The Tribune – Sutlej Yamuna Link Stir : How the day unfolded, Police’s forceful display foils breach bid

Jupinderjit Singh, Tribune News Service

Shambu-Patiala district-Panjab, 23 Februray 2017. The manual and technical expertise of the Punjab Police was on full display at the Punjab-Haryana border today to prevent INLD activists from reaching the SYL canal.

In contrast, the Haryana Police had far less men. They also fared poorly on the modern equipment front.

The Punjab Police deployment was supervised by a DGP-rank officer, while a DSP-level officer was the in-charge on the Haryana side. INLD activists easily breached the Haryana security rings, but could not cross the Punjab Police barricades.

The specially trained anti-riot police, equipped with body suits that guard against fire, acid and stone missiles; head gear; pellet bullets; and chilli spray, was prepared for any eventuality.

Multi-barrel launchers mounted on Vajra vehicles, drones and a helicopter were used to ensure peace and foil any attempt to breach the barricades.

The helicopter and drones caught the fancy of the media and residents alike as these were used for the first time.

The Punjab Police had drawn flak in the past for not having proper weaponry, modern equipment and permission to use the chopper in several pressing circumstances. Most of the modern equipment was bought after the police faced challenges such as the terror attack at Dinanagar and Pathankot Air Force station.

Learning from the past, the government provided its helicopter to the police for the third day consecutive today. Senior officials used it to survey the border.

On several occasions, the drones were flown over the Ghaggar bridge, from where INLD activists marched towards Punjab. Besides drones, CCTV cameras installed at key points recorded the INLD’s march and police arrangements.

The anti-riot contingent was the first line of defence. It was earlier deployed in Bargari village, where clashes took place over sacrilege incidents. These men have been undergone a minimum 45-day training to handle a riotous mob. They are the “wall” of the police defence.

More than 5,000 men and women drawn from six police districts, besides 10 battalions of the paramilitary force and personnel of reserve battalions were deployed along the border, specially at the Shambu bridge and entry points to Sarala and Kapoori villages.

Under the command of DGP (Law and Order) HS Dhillon, eight commandants of reserve battalions, five SSPs and two IGs remained on their toes the entire day.

Punjab DGP Suresh Arora supervised the entire operation from the headquarters.

The Tribune – No terror threat: Dal Khalsa

Chandigarh, 22 February 2017. The Dal Khalsa has disagreed with PPCC chief Captain Amarinder Singh predicting “the revival of terrorism” over the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal and blamed him for exaggerating the situation.

Dal Khalsa head Harpal Singh Cheema said it was not the SYL issue that had the potential to trigger the revival of armed rebellion, but continued injustice being meted out to Punjab by all organs of the state.

He said INLD leader Abhay Chautala was creating chaos only to revive his political moorings. He alleged that Badals had left the state in this hour of crisis to facilitate the Chautalas to play misadventure.

The Tribune – Seechewal model to be replicated in Bihar

Aparna Banerji, Tribune News Service

Sultanpur Lodhi, 19 February 2017. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar said today that the Seechewal model to use sewage water for irrigation would be replicated across villages in his state.

He said environmentalist Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal’s efforts to restore the flow of the once-choked Kali Bein would also be emulated in the case of the Ganga in Bihar.

Visiting Sultanpur Lodhi with a team of irrigation experts from his state, Nitish said the Centre’s “swachhta” push alone wouldn’t be enough to ensure silt-free flow of the Ganga.

“Silt deposits in the Ganga are a major cause of concern, especially after the construction of a barrage recently,” he added. Nitish is the fourth CM to bat for the Seechewal model.

He has invited the environmentalist for an international conference to be held in Bihar on February 26. Experts will dwell upon the restoration of the Ganga’s flow and water conservation.

The Tribune – ‘Sewa’ volunteers told to carry ID card

G S Paul, Tribune News Service

Amritsar, 17 February 2017. A day after two robbers, who targeted devotees, were arrested in Amritsar, the SGPC has stepped up security at the Golden Temple complex, especially in and around Guru Ram Dass Langar Hall.

The SGPC has issued directions that any devotee who volunteers for ‘sewa’ in the langar hall should possess a valid identity card. The SGPC has also increased the movement of its task force in the shrine complex.

The CIA staff had arrested two miscreants for robbing devotees who had come to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple from Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in Delhi.

The accused were identified as Gurmeet Singh alias Pappu of Delhi, who now stays in Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar here, and Lakhwinder Singh, alias Lucky, of the same locality. Golden Temple manager Sulakhan Singh claimed that the accused were nabbed by the SGPC task force and handed over to the police.

Barring the few who have been regularly serving at the langar hall or its kitchen, no one will be allowed unless he or she produces a valid ID card. The devotee who intends to perform ‘sewa’ will have to mention his or her name in the identification register.

“They will have to deposit their ID card which will be returned when they leave. A team of 10 staffers in plain clothes will keep a vigil on the premises,” he said.

The Tribune – DSGMC Polls: State leaders ready for another battle

Ruchika M Khanna, Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, 15 February 2017. With elections to the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) scheduled for February 28, the three main political parties, the Shiromani Akali Dal, Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, will be putting their might behind different factions trying to take control of the Sikh body in Delhi.

The issues being raised by the three factions in fray supported by these parties as well as a fourth faction headed by former Akal Takht Jathedar Bhai Ranjit Singh and Hazoori Ragi of Harmandr Sahib Baldev Singh Wadala, are almost an echo of the issues raised in Punjab elections.

The desecration of holy books, the support sought from religious deras (against the tenets of Sikhism) and drug taint on certain leaders of the SAD are being played out against them by SAD (Delhi) led by Paramjit Singh Sarna and Panthic Sewa Dal led by AAP Kalkaji MLA Avtar Singh.

On the other hand, the SAD group led by Manjit Singh GK, who incidentally had looked down on the Dera support sought by his party for Punjab elections perhaps fearing its repercussions in Delhi gurdwara poll, is harping on the synchronised religious calendars being introduced by them for the DSGMC, construction of a 1984 Sikh carnage memorial and segregating Sikh religious affairs in Delhi from politics.

The SAD is putting its might behind the 46 candidates it has fielded for the election. All candidates fielded in different wards will be called tomorrow and asked as to who all from Punjab they want for canvassing in their wards.

Though the official line taken by AAP and the Congress is that they are not supporting any religious body, they maintain that their party leaders are free to support any of the candidates. However, it is believed that top Congress leaders will be putting their might behind the group led by former DSGMC president Sarna.

Sarna said though Capt Amarinder had campaigned for him in the last DSGMC election four years ago, “he is expecting that the leader might campaign for him even now, but in his personal capacity”.

The Tribune – Sikh bodies seek support for Samajwadi Party-Congress

Tribune News Service

Lucknow, 13 February 2017. About 25 Sikh organisations have appealed to the community to vote for the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance in the Uttar Pradesh elections.

“In a first, the SP government appointed a Sikh, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, as a Cabinet-rank minister. He is accessible and has resolved many issues of the community,” states the resolution signed by the presidents of 25 gurdwaras and Sikh-controlled institutions. It was handed over to the minister this evening.

“The Sikhs in Canada showed political wisdom in 2015 by voting for the Liberal Party. Of the 16 Sikh MPs there, four became Cabinet ministers. Learning from that experience, we appeal to the Sikhs in UP to vote for the alliance so that the community can uphold its distinct identity and stake a claim to political power,” the resolution said.

According to Ramoowalia, about 35 of the 67 constituencies going to the polls in the second phase on February 15 have a sizeable Sikh population.

The Tribune – Why free flights for babas, leaders, CAG asks state

Vishav Bharti, Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, 9 February 2017. Free flights for “babas” and politicians in helicopters at the exchequer’s cost may cost dear to the Badal government, as the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has written to the Department of Civil Aviation to explain the public interest behind the rides.

Sources said that following the scrutiny of the department’s records, the CAG has noticed that the department utilised the aircraft/helicopters for its VIPs, VVIPS and state-honoured guests from May 1, 2013, to January 31, 2016, without mentioning the purpose of the journey, whether it was in public interest or for personal use.

The CAG said expenditure on flights was Rs 26 crore in around three years, Rs 25 crore on hired helicopters and Rs 1 crore on the state-owned helicopter.

In its communication to the state’s Director, Civil Aviation, the CAG specified to the department that every journey by VVIPs and VIPs of the state government in the public transport should be in the public interest. It also said the utilisation of the aircraft shouldn’t be for personal purpose.

Earlier in its complaint, AAP’s RTI Cell, on which the CAG acted, had alleged that the purpose of flight in the bills as well as in the logbooks of the helicopters had been left blank.

The helicopter made 68 trips to take Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal to their native village Badal in Muktsar district and 43 trips to their farmhouse in Haryana’s Balasar village.

Besides the Badals and other members of their clan, the helicopters ferried national BJP leaders and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living.

The Tribune – Winning party may lose mind over state Budget

Ruchika M Khanna, Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, 7 February 2017. The three main political parties, the Akali-BJP, Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, may have promised the moon to the electorate.

But with the state government having undertaken an exercise to prepare the Budget for the coming fiscal, the first Budget of whichever party wins at the hustings, it is proving that there is almost negligible legroom to fit in the promised “freebies”.

This revelation is getting affirmed as the Finance Department has already started its pre-Budget meetings with various departments. The final Budget will be presented only once the new government takes over. But immediately an interim Budget is likely to be presented in March.

The less than targeted growth in revenue receipts, burgeoning salary and wage bill after nearly 1.50 lakh fresh appointments and fall in revenue expenditure will make it nearly impossible for any of the three parties to implement their election promises.

Official sources told The Tribune that though there had been a growth of almost 21 per cent in the revenue receipts between April and December 2016 as compared to the corresponding period in 2015, it is mainly because of a spike in tax collection post-demonetisation and because of higher devolution of central taxes to Punjab.

The state treasury still has Rs 2,400 crore as pending bills. It is availing ways and means advances and has not paid the amount of power subsidy it should have by the end of three quarters (only Rs 2,829.89 crore of a total of Rs 5,600 crore has been paid).

The state’s own tax and non-tax revenue collection till December 31 was just Rs 22,902.16 crore, as compared to Rs 21,344.47 crore in the same period in 2015, an increase of just 6.7 per cent, against a targeted growth of 11 per cent.

Sources say that though some grey areas will be left (for political announcements of freebies), the state government will have otherwise prepared not just the revised estimates for this year, but also made projections for fund allocation under existing schemes for the next fiscal, by the time the next government takes over.

The Tribune – Dera Row: SGPC to form probe panel

DSGMC wants action against Sikh leaders

GS Paul, Tribune News Service

Amritsar, 5 February 2017. A day after the Akal Takht announced to initiate action against the Sikh leaders who recently sought the support of Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda for the Punjab elections, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) declared that it would form a committee to probe the matter.

SGPC chief Kirpal Singh Badungar said, “As soon as we receive the official communication from the Akal Takht, we will set up a panel to identify the leaders who attended the dera congregation and ascertain their purpose of going there. As per the Akal Takht Jathedar’s directions, action would be taken on the basis of the probe report.”

Meanwhile, the SAD-backed Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) has submitted a complaint with Akal Takht, seeking stern action as per Panthic maryada against the “erring” leaders. “A copy of the complaint has been sent to the SGPC,” said DSGMC chief Manjit Singh GK.

The Akal Takht Jathedar maintained that the 2007 ‘hukumnama’ against dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim was intact, while ruling out the resumption of the sect’s ‘satsang’.

In the run-up to the Assembly elections, SAD leaders of nine constituencies of Bathinda and Mansa had attended a meeting of the dera’s religious wing.

Dal Khalsa chief H S Cheema and spokesperson Kanwar Pal Singh said, “For 72 hours, Giani Gurbachan Singh kept quiet. The moment voting was over, he made an announcement for a probe. This is nothing but an eyewash.”

They observed that the Sikh electorate had already given its verdict against the Akalis for their wrongdoings, including hobnobbing with the Sirsa dera.

The Tribune – Keeping pace with Kejriwal, as race reaches final stretch

Delhi Chief Minister knows his presence is important as Punjab heads to polls, and AAP supremo is not skipping a moment

Kuljit Bains, Tribune News Service

Panjab, 31 January 2017. Getting an interview slot with a star campaigner is never easy, and intercepting him becomes particularly challenging if he addresses more than five rallies a day, as does AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal.

Finally the call comes, and a Tribune team makes a five-hour dash to Bathinda from Chandigarh. It is already dark, and the AAP media team sends us GPS coordinates of the house where Kejriwal is scheduled to take a break before the last rally of the day.

As we follow the little pointer on the phone, the road keeps getting narrower. Is this really where he is going to be? Finally, we spot a small crowd outside a house, neighbourhood kids, cops among them. Soon enough, the guest is welcomed with flowers.

Since there is a rush of people trying to get in with him, the police cut in. As our turn comes, we see a bunch of road-beaten aides, but the subject of our attention is even worse off from his day out on the battlefield.

But “CM Sa’ab” will see us, we are told. Oops! Amidst a bull outside in the street, kids vying for selfies, we had all but forgotten this man is a Chief Minister. That’s when it strikes you, he’s indeed an ‘aam aadmi mukhya mantri’. Around Kejriwal, the aura of power is entirely absent.

The interview is off for the day, but we are promised a ride-cum-talk with him in his car (Innova Crysta) from Moga to Majitha the next morning. It actually turns out good, as we get a chance to hang about the house he stayed in Moga, the one that allegedly is owned by a Khalistan “terrorist”.

On the spot, however, the only excitement we notice is of young enthusiastic fans, who have arrived with small gifts. A young man who modifies old jeeps in Moga for a living has brought along a pen, with which he wants the “future prime minister to script a blissful future for the country”.

As Kejriwal tells us later, he is banking on the “hope that people have seen in AAP”. He is confident their government will be able to create the 25 lakh promised jobs, as they already have a detailed blueprint ready for industry, farming and dairy.

As we drive out, people in the street literally try and pour in through the window, and he knows it matters. The driver is asked to slow down for the last selfies. Out on the highway, the road is flanked by an unending expanse of deep-green wheat fields.

Asked if agriculture will continue to be sustained on subsidies, he cuts to question the very term, if benefits to industry are called ‘incentives’, then why not the same for farming? It has to be viable, he says; either pay more for the produce, or help with inputs, else the country will starve.

Would the Centre cooperate in procurement? The Delhi Chief Minister says there are rules that govern a “full state” such as Punjab. Moreover, if there is any issue, “then we know how to fight for our rights better than Akalis or Congress. Sada haq, ethe rakh”.

Mention of the allegation of “separatists” being among his NRI supporters touches a sudden agitation in the otherwise soft-spoken man with a nagging cough. Perhaps the controversy over the Moga house is bothering him. “How can you call every NRI a terrorist?” he asks.

“This is very dangerous for the country. If there is any particular case, please give us names,” he says. “NRIs are coming to Punjab out of love for the state. And are ready to invest or even do charity for the people back home.”

The cavalcade is headed to Majitha, an area where AAP does not have an upper hand, unlike the Malwa that he is leaving behind. But Majitha is important, for the prime target of the AAP campaign, SAD’s Bikram Majithia, is contesting from there.

It’s SAD and BJP flags all around, but that does not daunt Kejriwal from raising a full-throated “Bole so nihal, Sat Sri Akal” at the end of every village rally.

The crowd that comes to AAP rallies in Majha is largely Dalit and poor, even as in Malwa every other car had AAP posters. Kejriwal is conscious of his aam aadmi base. When the lack of his party’s governance experience is pointed out, he says there are bureaucrats and experts for that.

“What a leader needs is good intention, and a feel for the pain and the pulse of the people. He should not be able to sleep if his people are suffering.”

A noticeable change in the rallies is the lack of topis. There are yellow turbans instead. Is this the effect of Sukhbir Badal and Captain Amarinder Singh calling AAP topiwallas? Not at all, says Kejriwal, “this is just them targeting what little they can, including my sandals and red sweater”.

So why do his political opponents see red in everything AAP? “Because we have offered a disillusioned people a politics of hope.”