect its citizens. Jaggi has been subject to third degree torture, extreme action was promised but it’s not been taken.

“On November 7 the chief minister of Punjab stated they had all the evidence but 100 days on it still isn’t clear.

“It’s ended any right to a fair trial, 100 days have elapsed and they have sought another 90 days so it’s causing concern of what’s actually going on.”

Gurpreet said his brother may have translated documents to English for a website about the 1984 Golden Temple massacre of Sikhs, but there was no evidence of the alleged crimes.

He said: “It appears that (the police) may have got the wrong person but to save face they keep on going down this route of keeping him as long as they can and glorifying some of these allegations in order to keep him there longer.”

Gurpreet travelled to India with another family member shortly after his brother was arrested but they were forced to leave the country.

He said: “Our lives became at risk so we had to leave on November 9, not by choice, but it was going to cause more grief for the family.

“Right now I don’t think it’s safe for me to go.”

The case has been raised with the United Nations through human rights organisation Redress.

Advocacy officer Josie Fathers said: “Jagtar’s treatment to date raises concerns about the chances of him being subject to further torture and ill treatment.

“He remains without charge and has been virtually isolated from the outside world.

“In December, Redress urged UN special rapporteur on torture to intervene in Jagtar’s case to ensure that he is protected from ill treatment.

“When there are strong allegations of torture the special rapporteur has the power to request the government of India that any alleged ill treatment is stopped and investigated.

“We continue to urge him to intervene and hope there is progress ahead of the Human Rights Council in March.”

MP Martin Docherty-Hughes, who represents the constituency of the Johal family home in Dumbarton, has been working with cross-party colleagues to highlight Mr Johal’s case.

He said the FCO needs to “up its game” in terms of consular assistance, claiming support for Mr Johal was “remiss, especially at the beginning”.

He added: “The longer it goes without charge the Indian authorities leave themselves open to accusation of undermining an open and fair trial.”

An FCO spokesman said: “Our staff continue to support a British man and his family following his detention in Punjab.

“We continue to press the Indian authorities for further access to ensure he can receive the necessary consular assistance.”