The Indian Express – A week into new fiscal, Punjab government unable to pay salaries to its staff

Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal said the salaries are usually delayed in April due to closing of last fiscal.

Kanchan Vasdev

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 07 April 2018. A few days after the Punjab government paid Rs 950 crore to the Centre to square off its Cash Credit Limit (CCL) account, it is unable to pay salaries to its employees even after a week since the new fiscal began.

The state had to deposit the amount with the Centre at the onset of the new fiscal to get the CCL advance of Rs 22,000 crore for making payments to farmers for wheat procurement. This has caused a delay in disbursement salaries to its employees.

The delay has caused resentment among employees, who point out that this was the wheat purchase season and school admission season. They were helpless on these two counts as salaries have been delayed. This is for the fourth time in the 13-month long rule of Congress in Punjab that salaries have been delayed.

The employees have decided to boycott the work on April 10 in protest against the delay. Darshan Singh Lubana, an office-bearer of the Punjab employees union said the employees in the state civil secretariat in Chandigarh and in Chief Minister’s hometown, Patiala, would mark their presence in their offices on April 10 and after that stage a walk out of their offices to protest.

The employees said they were hoping that the salaries would be disbursed on Friday but it did not happen. On the other hand, the state has yet not received the CCL advance from the Centre even after depositing the money.

The finance department that paid the amount to the Centre has to get the money from food and civil supplies department that is already grappling with missing paddy scam in Amritsar.

Already, the state had a challenging month in March. It had a pending bill worth RS 6600 crore. Also, it had to pay Rs 3,500 crore towards debt-servicing in March. It was somehow able to get GST compensation and pay salaries to employees in March.

Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal said the salaries are usually delayed in April due to closing of last fiscal. “There were holidays followed by a bandh. We will disburse the salaries on Monday,” he said.

A week into new fiscal, Punjab government unable to pay salaries to its staff


The Statesman – Iraq deaths: Signs of Sikhism helped identify Indians in mass grave

Ranjeet Jamwal

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 2 April 2018. Locating the mortal remains of 39 Indians killed in Iraq by the Islamic State terrorists was a Herculean task as staying in Mosul, which remained an ISIS stronghold for long, was still a risky affair due to explosives planted even inside the houses by the terrorist organisation (ISIS).

The city was declared free of ISIS only in December 2017.

Addressing a press conference in Amritsar after bringing the mortal remains of 38 men from Iraq through a special plane at Amritsar, the minister of state for external affairs, General (retired) VK Singh said after the Iraq Army re-captured several ISIS strongholds last year, he first went to the country in search of these 39 men in July 2017. But as the security situation was still not good there, he returned and went to Iraq in October again.

Stepping up the efforts to find out the missing Indians, General Singh then located the private company that had employed all 39 missing Indians. A man who used to provide food to these Indians was also located. A campaign was also launched through local TV and radio for getting information from the public about the missing Indians.

Based on the information received from various sources, Indian government found information about a mass grave in Badush, a village northwest of Mosul in Iraq. “We went to Badush with the Iraqi army and found a big heap of soil there. Anyone could make out that it was far from a natural formation.

When it was dug in the presence of Indian ambassador, human remains were found there.”

“We found long hair and karas (a steel or iron bracelet) there. From it, we could make out that those buried there could be Indians,” General Singh said. Twenty-seven of the 39 missing Indian were from Punjab and many of them were Sikhs. Articles of Sikh faith came handy to establish that they were Indians.

The minister said following this, the bodies were exhumed for DNA testing which confirmed the identity of 38 of 39 missing Indians. In one case, DNA has matched only about 70 per cent, so his body has not been brought to India.

On the cause of death, Gen Singh said forensic experts have said that some of 39 Indian died of bullet injuries. “But bullet injuries are not the same about everyone and even forensic experts are not sure about the cause of death of some others. Their bones are broken, it is difficult to say if they were slaughtered or what was the cause of their death,” he said.

Compensation not like distributing biscuits: V K Singh

Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh courted a controversy by saying that “distributing compensation was not like distributing biscuits”. He was replying to a question from the Press regarding announcing compensation to the families of the victims.

The Asian Age – Panjab: Dalit groups strike, government suspends transport, mobile internet

The order to suspend mobile internet services has been taken to prevent spread of misinformation and rumours through social media platforms.

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 01 April 2018. Several Dalit organisations have called for a ‘bandh’ on Monday expressing concerns over the alleged “dilution” of SCs/STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act following which the Punjab government has ordered the suspension of bus services and mobile internet services.

In view of the Bharat Bandh call on April 2, the Punjab government has decided to suspend the services of public transport across the state, an official spokesperson said in Chandigarh.

The PRTC, Punjab Roadways and PunBus buses would not ply on roads and the services of these buses would remain suspended on Monday, he said.

The state government also ordered suspension of services on mobile internet (2G/3G,4G/DCMA), besides all SMS services and dongle services provided on mobile networks except voice calls from 5 pm on Sunday until 11 pm on Monday, the official said.

The order to suspend mobile internet services has been taken to prevent spread of misinformation, rumours, through social media platforms and to prevent any disturbance of peace and public order in Punjab, Secretary (Home) Rahul Tiwari said.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh appealed to the people of the state, especially the members of the scheduled castes community, to maintain restraint and maintain law and order in the larger public interest.

“The government respects the sentiments of all people and their rights to express their views in a legitimate and peaceful manner, nothing should be done to endanger the hard earned atmosphere of peace and communal harmony in the state,” Singh said in a statement earlier.

The chief minister said the Punjab government was already committed for the welfare of Scheduled Castes, “which was evident from the fact that the Punjab Vidhan Sabha unanimously adopted a resolution to express solidarity with our SC brethren during its recently concluded budget session seeking the NDA Government’s intervention to legally pursue the case in which a Supreme Court verdict had diluted provisions of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act”.

Singh further urged the SC Community and different associations to maintain peace, harmony and amity during the ‘bandh’.

The Supreme Court on March 20 diluted the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, in a bid to protect honest public servants discharging bona fide duties from being blackmailed with false cases under the Act.

The apex court said government servants should not be arrested without prior sanction and private citizens too should be arrested only after an inquiry under the law.

But Dalit organisations, including the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, and some political parties fear the dilution of the provisions might lead to increase in violence against Dalits.

The Asian Age – Kejriwal apology: AAP’s troubles far from over

Bhagwant Mann resigned as its Punjab unit chief on March 17 in protest against Kejriwal’s apology to Bikram Singh Majithia in a defamation case. AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal has averted a split in the party’s Punjab unit, for now, but it is not going to be easy for him to prevent its disgruntled MLAs in the state from breaking away or joining other parties.

Tanveer Thakur

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 26 Mar 2018. The AAP in Punjab in the throes of a crisis with its state unit chief and MP Bhagwant Mann resigning in protest against the apology by the AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal to former Punjab minister and Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia, who had filed a defamation case against the Delhi chief minister for charging him of being involved in drug trade.

The new outfit is almost vertically split in the state where it made its Assembly debut by winning 20 seats last March. Punjab is the only state, other than Delhi, where the new outfit has legislators but the latest crisis in the party is threatening to dent its image in the Congress-ruled state.

Mr Kejriwal’s apology to Mr Majithia, which came without consulting the state unit, had caused huge embarrassment to party MLAs and workers in Punjab as it reflected a step down from the earlier stand taken by the AAP on the drugs menace getting political patronage in the state.

Although some of the AAP MLAs went to Delhi for a meeting with Mr Kejriwal on March 18 for understanding the reasons why he went ahead with his apology to the Akali leader, there were others who refused to listen to the AAP convenor’s excuse.

Mr Kejriwal has claimed that he has averted a split within the Punjab unit after explaining his position to the legislators during a meeting with them last week.

But the crisis does not seem to be over completely as some party voices are still pitching for detachment from the Delhi-controlled set up. Others are saying to wait and watch.

MLA from Kotkapura Kultar Singh Sandhwan opened the front against Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly and his party colleague Sukhpal Singh Khaira for what he termed as an attempt to split the party by putting pressure on the legislators and bringing a resolution in a meeting in Chandigarh.

Mr Sandhwan said that the AAP should take action against Mr Khaira who violated the party’s code of discipline by making attempts to create a new outfit.

He lashed out at Mr Khaira and other MLAs claiming that they won election in the name of the party’s national convener Arvind Kejriwal but were not trying to challenge his authority.

If Mr Khaira wants to create a new party, he must vacate the MLA’s seat and fight elections, said Mr Sandhwan.

“We attended the meeting at New Delhi on March 18 because we wanted to know under what circumstances Mr Kejriwal apologised to Mr Majithia in the defamation case,” said Mr Sandhwan, who went Delhi to attend the party meeting.

The Congress was quick to take a dig at Mr Kejriwal for his apology. Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu described Kejriwal’s apology a “murder of AAP in Punjab”.

“It is a let down to the people of Punjab. I feel Kejriwal has murdered AAP in Punjab. It is as if their existence has been wiped off. With what face will they speak against drugs in Punjab now?” asked the Congress leader.

After 10 MLAs met Mr Kejriwal in Delhi, Mr Khaira backed down and said he was open to meeting the Delhi leadership. However, he has insisted that the meeting should take place in Chandigarh.

“There is no problem in meeting, we are in the same party. There is no ego involved in this. But we would still want that they (Delhi leaders) come down here. We have had several meetings in Delhi and this time it can be here,” he said.

As the controversy continues, some AAP leaders like Harvinder Singh Phoolka are trying to find a middle path and trying to avoid a spit in the party.

Mr Phoolka has asked party MLAs in Punjab to seek “autonomy” for the state unit rather than forming a separate outfit in the best interests of the state.

Giving his views for the first time after party Mr Kejriwal’s apology to Mr Majithia on drug allegations, which pushed the state unit into a crisis, the former Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly and Dakha MLA also suggested that the state unit should function like a regional party with total independence on state matters.

The Hindu – Punjab budget focuses on getting additional resources

Budget pegged at Rs 1,29,698 crore; government proposes new tax for salaried class

Vikas Vasudeva

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 25 March 2018. Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal on Saturday presented budget proposals for 2018-19, pegged at Rs 1,29,698 crore, emphasising that the State government was adopting a prudent fiscal road map with its focus on mobilising additional resources to put the economy back on track.

Presenting his second budget, Mr Badal proposed to raise Rs 1,500 crore through additional resource mobilisation measures.

“The government has decided to bring in a legislation for imposing a nominal development tax of Rs 200 per month only on the income tax payees who are engaged in professions, trades, callings and employments,” he said, adding that this move would help in getting loans at cheaper interest rates from organisations such as Asian Development Bank.

He added that many States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have been collecting such tax for development for a long time.

“The State also intends to bring a new social security legislation to create a dedicated fund to meet its commitment towards the weaker sections of society,” he said.

Mr Badal pointed out that in the last one year the State has reduce the number of days for which the treasury remained in overdraft from 179 in 2016-17 to 98 days in 2017-18, thereby reducing the interest liability on this count on the State by about Rs 5 crore.

“The State had remained in double overdraft for 29 days in 2016-17. We hope to close 2017-18 without going into double overdraft even for a single day,” he added.

While the total budget size was kept at Rs 1,29,698 crore, the effective size is Rs 1,02,198 crore, as the above figure contains a provision of Rs 27,500 crore towards ‘ways and means’ transactions for the current year.

The total receipts are expected to be Rs 1,22,923 crore. The total outstanding debt of the State as of March 31, 2018, is Rs 1,95,978 crore, which is likely to rise and touch Rs 2,11,523 crore in 2018-19.

Mr Badal has proposed to allocate a sum of Rs 4,250 crore during 2018-19 for the implementation of the debt waiver scheme.

The government has also decided to give free sanitary napkins to all girl students from Class VI to XII in all government schools. A sum of Rs 10 crore has been earmarked for this purpose. Besides, to provide free textbooks to students from Classes I-XII in government schools, a provision of Rs 49 crore has been made.

Amid the budget speech, the Opposition parties, Shiromani Akali Dal and Aam Aadmi Party, shouted slogans, accusing the Congress government of backtracking on its promise of complete farm loan waiver, and walked out of the House.

Former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal dismissed the budget terming it “directionless, meaningless and devoid of vision”.

“It documents the government’s betrayal of the farmers, the Dalits and the poor, the youth, the employees and the helpless senior citizens,” he said.

The Tribune – Congress, Akali MLAs clash over relief to Iraq victims’ families

Akali MLAs protest in the Vidhan Sabha on Thursday

Rajmeet Singh, Tribune News Service

Chandigarh – Panjab -India, 22 March 2018. A demand during the Zero Hour by Leader of Opposition Sukhpal Khaira, seeking adequate compensation for the aggrieved families of the Punjabis killed in Iraq, led to heated arguments between the Congress men and the Akalis even as Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh promised relief as per norms.

The dramatic situation eased with a half-an-hour adjournment. While Congress MLAs said it was the duty of the BJP-led NDA government to compensate the families, the Akalis accused the Congress of politicising the tragedy.

The atmosphere got charged up when Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu used hard-hitting words against Bikram Majthia associating him with drug trade.

Congress’ Rana Sodhi and Kushaldeep Dhillon suggested that all MLAs, cutting across party lines, should approach the Centre to seek Rs 1 crore compensation and a job for each of the families.

Captain Amarinder backed the demand, saying that the Centre should chip in since the tragedy took place overseas.

The CM said he had ordered the release of Rs 20,000 monthly pension to the bereaved families for February and March, waiving the condition of quarterly payouts. The deputy commissioners had been told to disburse the amount immediately.

Dismissing Majithia’s claim that the families had not been paid for six months, Amarinder said payment had been made till January.

The CM said he was in touch with the External Affairs Minister and had been told that the bodies of the ill-fated Punjabis would land at Amritsar airport once the requisite formalities were completed by the Mosul authorities in Iraq.

Sidhu-Majithia spat

During arguments between Congress and SAD MLAs, minister Navjot Singh Sidhu used hard-hitting words against Bikram Majthia, associating him with drug trade. Both got involved in a verbal spat even as the Speaker tried to calm them down. Khaira, too, jumped in when Majithia accused him of siding with the Congress on the Iraq issue.

The Indian Express – Panjab: Speaker orders probe into Bains live-streaming of House proceedings

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 23 March 2018. The inquiry into the issue was demanded by Technical Education Minister Charanjit Singh Channi after Chief Minister and Leader of the house Amarinder Singh raised the matter in the Assembly and sought Speaker’s intervention.

A day after Lok Insaf Party (LIP) chief Simarjit Singh Bains live-streamed the House proceedings of the ongoing budget session, Punjab Speaker Rana Kanwarpal Singh Thursday ordered a probe into the event and asked the members to switch off their phones at the time of entering the Assembly.

The inquiry into the issue was demanded by Technical Education Minister Charanjit Singh Channi after Chief Minister and Leader of the house Amarinder Singh raised the matter in the Assembly and sought Speaker’s intervention.

Without naming Bains, the CM raised the issue and expressed concern that the rules of the House were given a go by some opposition leaders.

Leader of Opposition Sukhpal Khaira raised the issue that Channi had himself live-streamed on social media when he was the LoP during SAD-BJP rule. The CM, however, said that it was a serious matter. He urged the Speaker to direct all members to strictly follow the rules and maintain dignity of the house.

Amarinder said it had come to his notice from the newspapers. Speaker reminded the members of rule number 90 of Assembly Conduct Rules that provides for switching off cell phones of members before entering the House.

Punjab: Speaker orders probe into Bains live-streaming of House proceedings

The Statesman – Iraq deaths: A ‘foreign job’ that brought more than death to families

Most of the victims belonged to the lower middle class of society

Ranjeet Jamwal

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 21 March 2018. Having spent lakhs of rupees for a “foreign job”, family members of Punjab men killed by ISIS in Mosul city of Iraq are facing a bleak future with the main breadwinners of the families gone.

The family of Surjit Mainka, a resident of Churuwali village in Jalandhar, said they had spent Rs 4.5 lakh for sending the 35-year-old to Iraq.

“We go abroad to earn money. So, we didn’t mind borrowing money for sending him (Surjit) to Iraq. As a labourer, he worked there at a company for 10 months before being captured by the ISIS in June 2014. Now, not only have we lost Surjit, but the amount borrowed for him has also gone up to about Rs. 9 lakh.

We really don’t know how to return this money now,” Surjit’s wife Manjit Kaur (36), told The Statesman over the phone.

She said her husband had little apprehension of the tragic end even as the atmosphere was tense in Iraq at that time since the rise of the ISIS. “His employers didn’t give the passports back to let him come back and asked the staff to stay indoors to avoid any mishap. But then one day ISIS kidnapped all of them,” she added.

Family members of another victim, Rakesh, a resident of Qadian in Gurdaspur, had spent over Rs 2 lakh for sending their only son abroad. “He used to work as a construction worker there and earn about Rs 20 thousand a month.

Four months were all he worked before his abduction. I am also a daily wage and we have no land. So, Rs 2 lakh is a big amount for me and I don’t know how will I manage life after this,” said a family member of Rakesh.

Most of the victims’ family members said they were in touch with them until about 15 June 2014 when things took an ugly turn. The father of Parvinder Kumar, Jeet Ram, a resident of Jagatpur village in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar district, said his son was promised good work in Mosul.

“He used to work as a welder and we paid Rs 2 lakh to an agent in Hoshiarpur for arranging work visa in Iraq. Initially, he was forced to work as a domestic servant and then sent to Mosul to work in a company,” he said.

Most of the family members of those killed by ISIS in Iraq have been contacted by the district administrations concerned and told to be ready to collect their mortal remains in Amritsar.

The Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had informed the Parliament on Tuesday that all 39 Indians who went missing in the war-torn Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014 are dead. As many as 24 of these men are from Punjab where foreign jobs are a craze.

The Tribune – AAP, LIP legislators walk out of Governor’s Address

Rajmeet Singh, Tribune News service

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 20 March 2018. Fourteen of the 20 AAP MLAs, led by Leader of the Opposition Sukhpal Khaira, on Tuesday staged a walkout from the House over the Congress government’s “failure” to check the drug menace.

Lok Insaaf Party legislators Simarjit Singh Bains and Balwinder Bains joined the AAP leaders in walking out during Governor’s Address, but returned later. AAP MLAs Amarjit Singh Sandoa and Kultar Singh Sandhwan remained seated, while four others were absent.

Governor V P Singh Badnore listed the pre-poll promises being fulfilled by the state government, even as the SAD-BJP MLAs skipped the proceedings on the opening day of the Budget session.

In his address, Badnore said: “The government is seriously concerned about the problems of its employees and pensioners. It has decided to clear their pending dues on priority and evolve an appropriate mechanism to resolve their genuine grievances”.

Among the government’s achievements, he mentioned busting of eight terror modules involved in sectarian killings, timely lifting of rabi and kharif crops, setting up of the Special Task Force (STF) to tackle drug addiction, submitting of interim reports by the Justice Mehtab Singh (retd) Commission of Inquiry probing false cases, launch of the farm debt relief scheme, and formation of the Justice Ranjit Singh (retd) Commission of Inquiry to look into sacrilege cases.

A passing reference was made to the directions issued to Deputy Commissioners and other officers to ensure no cartelisation or favouritism. However, the speech did not mention the steps being taken to rein in the mafia in various trades, including cable network, transport and sand mining.

He said: “The state is seriously concerned about illegitimate demands and averments of our neighbouring states. All possible measures would be taken to protect the river waters of Punjab”.

He also talked about reforms in the education sector, efforts to simplify payments for social welfare schemes, the new culture policy, the new industrial and business policy, and mega placement drives.

The Times of India – UK gets first centre for Sikh and Panjabi studies

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 19 March 2018. The University of Wolverhampton launched a new Centre for Sikh and Panjabi Studies last week, which will be the first of its kind in the UK.

The Centre will offer PhD and master’s level courses in Sikh studies, as well as continuing professional development (CPD) courses for teachers and managers of diverse workforces such as national and local government, the NHS and the emergency services on Sikh religious literacy.

This will also be the first academically-backed Granthi (priest*) and Giani (scholar in scriptures) training centre in the UK. “There’s a particular issue here in the UK with youngsters as well as their parents’ generation to some extent, that they just can’t really relate to the Bani (Sikh scriptures) due to lack of language and understanding.
Priests* and scholars residing in the UK will work together with those who will be invited to visit from India. Effective communication with youngsters and training in critical analysis of the scriptures will be main focus of the centre’s training programme,” says the director of the centre, Dr Opinderjit Kaur Thakhar. The centre is in talks with gurdwaras in Delhi and Punjab.

It is fitting that the University of Wolverhampton has taken the lead, given that Sikhs comprise nearly 10% of the city’s quarter million population, the second highest concentration of Sikhs in the UK, along with the fact that Punjabi is the second most spoken language in the city.

Brought into existence by the singular efforts of Dr Takhar, a Sikh studies expert at the university, on the back of a conversation she had a year ago with the university’s vice-chancellor, she says the centre has been awaited by the community for nearly 10-15 years.

More like 50 years, says Dr Sujinder Sangha, another Sikh academician who says plans to provide education with a Sikhism context from “playgroup to PhD” were laid as early as the late 60s, but before anything concrete could be created, events back home in Punjab, running up to 1984 distracted people and derailed the project.

Now there are Sikh schools providing primary and secondary education and finally the centre will fulfil the “PhD” part of the original dream.

Dr Takhar’s ambition for the evolution of the centre includes an open access peer-reviewed scholarly journal, an annual Sikh Studies research conference, a public lecture series and research-informed exhibitions.

She hopes to create links with academic institutions across the globe, including India, and names Punjabi University in Patiala, Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, Panjab University in Chandigarh and Guru Teg Bahadur Khlasa College affiliated to Delhi University as being on board for exchange programmes and joint research projects.

The centre is a cross-faculty initiative and is linked to almost every department or school in the Wolverhampton University.

The centre will work with the business school around Sikh role models in entrepreneurship, leadership and politics department to look at historical and current involvement of Sikhs in politics, the sociology department to look at Sikh women empowerment and the law school to examine if the law is congnisant of the Sikh way of life, in order to safeguard it.

The funds for the centre are solicited through donations, and the likes of the Sikh Channel have pledged monetary support, along with other Sikh philanthropists who Thakhar won’t name.

The Indian consulate in Birmingham has extended full support to the centre and acting consulgeneral of India S M Chakraborty addressed the audience at the launch of the centre in the absence of the consul-general Aman Puri.

*There are no priests in Sikhi ! If you talk about Granthis and Gianis, the Granthis are almost like pujaris, the performers of rituals. But the real meaning of course is he/she who reads from the Granth/sings from the Granth or explains the Granth.