The Tribune – Need six months to set things right: Soni

Tribune News Service

Jalandhar – Panjab – India, 23 May 2018. Environment Minister O P Soni on Wednesday admitted that the water pollution problem in Punjab is grave. The minister, who visited the dera of environmentalist Balbir S Seechewal at Shahkot, tried to get away with any query related to the ecological disaster post discharge from Chadha Sugars.

He said: “We will narrate before the tribunal how it happened and what action has been taken by the government. We have got a report on the case from the inquiry committee.” The minister agreed that the water pollution affected villages of Shahkot and surrounding areas, which as cancer prone.

“I joined this department hardly a month back. Give me just six months to set things right. We will get all mills checked and punish the offenders”.

Soni was accompanied by PPCB chairman Kahan Singh Pannu, who said: “We acted swiftly and issued a show-cause notice to the company. Representatives of the company will appear before the board.” He said: “Though there has been a huge loss, we have tried our level best to ensure that drinking water is not contaminated”.


The Tribune – Dalit youth beaten to death for opposing liquor sale

Our Correspondent

Abohar – Panjab – India, 21 May 2018. A Dalit youth was allegedly beaten to death and his hands crushed on Sunday night for opposing open sale of liquor in Mirzewala Mer village near Hanumangarh.

Jan Kranti Morcha convener Pooja Chhabra said she had informed Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria about the incident. “Kataria has assured suitable action against the accused. I will meet him on Tuesday,” she said.

Security has been beefed up with the Station House Officers from six police stations and around 100 other police personnel camping in the area.

In the FIR lodged at 3 am on Monday, Hakim Nayak, brother of the deceased, alleged that a dozen jeep-borne persons had barged into the house of Mohinder Nayak, 33, at 8 pm on Sunday and started beating him up as he had opposed the sale of liquor on the village streets. When his wife Suman intervened, she was also reportedly attacked.

The miscreants had allegedly dragged Mohinder out of the house and thrashed him to death. Before leaving, they allegedly ran the vehicle over his hands. Some of the accused were identified as Dholu Bhadoo, his brother Naresh Bhadoo, Bhim Jakhar and Sonu.

Villagers alleged that they carried lathis, iron rods and a pistol. Mohinder’s relatives and other villagers sat around his body and refused a post-mortem till the accused were arrested.

Zila Parishad ex-vice chairperson Shabnam Godara, BJP Mahila Morcha district president Gulab Sinwar, CPM leader Jagjit Jaggi, Dalip Birat of the Bahujan Samaj Party and some other senior activists reached the village to express solidarity with Mohinder’s family.

The Tribune – Government will render justice to 1984 riot victims, says BJP leader in USA

Washington DC – USA, 20 May 2018. The BJP-led NDA government has taken steps and “will do its best” to render justice to each and every family that has suffered from the grave injustice perpetrated against them during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, a senior BJP leader has said.

“I stand before you to assure the community that we will do our best to render justice to each and every family that has suffered during those unfortunate years,” BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said amidst applause from the few hundred Sikh Americans who had gathered in a Maryland suburb of Washington DC to celebrate Vaisakhi.

He said the NDA government has decided to go to any extent to punish the guilty in the crimes that were perpetrated against the Sikh community during 1984 riots.

Justice Dhingra Commission is actively looking into 186 serious cases of crime against the Sikh community in 1984, he added. A number of FIRs have been filed again.

“In fact, arrest warrants have been issued against the leaders who were in the forefront of this whole crime against the community,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a special message said that observing the Vaisakhi festival abroad is a glowing sign of the traditions and the values that the Sikh community continues to cherish.

“We are proud of the achievements of the Sikh community in North America, which has contributed significantly to the growth and prosperity in its adopted home. It is commendable that the community has also preserved its traditions and ethos, and is a living bridge with India,” he said.

Madhav also said that Indian-Americans are playing a pivotal role in building India’s strategic ties with the US.

“We are not just political, strategic allies, we are natural allies because we are two people who share a very strong bond between us,” he said.

“People of Indian origin who live in this country are an important pivot of this relationship. We value your contribution to strengthen this relationship,” he said.

The Tribune – Political leaders were on target of terror module, claims probe

Balwant Garg, Tribune News Service

Faridkot – Panjab – India, 18 May 2018. A week after the arrest of two members of a terror module in Faridkot, their interrogation has revealed that they were “planning to kill” some political leaders and those who were allegedly involved in desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib.

Sandeep Singh (26) of Bangi Nihal Singh village in Bathinda and Amar Singh (48) from Chatha village in Sirsa district of Haryana, believed to be members of Khalistan Zindabad, a subgroup of a terror module, were arrested on May 10 from the Faridkot-Kotkapura road.

Police investigation revealed that both belonged to poor families and they were “incited to take revenge” by showing gruesome and horrific pictures of 1984 riots on a Facebook page in the name of “Gabbar”, a pseudonym, from Germany.

“Gabbar” was funding both Sandeep and Amar and they were promised Rs 1 lakh per killing, said sources in investigation teams.

They claimed the RSS and Shiv Sena were the main targets of this terror module. Investigation agencies have managed to get the names of some leaders of these groups in Moga and Jalandhar districts who were on this list. A woman in the area who was arrested by the police for the alleged theft of a “Bir” in Muktsar some time back was another target.

The police have seized two pistols and 40 cartridges from them. The pistols are China-made and the cartridges are believed to be made in Pakistan, says a police officer.

Both were in constant touch with Australia-based Gurjant Singh Khalsa, who runs the International Sikh Federation, through social media and were using encrypted VoIP calls. In these encrypted calls made to Canada, Australia, German and Qatar countries, pistol, cartridges and killings were discussed with coded names.

The police are taking the help of Interpol to investigate in foreign countries, said insiders.

The Tribune – Two young victims of ‘honour killing’

Tarn Taran – Panjab – India, 14 May 2018. In a suspected case of honour killing, a young couple, both in their 20s and in a relationship for the past one month, were allegedly killed by the girl’s family members in Khemkaran area of Tarn Taran early on Monday morning.

The victims have been identified as Husanpreet Singh and Ramandeep Kaur. The bodies have been sent for post-mortem.

Tarn Taran police chief Darshan Singh Mann said eight members of Ramandeep’s family have been booked under Sections 302 (murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender), 364 (kidnapping in order to murder), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon) and 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object) of the IPC.

He said Ramandeep’s father Jassa Singh, mother Manjit Kaur, paternal uncle Harpal Singh and his wife Manpreet Kaur had been arrested and those on the run were Sher Singh, Akash, Ghulla and Rana.

Husanpreet had allegedly gone to Ramandeep’s house around midnight. However, around 3.30 am, Ramandeep’s family woke up and allegedly attacked the duo with sharp-edged weapons, killing them on the spot.

Later, they disposed of Husanpreet’s body in a sewerage chamber. When Husanpreet did not return home, his family approached Ramandeep’s family, who did not allow them to enter their house. They got suspicious and informed the police.

Mann said the duty magistrate was called on the spot and the bodies were recovered in his presence. Ramandeep’s body was wrapped in a quilt and hidden in a box, whereas Husanpreet’s body was recovered from a sewerage chamber outside the house.

The people involved might be of Sikh background, but they are not Sikhs, as they do not practice Guru’s teachings.
Man in Blue

The Tribune – Ropar farmer on way to prosperity, with herbs

Arun Sharma, Tribune News Service

Ropar – Panjab – India, 14 May 2018. This Dakala village farmer is an inspiration for many. Narinder Singh, who owns just 2.5 acres, has an annual turnover of Rs 3 crore. He grows medicinal herbs and has set up a small-scale industry.

The farmer-cum-industrialist is also manufacturing herbal cosmetics as well as health drinks.

Narrating his success story, Narinder said it was 12 years ago when some acquaintance sold him a bottle of imported aloe vera juice for Rs 1,000. “There was an aloe vera plant at my house, which my father used for curing various ailments,” he said. When he gave Rs 1,000 for a bottle, he thought of starting his own business.

He got 25 acres on lease in and around the village and visited many farm universities, including the ones in Ludhiana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, to learn a few techniques. In 2007, Punjab Ayurvedic Department Director Rakesh Sharma noticed his efforts and advised him to grow herbs and manufacture products.

“I had no money for the start-up, but with the help of Sharma, I prepared a paste/powder of herbs,” he said.

Things fell in place and soon he was joined by his son Kultar Singh, a mechanical engineer, who left his job at a private engineering college two years ago. Now, one of his daughters and daughter-in-law are also looking after the production units, said Narinder.

With a substantial increase in the income, modern technology was introduced in the manufacturing unit and now the company is producing dozens of products, including aloe vera juice, liver tonic, herbal toothpaste, shampoo, soap, hair oil, handwash and other juices.

“Our toothpaste is being used by Air India and now our business has become international,” he claimed.

The Tribune – Assault case: Jathedar in dilemma over action

Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 11 May 2018. Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh is caught in a difficult situation on the issue of attack on Bhai Amrik Singh Chandigarh at Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southhall (UK), on May 8.

The SGPC, the SAD (Delhi) and the Panthic Talmel Sangathan have shown solidarity with Bhai Amrik Singh and sought action against the gurdwara management. The Damdami Taksal, on the other hand, has sought action against the Sikh preacher for allegedly distorting “gurbani”.

A delegation of Damdami Taksal Jatha (Bhindranwale Mehta) approached Akal Takht to demand action against Bhai Amrik Singh.

A day after the UK gurdwara incident, SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal had condemned it. He had stated that any kind of ideological difference could be sorted out with debate and discussion.

The Tribune – Punjab minister Navjot Sidhu escapes bull attack outside Amritsar temple

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 10 May 2018. Punjab Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu had a narrow escape when a stray bull attacked a group of people standing with him outside a temple here on Wednesday, police said.

The minister had gone to inspect the ongoing beautification project at Durgiana temple here when the incident occurred.

He was chatting with some media-persons when the stray bull attacked them, the police said, adding that Sidhu was unhurt while two media-persons got minor injuries. (PTI)

The Tribune – Peddlers going back to trade frustrate police efforts

Number of cases far higher than people in drug trade, police yet to compile figures

Rachna Khaira

Jalandhar – Panjab – India, 08 May 2018. The number of arrests under the NDPS Act has been consistently high for the past couple of years, average of around 35 per day, however, that may not signify much success as most of them are repeat offenders, because of which peddling has persisted despite the massive police drive.

The number of actual peddlers would thus be much lower when compared to the number of arrests since the formation of the anti-drug Special Task Force (STF) in the state.

STF chief and ADGP Harpreet Sidhu, admitting the fact, said data needed to be compiled to establish the actual number of peddlers getting arrested repeatedly. “We have thus far succeeded in blocking the supply lines to Punjab, and are now beginning analytical investigation of the cases,” he said.

Experts feel that along with nabbing peddlers, the STF should also have a separate wing to plan rehabilitation projects for those arrested under the NDPS Act so as to keep them from going back to the trade once they come out on bail.

How a lot of the police effort goes waste in carrying on a struggle with the same set of peddlers was revealed in The Tribune’s interaction with three peddlers.

Family circumstances

It was after much persuasion that 23-year-old Mohinder (name changed) agreed to meet this correspondent on the outskirts of his village in Kapurthala. He was arrested last year for carrying narcotics, and was released on bail recently.

How did he get into drugs? “Six years ago, my father, the sole earning member in the family, died in an accident. I was only 16 at the time. Despite efforts, I could not find a job to support my four sisters and grandparents. Under stress, I took my first ‘shot’,” Mohinder said. He has been arrested twice under the NDPS Act since.

He bought his first shot of morphine for Rs 600. “My neighbor had bought it for Rs 60 from Saharanpur. Seeing the profit, I too joined him in this lucrative business,” Mohinder claimed.

Initially, he bought around 2,000 injections for Rs 60 each, and sold those for Rs 500 to Rs 600 in Punjab. Later, he even called for consignments of up to Rs 2 lakh, and sold those to bigger players in the state.

Interestingly, he claimed that the police till date were not aware of the “mega deals” struck by him, and had been arresting him only for possession of small quantities of “intoxicant powder”.

Supply from UP

Thirty-four-year-old Bharat (name changed) is into peddling for the past 10 years. Despite repeated arrests, he has not given up the trade. He came out on bail recently.

During a meeting in Kartarpur, he said, “I am just a small fish. The chain is alive across the country, with the nerve centre in Uttar Pradesh. Over 80 per cent of the drugs consumed in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh are being supplied from UP.”

Bharat said the majority of the drugs sold by them are injections and medicines such as Alprax tablets, Spasmo Proxyvon and Tramadol.

“Bhagwanpur and Kaliyar villages in Uttar Pradesh are the hub for the supply of drugs to Punjab. You can ask for any quantity from a small bag to truckloads,” Bharat said.

And how does he receive the consignments? “Peddlers like us strike the deal on the road. I do it in Bhagwanpur. Each time we are met by a different face, on a different vehicle (mostly two-wheeler). The deal is always done in cash,” Bharat said.

He even claimed that he had informed the local police of the modus operandi during interrogation, but there was no action on the input. “They are just perpetuating the narcotics supply cycle by repeatedly arresting peddlers whenever they come out on bail,” Bharat alleged.

Multiple cases

The Tribune spoke to the sister of one Sushant (real name), 22, a resident of Phillaur. He was allegedly rounded up by the Nakodar police on September 16, 2016, on the charge of stealing a scooter on September 13 from a Punjab Roadways employee (FIR No. 192) at Nakodar bus stand.

A day later, on September 17, he was booked under the NDPS Act and Sections 397, 380, 455 and 427 of the IPC, and 34 and 25 of the Arms Act (FIR No. 193).

Two days after that, on September 19, he was booked yet again under Section 22 of the NDPS Act for possession of 120 gm of “intoxicant powder”.

The sister claimed that two cops had approached him and asked if he knew how to drive an Activa scooter. When he said yes, they took him to the police station. Next, they clicked his photographs after making him stand next to a stolen scooter, and sent him to jail.

Though Sushant was acquitted in the theft case, he is still contesting the two other cases, in which he has been awarded imprisonment of 17 years.

Despite repeated calls made to the area SHO and DSP, they could not explain as to why three different cases were registered against the same person with a single arrest.

Prisons ill-equipped

The availability and abuse of drugs in prisons is going on unchecked as the department is severely strained for staff, who are unable to prevent the entry of drugs into prison premises. In Kapurthala Modern Jail, where around 500 to 600 people go out for court hearings every day, it is not practically feasible to frisk every prisoner.

The department recently procured two dogs trained in sniffing out narcotics, but their work time is limited to an hour or so. Moreover, with no vehicle available to transport the dogs, they tire out just walking to the prison gate.

The Tribune – Shattered families drift between light and darkness

With drugs on doorstep, relapses after treatment make life scarier than death

P K Jaiswar, Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 06 May 2018. With efforts of the police and government proving ineffective in stopping the flow of drugs in the streets of Punjab, addicts are getting desperate to find ways to stay out of temptation’s way, even after de-addiction treatment.

Their families are anxious to prevent sure ruin of finances as well as relationships.

“The only difference we have seen over the past year is that earlier heroin could be had for Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 per gram, now it is Rs 3,500,” a drug addict told The Tribune, requesting not to be identified, adding that getting the daily dose is not difficult.

“I started consuming drugs around six years ago after my friends lured me into it, and now I have nowhere to go. I consume 500mg to 1gm daily,” said a 23-year-old youth from Mughal Chak Pannuan village in Tarn Taran. He had been under treatment for around 10 days at the government-run de-addiction centre at Tarn Taran Civil Hospital.

Young deaths

The situation in border villages is even worse. And no one can know it better than Mukhtar Singh, a resident of Patti, who lost his son, Manjit Singh, a graduation student, to drugs in March 2016. But the unfortunate father decided to do something more than just grieve. He set up an organisation under the name of “Kafan Bol Paya Nash Virodhi Misson-e-Punjab”.

His first effort was to collect data from government de-addiction centres in 17 districts, which pegged the figure of addicts who received treatment at 4.94 lakh. Then he also did an intensive survey of addicts in Tarn Taran district, and found that only 20 per cent of them sought treatment.

“There is no doubt that the Special Task Force constituted by the government is working to nail the peddlers, but it is also true that the number of youth dying of drug intake has not gone down,” Mukhtar Singh said. He believed that though smugglers were nabbed, they continued to operate through mobile phones from inside jails.

He said the government should confiscate all properties of smugglers, and the revenue generated from those should be utilised for better and affordable treatment for addicts.

In January this year, a youth identified as Vicky died of drug abuse in the Patti area. In April, another youth, Harjit Singh of Sri Goindwal Sahib, reportedly died of drug overdose. He had married around three months ago. Three persons, apparently beggars, also died of similar causes in the Company Bagh area in Amritsar.

Desperate families

The story is not complete without taking into account the families of drug-abuse victims. In the hope that their wards would shun drugs and return to the mainstream, they are ready to try all means suggested by anyone.

Corridors of de-addiction centres are full of family members seeking help. Such has been the shattering effect in some cases, that families even start wishing death for their ward as repeated attempts at getting them cured fail.

At one private de-addiction centre, The Tribune spoke to a woman who was getting her husband, a cable operator, treated. She said though he was on the path to recovery, the fear of his falling back into the trap always loomed.

“When you have an addict in the family, society distances itself from you. Family members also change. At one point even I contemplated leaving my husband; but later decided to stick by him and get him treated,” she said.

There was a man who had come to get medicines for his father, a policeman who had been an addict for several years. “When the family learnt of the addiction, they were completely shattered. It was difficult for us to accept the reality,” he said. However, with support from the family, his father was now on the mend.

Yet another woman at the centre, a resident of Baba Budha Sahib area, was not so fortunate. Her only son had relapsed a number of times. He was addicted to synthetic drugs, available easily in the market.

Cheap pills

The rising price of heroin is also not helping much, as addicts switch to synthetic drugs, including intoxicants and medicines available at chemists.

The misuse of the addiction-treatment medicine tramadol, and even some Ayurvedic drugs, had also come to light before the Assembly elections when the Narcotics Control Bureau confiscated huge quantities of these.

A little over a month ago, the Chheharta police seized a huge quantity of tramadol tablets. It does not come under the preview of the NDPS Act, and those involved get away with milder charges under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.

Dr Jaswinder Singh Gandhi, who has written a couple of books of short stories and also made short films on the problem, however, appreciated the fact that the government had at least shown its willingness to address the challenge.

“Different agencies are working, and the government has now also implemented the DAPO (Drug Abuse Prevention Officer) programme to involve people in this war,” he noted. There are many hopes pinned on that.