The Tribune – Lahore police grant security for Bhagat Singh’s function

Sanjiv Kumar Bakshi

Hoshiarpur, 21 March 2017. The Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) of Lahore has assured Bhagat Singh Memorial Foundation (Pakistan) of security for their function to mark the martyrdom day Bhagat Singh at Fawara Chowk (Shadman) in Lahore on 23 March.

Advocate Imtiaz Rashid Qureshi, chairman of the foundation, told this correspondent on the phone from Lahore that Lahore High Court had directed the CCPO to decide our application for the function. The officer today has assured us that security would be provided.”

Pakistan’s Bhagat Singh Memorial Foundation had filed a petition in the HC on this count.

Qureshi said they had moved the court after the provincial government and senior police officers did not respond to their request for security.

“We met the CCPO with a copy of the HC order and requested him to decide our application for the function which would start at 4 pm on 23 March. Deciding our application, he has assured us of foolproof security,” said Qureshi.

The Hindu – Amarinder to seek legal advice on Navjot Singh’s appearance in serial

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has decided to seek legal opinion on whether his Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu can continue to appear as a celebrity judge on a popular television show.

“Captain Amarinder has said he is not sure what the law says regarding a Cabinet minister working on a television programme, and will have to ask the State’s advocate general to give legal advice on the matter,” his media advisor, Raveen Thukral, told The Hindu.

Conflict of interest

“It’s about whether there’s any conflict of interest if he [Mr. Sidhu] continues to work in television…If there is any, then the Chief Minister will talk to him [Mr. Sidhu] and bring it to his knowledge,” he added.

The controversy erupted after Mr. Sidhu recently said that he will continue to appear on a popular TV show as a celebrity judge. “TV shows will not interfere with my Cabinet responsibilities. The public had elected me five times with what I have been doing…If they don’t have a problem, why should anyone else have it,” Mr. Sidhu had said.

‘Not office of profit’

He insisted that his TV shows will not interfere with his Cabinet responsibilities. “I have no liquor, sand mining or transport business like former deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. I earn a living through TV shows and I will be in Chandigarh from Monday to Thursday and in Amritsar from Friday to Sunday.

What I do at night should not be anyone’s concern. I will take first flight back to Punjab after TV shoots in Mumbai,” he said.

Mr Sidhu, who currently holds the portfolios of local government, tourism and cultural affairs, has been maintaining that doing a TV show does not come under the ambit of “office of profit”.

Meanwhile, Navjot Singh Sidhu’s wife Navjot Kaur has come out in support of his husband through a Facebook post, saying that the issue was being over-hyped without any reason.

“Such hype has been created about Navjot earning a living from television. He has left 80 per cent of shows, which included IPL, commentary, etc.I think it is a meagre time for a non-socially active God-fearing workaholic,” she wrote on Facebook.

The Asian Age – Sushma speaks to missing Sufi cleric, says ‘both safe, will return tomorrow’

The two clerics had surfaced in Karachi and told that they had gone to meet their devotees in interior Sindh.

New Delhi, 19 March 2017. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday stated that she spoke to Syed Nazim Ali Nizami, one of the missing clerics, in Karachi and was assured they were safe and would be back to Delhi on Monday.

Two Indian Sufi clerics of Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah had gone missing earlier in Pakistan and their return to India was scheduled on March 20.

“I just spoke to Syed Nazim Ali Nizami in Karachi. He told me that they are safe and will be back in Delhi tomorrow,” Sushma Swaraj tweeted.

The two missing clerics were found in Pakistan and are set to return to India on March 20, according to Pakistan media reports.

The two clerics had surfaced in Karachi and told that they had gone to meet their devotees in interior Sindh, where there was no phone connectivity.

The clerics, identified as Syed Asif Ali Nizami and his friend Nazim Nizami, belong to Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah.

Syed Asif Ali Nizami is the head priest of New Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah.

The duo had travelled to Pakistan to visit their relatives in Karachi and then embarked on a pilgrimage to Lahore.

One of them went missing in Karachi and the other in Lahore, reports claimed.

The Indian authorities had raised the issue with the Pakistan Foreign Ministry seeking its help in tracing their missing citizens.

The Tribune – Captain orders clean-up operation

VIP culture ‘to end’ – Legislation on ‘conflict of interest’ – Cartels to face action

Rajmeet Singh, Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, 18 March 2017. Proposing an overhaul of the political, administrative and police setup in Punjab, the Captain Amarinder Singh government, in its first Cabinet meeting, today decided to end the VIP culture and bring in a legislation on “conflict of interest”, wherein the ministers or MLAs could be unseated on being found to have business interest in their official capacity.

No beacons will be used by ministers, MLAs and officers on vehicles, except on emergency vehicles, the vehicles of the CM, the Chief Justice and High Court Judges.

To cut expenditure and minimise public harassment, the functioning of the district administration would not be disturbed during visits by the CM and ministers. No banquets and dinners at government expense will be allowed.

With an aim to end the sand mining, transport, cable and liquor “cartels” active during the previous Prakash Singh Badal government, the Cabinet decided to introduce a slew of steps and legislations.

Apart from bringing a White Paper on various omissions and commissions by the SAD-BJP government, it was decided to set up a Commission of Inquiry to review “false” political cases and fix accountability.

Further, a third party audit of all the government expenditure (above Rs 10 crore) during the last three years would be done. In future, third party audit of government spending will be an annual feature.

The Cabinet also decided to recall unutilised pre-election funds from all departments to generate revenue and stayed all decisions of the last six months pending for review.

For transparency and accountability, all the MLAs and MPs will have to declare their immovable properties on January 1 every year and asset details of all IAS, IPS, PCS and Class-1 officers would be tabled every year in the Vidhan Sabha.

33% Jobs for women

Cabinet decided to provide 33 per cent reservation to women in all government jobs and increase their representation in PRIs and Urban Local Bodies from 33 to 50 per cent.

No foreign travel

The Cabinet banned foreign travel by ministers, MLAs and officials for two years.

Halqa system goes

The system of halqa incharge and use of political clout by staff in seeking transfers and favours has been ended.

Drug task force

A Special Task Force headed by ADGP Harpreet Sidhu, leading anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh, will implement a programme to eliminate drugs. In next meeting, Home Department will submit a proposal for enactment of Confiscation of Drug Dealers Property Act.

No sale of farmers’ land

A new legislation will be brought to prohibit sale/auction of farmers’ land by lending agencies.

A N I – Pakistan’s Sikh community upset for being ‘left out’ of national census

Islamabad-Pakistan, 19 March 2017. Expressing disappointment at being ‘left out’ of the national census, the Sikh community in Peshawar has said that they fear their community would not be adequately represented in Pakistan’s first national headcount in 19 years.

“The concerned department has not included the Sikh minority in the ongoing count. It is not only unfortunate for us, it is also a point of great concern for the community to have been missed out in the counting exercise,” the Dawn quoted Radesh Sing Tony, chairman of a Sikh committee, as saying to a news channel.

He complained the community was not counted among the religions included in the census form despite a sizeable number of Sikhs living in Pakistan.

Asserting that Sikhs would be counted under the ‘other’ religion category in the form, Tony said this would not provide an accurate picture of the Sikh population and was an injustice being done to them as they were being deprived of their rights.

Tony said he had written to the chief justice of Pakistan and the chief justices of the Peshawar and Sindh High Courts requesting that the community be counted as an official religion.

Admitting it was a mistake on the part of the census authorities, a spokesperson for the census exercise, Habibullah Khan said, “Yes, a sizable population of Sikhs is living in Pakistan, but have we missed them in the census”.

Most of the Sikhs in Pakistan live in the province of Punjab, a part of the larger Punjab region where the religion originated in the Middle Ages, and Peshawar in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism, is located in the Punjab province. (ANI)

The Hindu – The Congress’s Punjab lifeline

Its traditional support base and the Akali supporters’ votes helped the party fend off the AAP threat

Ashutosh Kumar

Chandigarh, 13 March 2017. The unprecedented victory in Punjab has come as a major morale booster for the Congress party, which has been struggling since its debacle in the 2014 general election followed by a series of defeats in the States where it once held power.

Punjab may not be a large State in terms of the number of Lok Sabha constituencies, but as a borderland, Sikh majority State with a troubled past, it is much more important than the numbers speak.

Looking at the massive victory of the Congress, it is quite clear that the party has not only been able to manage its traditional support base that comes from both Hindus and Sikhs but also from rural and urban Punjab across the three electoral regions.

It also got the traditional Akali supporters’ vote that was supposed to go to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) due to Operation Blue Star as well as the anti-Sikh riots, followed by widespread human rights violations targeting Sikh youth.

The fact that the AAP failed to gain significant support in the southern Malwa region shows that the party has been unable to corner the anti-Akali vote as this belt has been buffeted by large-scale farmer indebtedness, cash crop failures and farmer suicides.

The Akalis have lost their traditional voters due to the party being held responsible for taking away the autonomy of the sacred Akal Takht and politicising/manipulating the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee to further its political ends.

The party’s failure to punish the culprits who desecrated the holy Guru Granth Sahib has been another reason. This was compounded by the party openly hobnobbing with the various Deras including the controversial Dera Sacha Sauda and seeking their support in search of the sizeable Dalit vote, a segment the party failed to accommodate in its power structure.

Losing the plot

The Congress’s massive victory is also due to the failure of the AAP to cash on its impressive debut in 2014 when the party not only got 24% of the vote share but also led in 33 Assembly constituencies when it was not considered a party that could win.

However, instead of presenting itself as a real alternative, AAP’s Delhi-based leadership allowed the dominance of the non-Punjabi leadership during the whole process of campaigning and also resorted to reckless expulsion of its Punjab State leaders and workers on flimsy charges.

This not only demoralised the party workers but also disenchanted regionally rooted Punjabi voters. In the Congress’s Amarinder Singh, these voters looking for change saw not only the possibility of getting rid of the corrupt Akali government but also a sense of continuity in the form of a stable government led by a strong, experienced Punjabi leader with a relatively clean image.

He had stood up to the Congress top leadership on regional issues such as the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal.

The AAP also suffered in terms of resources as well as a lack of knowledge of the relevant social and economic determinants at the constituency/booth levels, which are important, as local issues and factors dominated the elections.

It showed as the party focussed on as many as 69 seats in the Malwa region in the hope of a sweep and in the process ignored the other two electoral regions, 25 seats in Majha and 23 seats in the Doaba regions. As the result shows, the party failed to sweep the Malwa region, winning only 18 seats, got only two seats from Doaba and no seat from Majha.

Nevertheless, the AAP as the main Opposition party is a good omen for the beleaguered State fighting not only economic decline but also the drug menace and crime. The party has shown that it can effectively use social media and mobilise youth to pressure the Congress government to fulfil its poll promises and set right governance.

The AAP effect was visible in the Congress’s manifesto and during the campaign.

Ashutosh Kumar is Professor, Department of Political Science, Panjab University – Major challenges before Captain Amarinder Singh

India Today

Chandigarh, 16 March 2017. With Captain Amarinder Singh taking oath as the Chief Minister of Punjab, Congress has regained its lost ground in the state after 10 years. It is also being cited within the Congress as an example as to how to challenge the resurgent BJP, which is ousting the party in one after another state across the country.

Given the anti-incumbency against the Akali-BJP alliance over ten years, winning the Punjab Assembly election was not as difficult for Captain Amarinder Singh, whose real challenge will be to deal with the problems that are plaguing the state.

The major challenges that the newly appointed Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh will have to face are dealt with in the following paragraphs.

Economic slowdown

Punjab is known for its robust agriculture and agri-based industries, which have attracted workers from across the country over the years. But, of 10 years under the Akali-BJP rule in Punjab, the rate of agriculture growth has declined in the last nine years.

The agriculture growth was 0.95 per cent in 2004-05, which according to the Punjab government figures went into negative, -3.4 per cent in 204-15. Nearly 65 lakh people engaged in agriculture have been adversely affected by this decline.

However, the latest government figures suggest that the agriculture growth rate could be higher than the national average for 2015-16.

Between 2005-06 and 2015-16, the net GDP growth rate slowed down to almost half the pace. It was 10.18 per cent in 2005-06 and according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the net GDP growth rate of Punjab has come down to 5.96 per cent for 2015-2016. In a decade’s time it has fallen far below the national average.

Farmers’ suicide in Punjab

Even though, the per capita income has registered an increase of about five per cent from Rs 96,638 in 2014-15 to Rs 101,498 in 2015-16, it does not reflect the real picture of farm crisis in Punjab.

According to the last Agriculture Census data, the average farm sizes have reduced from 3.9 hectares in 2005-06 to 3.7 hectares in the 2010-11. The deteriorating farm crisis is reflected in the rising number of suicides in Punjab, where such a thing was almost unheard of earlier.

The last Akali-BJP government commissioned three universities to study the instances of farmers’ suicide between 2010 and 2013. The report has not been made public with many accusing the ousted government of holding back the data due to Assembly election.

The same universities had studied farmers’ suicide cases between 2000 and 2010 and put the number of farmers and farm labourers committing suicide during the period at 6,926. More than half of the victims were farmers, 3,954 ended their lives. The average number of farmers committing suicide per year was 692.

Many believe the situation has worsened in recent years. In 2015, cotton crop failure in Malwa belt resulted in a spate of suicide by farmers. The NCRB data put the figure at 124 while the Centre told the Lok Sabha last year that 449 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide in Punjab in 2015.

Rising unemployment

Rising unemployment is another big challenge before Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. The unemployment rate in Punjab stands at 16.6 per cent for young workforce aged between 18 and 29 as against the national average of 10.2 per cent.

Punjab is also among the states having highest rural youth unemployment rate.

According a government report, 18,770 factories were shut down between 2007 and 2014 under the Akali-BJP rule leading to huge loss of employment opportunities. The Congress manifesto in Punjab promised an unemployment allowance of Rs 2,500 per month. But, CM Amarinder Singh will have to find a more feasible solution to the problem of unemployment.


The scale of drug addiction in Punjab can be gauged by the fact that Aam Aadmi Party based its election campaign in Assembly election.

According to the Punjab Opiod Dependence Survey for 2015, there are nearly 2.30 lakh opioid dependent and 8.60 opioid users in the state.

The report says that about 80 per cent of the drug addicts tried to quit but only about 35 per cent of the willing users received professional help from the state government.

The Punjab Opiod Dependence Survey estimated that approximately Rs 7,575 crore is spent on drugs in Punjab every year. The survey also linked the drug use to poverty and unemployment.

Obesity and anaemia

Healthcare infrastructure in Punjab is in shambles. According to a 2014 Princeton University study, unfilled vacancies and absenteeism are the basic problems of Punjab’s public-health facilities.

It found that Punjab has highest average medical expenditure per episode of hospital admission in India. About 83 per cent outdoor and 66 per cent patients are dependent on private healthcare infrastructure.

Besides, Punjab is grappling with a unique problem. It faces the challenges of obesity and anaemia at the same time. Obesity among men is pegged at 27.8 per cent and among women at 31.3 per cent.

Simultaneously, percentage of anaemic men has doubled between 2005 and 2015 from 13.6 per cent to about 26 per cent. In 2005, 38 per cent women were anaemic. Their proportion increased to 53.5 in 2015.

The health ministry data shows that one of four children are having stunted growth in Punjab. The number of underweight children has increased from 9.2 per cent in 2005 to 15.6 in 2015.

Crumbling school infrastructure

Punjab is facing an acute problem of school rising drop-out rate. The average annual drop-out rate at the primary school level has increased 1.3 per cent in 2014-15 to 3.1 per cent in 2015-16.

According to District Information for System Education (DISE) data, 84 per cent of primary-age students were enrolled in primary school in 2015-16.

But, only 51.6 per cent of secondary-age school students were enrolled in secondary school. Over 32 per cent students dropped out at the primary school level.

The Indian Express – No clue so far about two missing Indian clerics: Pakistan

Syed Asif Nizami and his nephew Nazim Nizami went missing after they landed at Karachi airport

Lahore/new Delhi, 17 March 2017. Pakistan Friday said it has no clue so far about the two Indian clerics, including the 80-year-old head priest of New Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, who went missing in the country.

“No clue to the missing Indian priests has been found so far. However, we are pro-actively pursuing this case,” Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria told PTI.

“We have asked all departments concerned to look into the matter,” he said, adding the Foreign Office yesterday received the request of the Indian government to trace the two missing clerics.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today said the Indian government has taken up the matter with Pakistan. “We have taken up this matter with Government of Pakistan and requested them for an update on both the Indian nationals in Pakistan. Both are missing after they landed in Karachi airport,” Swaraj tweeted.

Syed Asif Nizami and his nephew Nazim Nizami went missing after they landed at Karachi airport. Syed Asif Nizami is the head priest of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah. The two had gone to visit the famous Daata Darbar shrine in Lahore and were to catch a flight to Karachi on Wednesday.

The clerics had gone to Karachi to meet their relatives on March 8 before travelling to Lahore to visit the shrine.

A Federal Investigation Agency official at the Lahore airport told PTI that they have no idea about the missing of the two clerics from the airport premises. “It is not clear whether they have gone with someone on their own or there is some other matter,” he said.

A senior Punjab police officer also expressed his department’s ignorance about this matter saying: “Neither we have received any application about the missing Indian priests nor the federal government has asked us to look into this matter”.

Exchanges between clerics of the Nizamuddin Dargah and the Daata Darbar are part of a regular tradition.

No clue so far about two missing Indian clerics: Pakistan

The Tribune – AAP does a U-turn on security, vehicles

Vishav Bharti, Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, 17 March 2017. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seems to have taken a U-turn on its pre-poll promise of “ending the VIP culture”.

When some of the Congress leaders have refused to accept the official car or security, most of the 20 AAP MLAs have accepted the two facilities.

Sources said the matter was discussed in the party’s legislature meeting on Thursday evening. It was decided that the decision of accepting or refusing the official vehicle and security should be left to the MLA.

The AAP legislators’ choice contradicts party’s promise made in its election manifesto. “No AAP MLA, minister, MP or any other senior leader will use vehicles with hooters and red beacon lights,” it read.

The manifesto also said the “VIP culture will be ended by cutting down personal security by 95 per cent”.

Sukhpal Singh Khaira, AAP chief whip, confirmed that most of the party MLAs had accepted security as well as the vehicle. He justified the decision by saying that in light of the law and order situation in Punjab, an MLA could not survive without security.

On official vehicle, he said most of the legislators were economically weaker and did not own cars. “Everybody can’t be like Manpreet Badal,” he said.

Going against the spirit of “aam aadmi” most of the AAP MLAs are reluctant to accept ordinary cars. Instead, they have asked for better ones.

Barnala MLA Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer said he was given a Maruti Gypsy, which he refused to accept. “Gypsy is of no use to me, so I have asked for Toyota Innova,” he said, adding that he received a call from the police for security, but he refused.

The others who refused to accept security include Bhadaur MLA Pirmal Singh and Mehal Kalan MLA Kulwant Singh Pandori. The two, however, have accepted the official vehicle. Pirmal Singh said that since he did not own a car, he had requested for the official vehicle. “I will accept whichever car the government offers,” he said.

Most MLAs accept official car, gunmen

With most of AAP’s 20 MLAs opting for official vehicle and security, their choice contradicts party’s promise made in its election manifesto. Sukhpal Singh Khaira, AAP chief whip, justified the move, citing law and order situation in Punjab. On official vehicle, he says most legislators do not own cars.

Shun VIP culture, Phoolka tells government

Senior AAP leader and Leader of Opposition HS Phoolka on Friday reminded Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh of the Congress’ pre-poll promise of ending the “VIP culture”. “He and his ministers should avoid the use of red beacon atop their official vehicles,” he said.

“People of Punjab suffered because of the ‘VIP culture’ adopted by high-headed SAD-BJP leaders. Now, the time is ripe for the Congress to fulfil its promise,” Phoolka said. The Dakha MLA said no party leader and MLA would have red beacon atop their vehicles and would claim perks necessary to perform their duty.

The Statesman – Two Sufi priests from Delhi go missing in Pakistan

New Delhi, 17 March 2017. Two Sufi priests from the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi have gone missing in Pakistan.

They have been identified as Asif Nizami and Nazim Nizami. The two had gone to Pakistan as part of annual exchanges between Hazrat Nizamuddin and Garib Nawaz who is venerated at Data Darbar Sufi shrine in Lahore.

According to reports, the two priests were last seen together at Data Darbar.

India has taken up the matter with Pakistan, sources here said.

According to official sources in New Delhi, Asif Nizami, the chief priest, and Nazim Nizami were to catch a flight from there to Karachi on Wednesday.

“As per their families, while Asif was allowed to go to Karachi, Nazim was stopped at the Lahore airport on grounds of incomplete travel papers.

“While Nazim went missing from Lahore airport, Asif went missing after arriving at the Karachi airport,” a source said.

The matter has been taken up with the Pakistan Government both in New Delhi as well as through the Indian mission in Islamabad, the source said.