Kathua rape-murder case to be heard on priority: Punjab High Court

Recognising the gravity of the crime, the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Thursday heard on priority petitions of the victim’s family and the six convicts in the brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir.

The pleas — one moved by the victim father’s seeking death penalty for the heinous act and another by the six convicts challenging their conviction — were listed for hearing jointly along with the plea of one of the convicts seeking suspension of his sentence.

After hearing the case briefly, the bench led by Justice Rajiv Sharma made it clear that the court would deliver justice.

“If we don’t hear it, the case will hang,” he observed.

His assertions came when senior advocate R.S. Cheema, appearing for the state of Jammu and Kashmir, told the court that an appeal was yet to be filed by the state and all the issues could be taken up together.

Appearing for one of the accused, another senior advocate J.S. Bedi also sought time to argue the case, citing voluminous records.

Refusing to grant a long date, the bench fixed the next hearing in the case for August 7. Simultaneously, the court issued notice to the accused and the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The victim’s father has sought an enhancement of the life sentence awarded to three of the convicts who were sentenced to life imprisonment by a trial court in Pathankot in Punjab on June 10.

The special court had convicted six of the eight accused in the crime and pronounced a life imprisonment to three — temple priest and mastermind Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar.

Investigating officer Raj Dutta and Special Police Officer Surinder Kumar were also sentenced to five years in jail for destroying crucial evidence in the case.

Sanji Ram’s son Vishal was acquitted due to lack of evidence, but the fate of his minor nephew, also among the accused, will be decided by a juvenile court.

According to the chargesheet, the girl, who belonged to a Muslim nomadic tribe, was kidnapped and held captive at a village temple in Kathua district on January 10, 2018.

The 15-page chargesheet said the eight-year-old girl was starved, sedated and repeatedly raped in captivity over several days before being bludgeoned to death.

Her mutilated body was found in a forest on January 17. Three days later, one of the accused — reportedly a juvenile — was arrested by the police, the chargesheet said.

The abduction, rape and killing of the child was part of a carefully planned strategy to remove the minority nomadic community from the area, it added.

The case sparked outrage across the state, forcing the government to hand over the case to the Crime Branch of Jammu and Kashmir Police.

The case strained relations between the then ruling coalition partners in the state, the PDP and the BJP, after two ministers of the latter – Chowdhury Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga – participated in a rally organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch in support of the arrested accused.

The Supreme Court later ordered that the case be shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir and be heard on a daily basis by the trial court in Pathankot.



No proposal from Centre on atomic energy units: Punjab CM

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday said he was yet to receive any proposal from the Central government for establishment of atomic energy units at the Bathinda and Ropar power plants.

At the same time, the Chief Minister said he had never had any problems working with the Centre.

Cordial relations between the Central and state governments were important in a federal structure, and he had no issues dealing with any government at the Centre in the interest of Punjab, he told reporters here.

Talks on using atomic energy for power production had been going on for a long time but there was nothing concrete yet on the table, he said in response to a question.

“At the moment, I do not even have a power minister,” he said, in an apparent reference to Navjot Singh Sidhu’s resignation after his refusal to take over the Power portfolio allocated to him as part of a state Cabinet reshuffle post the Lok Sabha elections.

He said he has been personally monitoring the Power Department functioning on a day-to-day basis, in view of the ongoing paddy season which requires continuous power.

The state has been witnessing an unprecedented peak demand of power in view of the erratic monsoon which has led to a rain deficit in some areas.



Extradite Sikhs for Justice legal adviser: Punjab Minister

A day after India declared US-based pro-Khalistan group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) an unlawful association for supporting militancy and secessionism in Punjab, a state Minister on Thursday demanded the extradition of its legal adviser Gurpatwant Singh Pannun from the US.

Pannun is wanted in several first information reports (FIRs) registered in the state and he must be extradited to India to face the law, state Jail Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said in a statement.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had for long been demanding strict action against the SJI and banning it should be only one part of the strategy to tackle terror, while the situation warrants going all-out against such organisations fuelling terror in the state, he said.

Requesting the Union government to extradite Pannun, Randhawa said he had allegedly helped the mastermind of the Nabha jailbreak incident, Romy, in Hong Kong.

Besides, the SJI, and especially Pannun, were engaged neck-deep in providing financial and all other kinds of support to separatist elements in India in order to advance their devious agenda of Referendum 2020 that aims to Balkanize the country, the minister said, adding that the SJI was confined to social media and had no ground-level support.

The Indian government measure under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, was taken in a Union cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The fringe group is run by a few radical Sikhs of foreign nationality in the US, Canada and the UK, a Union Home Ministry statement has said.

During consultations by the Centre, all major representative bodies of the Sikh community have categorically supported the government action, the statement added.

Responding to a query by IANS on Thursday, Pannun said the Khalistan Referendum 2020 is a democratic campaign and will continue.

“Referendum is an internationally recognised democratic modus operandi to ascertain the will of peoples on any political issue,” he said.

“Khalistan is a political opinion and SFJ’s initiative of seeking Sikh peoples’ opinion through Referendum 2020 will continue irrespective of India’s ban,” he added.



Punjab National Bank tanks by 10% after another fraud case

Two days after the Punjab National Bank (PNB) said that it had been defrauded by Bhushan Power & Steel Ltd. (BPSL) to the tune of Rs 3,805.15 crore, its scrip fell by over 10 per cent on Monday.

At 10.43 a.m., PNB shares were trading at 73.95 apiece, down 9.54 per cent before hitting an intra-day low of 73.15 a share.

The state-run bank on Saturday informed the exchanges that it has been defrauded by BPSL to the tune of Rs 3,805.15 crore.

“On the basis of Forensic Audit Investigation findings and CBI filing FIR, on suo moto basis, against the Company and its Directors, alleging diversion of funds from banking system, a fraud of Rs 3805.15 core is being reported by Bank to RBI,” PNB said in a regulatory filing.

Adding that in the accounts of the company (BPSL), the bank had already made provisions amounting to Rs 1,932.47 crore, as per prescribed prudential norms.

PNB added that BPSL has misappropriated bank funds, manipulated books of accounts to raise funds from consortium lender banks.

On the present status the bank informed that the case is at NCLT which is in advance stage.

This case comes nearly a year after the bank was hit by one of the biggest fraud in the banking history, when the diamantaire Nirav Modi defrauded the bank which cost India’s second largest state run bank a massive Rs 14,000 crore.



Employees of state-run buses in Punjab go on strike

Commuters across Punjab faced inconvenience as employees of the state-owned Punjab Roadways went on a three-day strike on Tuesday, demanding regularisation of their services and raise in salaries.

Protestors did not allow buses of Punjab Roadways and Punbus to ply in several towns and cities.

The worst affected places were Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Patiala, Amritsar, Bathinda, Ferozepur and Moga.

Nearly 3,000 employees of both Punjab Roadways and Punbus were on strike.

Bus services on inter-state routes and within the state were affected, officials said.



Centre to start devlopment work on Sultanpur Lodhi: Punjab CM

The Centre will initiate work on the infrastructure development of Sultanpur Lodhi town as proposed by the Punjab government at the earliest, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri assured Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Friday.

The Chief Minister had called on Puri, the Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs, here to press for early approval for the Rs 321 crore infrastructure development projects proposed by the state government for Sultanpur Lodhi town.

The town holds historical significance due to its association with Guru Nanak Dev, whose 550th Prakash Purb is being celebrated this year.

Puri said he had already instructed the department to immediately vet the proposals and secure the necessary approvals to start work on priority, an official spokesperson told IANS after the meeting.

To the Chief Minister’s request for inclusion of the three Municipal Corporation towns of Patiala, Bathinda and SAS Nagar in the Smart Cities Project being assisted by the Central government on a sharing basis, Puri assured to consider the same as and when the project is expanded to cover new cities.

The Union Minister said he was committed to helping Punjab in any way he could and would look into the demands of the state.

He later told mediapersons that he would ensure maximum flights from Punjab to cater to the demand for global travel.

The Chief Minister said, in response to media queries after the meeting, that the Union Minister had promised to look into the state’s demands related to urban development and aviation.

Earlier, during the meeting, Amarinder Singh said Patiala, besides being an old heritage city, had also been declared a Counter-Magnet Town to the national capital region (NCR) by the NCR Planning Board.

Strengthening infrastructure in all the Counter-Magnet Towns would also help in reducing migration to Delhi, he pointed out.

The Chief Minister also urged Puri to approve early clearance for a NCR Planning Board loan for the Patiala Nadi Hydrology project, for which the state government would soon submit a formal proposal.

Bathinda, he said, was a fast growing and principal town in southern Punjab while SAS Nagar (Mohali) was a satellite town of Chandigarh with the highest growth potential in Punjab.

To strengthen the state’s global connectivity, the Chief Minister sought inclusion of Chandigarh under the Open Skies Policy for Asean countries, while asking for an urgent review of the current policy of bilateral spots to facilitate more international flights out of Chandigarh, especially to the Gulf countries and Turkey, thereby enabling greater connectivity with the rest of the world.

The Chief Minister also asked the Union Minister to consider the proposal to name Adampur Airport as Jalandhar Airport for easy booking of flights by tourists and NRIs.

On the occasion, Puri presented his book “Delusional Politics” to the Chief Minister.



Dera adamant not to cremate murdered accused in Punjab

Dera Sacha Sauda sect followers remained adamant on Monday that they will not cremate their member Mohinder Pal Bittu, the murdered prime suspect in a case relating to the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib in Punjab’s Bargari in 2015, until the sacrilege cases were dropped against him and other sect followers.

Bittu was beaten to death by rods in the high-security Nabha prison, near Patiala, by a murder convict and a murder accused on Saturday evening. He was taken to the Civil Hospital where doctors declared him dead, police said.

“We raised our demands with government representatives. Our main demand is to drop all false charges framed against my father,” Bittu’s son Arminder Kumar told reporters in his hometown Kotkapura in Faridkot district.

“He is no more in this universe. At least now the stigma labelled against him should be dropped. We will not cremate him until he is freed from this stigma,” he added.

Bittu, who wanted in many cases including inciting violence in Haryana’s Panchkula town after the conviction of Ram Rahim Singh in 2017, was arrested by a special investigation team from Himachal Pradesh’s Palampur town last year.

He was considered to be close to Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of a journalist, as well as a 20-year sentence for raping two female disciples.

A 45-member executive committee of Dera Sacha Sauda, which has been camping here, is demanding a judicial probe into the killing of Bittu.

“The body will not be cremated until our two demands are accepted by the government. The first is a judicial probe into the killing and the second is dropping of all criminal charges against all Dera ‘premis’ (followers),” committee member Harcharan Singh said.

Preliminary investigations said Bittu was allegedly killed by murder convict Gursewak Singh and Maninder Singh, an under-trial in a murder case, with iron rods removed from a barricade.

Inspector General, Patiala range, A.S. Rai said both the attackers are baptised Sikhs. “They say they attacked Bittu because he is the main accused in the Bargari case.”

Following the incident on Saturday, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had ordered an inquiry into the fatal assault on Bittu.

Additional Director General, Prisons, Rohit Chaudhary will head the fact-finding committee, which has been asked to submit a report within three days.

Amarinder Singh had ordered beefing up of security in the state in the wake of the attack, while appealing to all communities to maintain peace and not give into rumours.

The sacrilege case relates to the alleged desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in Bargari village in Faridkot in October 2015.

Following the crime, two people were killed and many others injured in Behbal Kalan village of the district on October 15, 2015, in police firing on protesters.



Punjab CM to call all-party meeting on depleting water table

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Friday announced an all-party meeting would be called soon to evolve a broad consensus to comprehensively address the problem of depletion of groundwater in the state.

The Chief Minister chaired a meeting of cabinet ministers, political leaders, senior officers, water experts, scientists and representatives of the farmer organizations and industry and discussed fast depleting groundwater table across the state.

Amarinder Singh said it was high time that the state tackled the problem for the future generations otherwise the fertile Punjab would soon be on the verge of becoming a desert.

“Posterity will not forgive us in case we fail to act now”, said the Chief Minister.

Sharing the underlying objective of calling the all-party meeting, the Chief Minister said it would provide a healthy platform for all parties to build a political consensus on the critical issue.

He said any complacency or laxity would virtually lead the state nowhere.

The Chief Minister also sought cooperation of all farmers and farmers’ organizations.

Narrating his personal experience while he was Agriculture Minister in the state way back in 1985-86, the Chief Minister pointed out the Eradi Commission constituted by the then Central Government assessed availability of water in the State at 17.1 MAF which has now reduced to 13.1 MAF in the past 30 years, adding that the climatic changes had reduced the glacier cover, causing a substantial fall in the groundwater level.

The Chief Minister also announced a committee under Additional Chief Secretary (Development) Viswajeet Khanna and Vice Chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University B.S. Dhillon to explore the possibility for changes in the existing cropping pattern.



Punjab lawmakers assure support to Sikhs in Meghalaya

A high-level delegation, which has been rushed to Shillong by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, on Wednesday assured the Punjabi settlers there of full support to protect their fundamental rights.

The delegation, led by Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, met many members of the Sikh community settled in Meghalaya and is scheduled to meet Chief Minister Conrad Sangma on Thursday.

“The Punjab government will take all possible steps to bring the current dispute to an amicable settlement,” said Randhawa, adding that infringement of the civil rights of the Sikhs settled in Shillong for over 200 years would not be allowed at any cost.

Randhawa added that Amarinder Singh was personally in touch with his Meghalyan counterpart and was monitoring the situation closely.

Appreciating Chief Minister Conrad Sangma for his efforts to diffuse the tension, Randhawa said Amarinder Singh had taken serious view of the media reports of threats being issued to Sikhs in Shillong, and had spoken to Sangma urging him to ensure foolproof security and safety of all the families.

The local Sikhs told the delegation that the administration had dubbed the area where they were settled as a slum and wanted them to evict the place.

The local Sikhs had contributed immensely to the state of Meghalaya and should be integrated, the delegation felt.

The delegation also visited Gurdwara Nanak Darbar, where gurdwara President Gurjeet Singh apprised them of the lease status of the premises and complained that attempts were being by the incumbent government in Meghalaya to forcibly evict them.

The gurdwara management had filed a contempt petition in the Meghalaya High Court, Gurjeet told the delegation.

Apart from Randhawa, the delegation includes MP Jasbir Singh Dimpa and MLAs Kulbir Singh Zira and Kuldeep Singh Vaid and Special Secretary (planning) D.S. Mangat.



Punjab prohibits sale of uniform, books in schools premises

Punjab has prohibited the sale of uniforms and textbooks in school premises, state Education Minister Inder Singla said on Saturday.

He said directions have been issued to all private schools affiliated to the CBSE, the ICSE and the Punjab School Education Board not to ask parents to buy school uniform and books from their earmarked shop or firm.

The guidelines also state the uniform, once introduced in a school, should be carried on for at least three years and no change in its colour or design be introduced during that period.

Besides, it has been made mandatory for school authorities to use approved books based on the board syllabi and upload the list of those books on the school website, leaving the choice of buying books solely to the discretion of students and parents.




Chandigarh, Punjab CM orders closure of all open borewells

Five days after an infant got was trapped in a 150-foot-deep abandoned borewell in a Punjab village, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has asked the officials to ensure that no open borewell existed in any district and sought a report in 24 hours.

“Constantly monitoring the rescue operations by @NDRFHQ, local administration and outside experts, which has reached the required depth & are locating Fatehveer,” Singh tweeted.

Stating that was constantly monitoring the operation to recue the child, who turned two on Monday, at Bhagwanpura in the Sunam subdivision, the Chief Minister has directed Deputy Commissioners to ensure no open borewell existed in any of the districts and asked them to submit a report within 24 hours.

The child, Fatehveer Singh, stumbled into the borewell that was covered with cement bags at around 4 p.m. on June 6, according to his mother Gagandeep Kaur. The rescue team, comprising 26 members of the NDRF, the army and the district administration staff, is conducting the operation.

There was no official update on the health of the child. A movement in the child’s body was noticed at 5 a.m. on Saturday, almost 40 hours after he fell into the borewell. After that no movement has been spotted.

Lack of expertise and technical snags were blamed for the delay in the rescue operation.

A team of doctors and ambulances are stationed at the spot to provide emergency aid.



Punjab CM asks Chief Justice for speedy trial of rape cases

Expressing concern over the delay in the trial of rape cases, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday urged Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice Krishna Murari to put in place a fast track trial mechanism.

He also sought an advice to the subordinate courts, under his jurisdiction, to complete the trial in such cases speedily.

In a letter to the Chief Justice that comes days after police in Sangrur filed a charge sheet in a Dhuri minor’s rape case within seven days of the incident, Amarinder Singh said speedy trials were essential to ensure that all culprits in such cases are brought to justice at the earliest.

He drew the attention of the Chief Justice to the amended provisions of Section 173 (1-A) of the Criminal Procedure Code, wherein a time limit has been prescribed for investigation of the cases registered under Sections 376, 376-A, 376-B, 376-C, 376-D, 376-DA, 376-DB and 376-E of the Indian Penal Code.

The state police have been time and again directed to ensure that investigation of cases involving such crimes is completed within the prescribed limit, Amarinder Singh wrote.

However, he said, it had been observed that even though investigation of such cases is completed on time, trial by the courts of competent jurisdiction takes much longer than the desired time.

“Since delayed justice to the victims hurts the common man, it is felt that trial of such cases, particularly those involving rapes, should be expedited without any further delay,” said the Chief Minister.



KL Rahul’s carnage helps Kings XI Punjab beat Chennai 

Opener KL Rahul’s blistering 71 off 36 balls, followed by Nicholas Pooran fireworks (36 off 22 balls) guided Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) to an impressive six-wicket win over defending champions Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the Indian Premier League (IPL) contest at the PCA I.S. Bindra Stadium, here on Sunday.

Rahul’s run rampage made most Chennai bowlers look helpless. The opener, whose stunning knock was decorated with seven fours and five massive sixes, bought up his half-century off just 19 balls. It’s now the third fastest half-century of the ongoing season.

Chasing the 171-run target, Rahul and his partner Chris Gayle (28 off 28) gave Punjab a flying start and the hosts were 33/0 in the first three overs, before the former clobbered Harbhajan Singh for 24 runs in the next over.

While Gayle, the self-proclaimed ‘boss of universe’, mostly remained silent, there was no stopping Rahul whose carnage of Chennai bowlers saw Punjab reaching 85/0 in just seven overs. At one stage it looked as if the hosts would cross the line in just 15 overs as their scorecard read 106/0 in 10 overs.

Harbhajan finally gave Chennai some respite with a much needed breakthrough, dismissing a dangerous Rahul in the 11th over. Rahul trying to go for the maximum sliced a delivery high in the air and Imran Tahir made no mistake at extra cover.

Just in the next ball, Harbhajan packed back Gayle to reduce the hosts to 108/2. The Caribbean had tried to clear the fence but ended up giving a catch to substitute Dhruv Shorey at long-on.

Just when the two new batsmen — Pooran and Mayank Agarwal — could add another 10 runs in Punjab’s scorecard, Harbhajan showed his class to send Agarwal to the hut. Agarwal could contribute just seven runs.

It seemed the Yellow Brigade would make a comeback in the game. But Pooran seemed in a hurry to finish things off as his lusty blows saw Punjab crossing the 150-run mark in 14.5 overs. Pooran couldn’t continue till the last as Ravindra Jadeja cut short his stay in the 17th over. However, it was too late for the visitors with Punjab comfortably placed at 163/4.

With just 8 more runs needed, Mandeep Singh (11 not out off 9) and Sam Curran (6 off 7) easily drove Punjab home with 12 balls to spare.

For Chennai, Harbhajan was the pick of bowlers as he scalped three wickets, but leaked 57 runs from his four overs. Jadeja bagged one for 16 runs.

Earlier, opener Faf du Plessis’s 96 off 55 balls and Suresh Raina’s 53 off 38 balls helped Chennai post 170/5 in the allotted 20 overs.

The duo were involved in a crucial 120-run second wicket partnership, building the platform for a fighting total as their lower middle-order failed to contribute.

While du Plessis’ knock was laced with 10 boundaries and four sixes, Raina’s innings contained five fours and two hits into the stands.

Put to bat, openers Shane Watson (7 off 11) and du Plessis started on a good note, adding 30 runs in the initial four overs. But in the next over Curran drew the first blood for Punjab as he castled Watson.

Raina and du Plessis then anchored the innings, helping Chennai reach the 50-run mark in 7.1 overs before they further developed the partnership to take their side to 79/1 at the half way stage.

They continued to play sensibly and kept the scorers busy as Chennai touched the three-digit mark in 12.5 overs. Meanwhile, du Plessis also notched up his second half-century of the season off 37 balls.

Just when it seemed that they would comfortably steer Chennai to an imposing total, Raina mistimed a slower delivery by Curran to give an easy catch to Mohammed Shami at short fine-leg.

Curran struck again in the 19th over to send back a well-settled du Plessis, who fell short of his century by just four runs with Chennai’s scorecard reading 163/3.

Shami then dismissed Kedar Jadhav (0) and Ambati Rayudu (1) in the final over as Chennai skipper M.S. Dhoni (10) and Dwayne Bravo (1) remained unbeaten at the end of 20 overs.

Brief scores: Kings XI Punjab 173/4 in 18 overs (KL Rahul 71, Nicholas Pooran 36; Harbhajan Singh 3/57) beat Chennai Super Kings: 170/5 in 20 overs (Faf du Plessis 96, Suresh Raina 53; Sam Curran 3/35) by 6 wickets.


Infighting-ridden AAP now a sinking ship in Punjab

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had emerged as a dark horse in Punjab in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, winning four parliamentary seats while its performance in the remaining nine seats left its rivals stumped, but it is a different story this time round.

The infighting-ridden party is now struggling to save its sinking ship with several leaders either quitting or being suspended in the last four years.

The result: AAP’s four prominent rebels — sitting Patiala Member of Parliament Dharamvira Gandhi, former Leader of Opposition Sukhpal Khaira, legislator Baldev Singh and popular Punjabi singer-turned-politician Jassi Jasraj — are contesting from Patiala, Bathinda, Faridkot and Sangrur Lok Sabha seats, respectively.

Except Bathinda, the AAP had won the other three seats in the 2014 parliamentary polls with a vote share of 24.4 per cent.

Now all four prominent AAP dissidents are in the fray for the six-party coalition — the Punjab Democratic Alliance — formed by firebrand leader Khaira, who led the rebellion against AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal after being removed from the post of Leader of Opposition in the state assembly.

Their aim is to defeat the AAP, which is contesting on all 13 seats with a mix of youth, experienced and trusted hands, and emerge as the third alternative in the state.

The trouble within the AAP began when two of its MPs, cardiologist Gandhi (Patiala) and Harinder Singh Khalsa (Fatehgarh Sahib), were suspended from the party in May 2015 for “anti-party activities”.

Khalsa has the highest fund utilisation among state lawmakers under the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS).

Likewise, the AAP ousted its then state unit chief Sucha Singh Chhotepur, who played a crucial role in strengthening the party’s base in the state, on flimsy bribery charges in August 2016.

In the February 2017 Assembly elections, the AAP finished second as the main opposition party with 20 legislators in the Congress-ruled 117-member Assembly.

Of the 20 legislators, seven have defected till date.

The latest dissident is legislator Nazar Singh Manshahia, who joined the ruling Congress after quitting the AAP a few days ago.

“The AAP had lost the narrative in Punjab, with no positive agenda or ideology to guide it. Manshahia’s joining would further strengthen the Congress,” Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said.

AAP suspended legislator Kanwar Sandhu said, “In this election, the AAP is a very low key player in the state and they are not getting the public response they got in the 2014 and 2017 polls. At that time people were looking for a change and now they are upset with the infighting in the party”.

Countering them, a confident AAP legislator Aman Arora said the “silent voters” are still with the party.

“The Congress and the Akali Dal got together to damage the AAP and they succeeded to some extent. But still we have a huge base of silent voters, particularly in the rural belts,” he said.

The Congress too faced rebellion. The wife of Congress Rajya Sabha member Shamsher Singh Dullo left the party and was named a candidate from Fatehgarh Sahib (reserved) Lok Sabha seat by AAP.

Interestingly in these polls, AAP nominees are facing opposition from their own dissidents.

In a starry affair in Sangrur, state AAP chief and comedian Bhagwant Mann is facing popular singer and AAP rebel Jassi Jasraj.

The AAP fielded moneybag Neena Mittal from Patiala where she faces AAP rebel Gandhi, who had defeated three-time former MP Preneet Kaur, the wife of the chief minister, by over 20,000 votes in 2014. Kaur is again in the fray this time.

Dissident AAP legislator Baldev Singh has been pitted against AAP’s outgoing MP Sadhu Singh from Faridkot. Baldev is contesting polls as the candidate of Khaira’s Punjab Ekta Party.

This time Non-Resident Indian (NRI) Punjabis gave a noticeable miss to the AAP.

Many NRIs in the 2014 Lok Sabha election came out openly by offering not only cash-rich wallets but also pleading with people to support the AAP candidates.

In the 2017 Assembly election, many NRIs had campaigned for AAP Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann. This time they switched loyalties and are backing his Congress opponent Kewal Singh Dhillon.

Riding in an air-conditioned bus called the ‘NRI Express’, they are campaigning for Dhillon.

Karamjit Singh Dhaliwal, who runs gas stations in New York, said, “In 2014 and 2017 elections, we campaigned for AAP candidates. Now the AAP has drifted from its ideology of ‘Swaraj’, so we decided not to support it”.

Countering dissidence and defection within the party, actor-comedian Mann, AAP’s only hope to retain his seat, issued an emotional video message to party cadres.

In his message, he accused rebel leader Khaira of being an agent of both the Congress and the Akali Dal and for engineering defections of AAP legislators to the Congress.

Punjab will vote on May 19.



Chief Minister’s ‘warning’ stirs up Punjab Congress leaders

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s latest diktat to the party leadership to perform or perish has not gone down too well with the Congress leaders in the state.

Ministers and legislators of the ruling Congress in Punjab have been warned by the party that if they do not ensure the victory of the Congress candidates in the Lok Sabha polls from their respective constituencies, they will face action.

The “action” here means that the Ministers could be dropped from the cabinet and legislators could be denied party tickets in the next Assembly polls. While a couple of voices have come out openly against the diktat, others have been subdued or just kept silent about the issue. Many have, however, welcomed the decision.

Leading the voices against the decision are Congress Rajya Sabha MP Pratap Singh Bajwa and cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu. While Bajwa questioned the logic behind such a warning, Sidhu has said that the win or loss would be the collective responsibility of the party leadership.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who stands by his words, is unfazed by the subdued criticism. “Incumbent Ministers in Punjab who do not succeed in ensuring a victory for the Congress, specially from the constituencies they represent, will be dropped from the cabinet.

“In the case of Congress MLAs, it has been decided that those who fail to perform in their constituencies will not be considered for tickets in the next Assembly elections,” he had declared, adding that the move was aimed at rewarding leaders based on a “performance-based” culture.

Amarinder has said that the Congress was out to achieve its ‘Mission-13’, that is, winning all the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

Punjab goes to the polls on May 19.



Congress will sweep elections in Punjab; Amarinder

Confident of a clean sweep for the Congress in Punjab, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Friday said that in the absence of a Modi wave, and with no achievements to boast, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in a state of complete regression and would be ousted from power.

Amarinder Singh, who accompanied his wife and Congress candidate from Patiala, Preneet Kaur, to the Deputy Commissioner Office here for the filing of her nomination papers for the Lok Sabha elections, said the mood in Punjab had changed completely from 2014.

“We will win for sure, we will win all the 13 seats, including Bathinda (from where Harsimrat Badal is contesting) and Ferozepur (from where Sukhbir Badal is contesting),” he told media here.

“The mood in Punjab is completely changed from what it was in 2014. The Congress is going all out to deliver on its Mission-13 and give all the 13 seats to Rahul Gandhi,” Amarinder Singh said.

Amarinder Singh’s son, Raninder Singh, daughter Jai Inder Kaur and grandson Nirvan were also in Patiala on the occasion.

The Chief Minister said that Congress President Rahul Gandhi will be campaigning in Punjab, though the dates and venues were yet to be decided.

He also rejected the possibility of actor Sunny Deol posing any serious threat to Congress candidate in Gurdaspur, Sunil Jakhar, who also filed his nomination papers in Gurdaspur on Friday in the presence of the Chief Minister.

“Sunil has been working on the ground in Gurdaspur while Deol had no locus standi there. Sunny Deol will run away, back to Bollywood, and not be there for the people of Gurdaspur,” Amarinder Singh added.

Polling is scheduled to be held in Punjab on May 19.



Pollard heroics help Mumbai beat Punjab in thriller

Keiron Pollard poured cold water on KL Rahul’s maiden hundred with a whirlwind knock as Mumbai Indians scripted a last-ball three-wicket victory over Kings XI Punjab in a thrilling Indian Premier League (IPL) encounter here on Wednesday.

World Cup hopeful Rahul slammed an unbeaten 100 off 64 balls (6×4; 6×6) along with Chris Gayle’s 63 off 36 balls to help Punjab post a challenging 197/4 after Pollard — captaining the team in the absence of Rohit Sharma who is injured — asked them bat first.

Chasing 198 for a win, Mumbai were stuttering at 56/2 when Pollard (83 off 31 balls) pushed himself up at No 4 and took the game away from Punjab by hitting 10 sixes and three fours.

With 15 needed in the last over, Pollard dismissed after smashing a six off a no ball and a four by Ankit Rajpoot.

But Alzarri Joseph (15 not out) kept his cool to take his team over the line with two needed from the last ball. Mumbai posted 198/7.

Mumbai were 56/2 when Pollard came to the crease. The veteran West Indies all-rounder then joined hands with Ishan Kishan (7) and Hardik Pandya 19) to stitch together 32 and 41 run stands for the fourth and fifth wickets respectively to then associate with Joseph for a seventh wicket 54-run partnership.

Earlier, Rahul and with Gayle combined for a 116-run opening wicket partnership to give the visitors a blistering start.

While Rahul hit six fours and six sixes, Gayle bludgeoned seven maximums and three fours.

Gayle was dismissed in the 13th over after which Kings XI slowed down a bit. But Rahul ensured they get to a above par score by smashing Hardik Pandya 6-4-6-6 in the first four deliveries of the 19th over and then hitting Jasprit Bumrah for a four and six in the final over, as 38 runs came in the last two.

Gayle, typically, took time to get going and it was only in the fifth over that the legendary West Indian changed gears by hitting Jason Behrendorff for three sixes and one four as the Aussue leaked 23 runs.

Kings XI were 50/0 at the end of Powerplay with both batsmen looking in ominous form.

Rahul hit Joseph for a delectable six and a four in the seventh over to continue his good form.

There was no stopping Gayle as he plundered a six and two fours off Hardik in the ninth over which costed the home team 17 runs as Kings XI raced to 93/0 at the halfway stage.

Gayle then brought up his 26th fifty in the IPL off 31 balls by smacking Krunal Pandya for a six in the 11th over. Punjab badly needed to break the partnerhip and Behrendorff did it, coming back to remove Gayle.

David Miller (7) did not last long, caught behind by Quinton de Kock off Hardik as the scoring slowed down.

Karun Nair followed suit managing only five runs before nicking one to de Kock behind the stumps off Pandya.

Sam Curran (8) tried to be cheeky but Bumrah got the better off him as the England all-rounder scooped one to de Kock. Just when it looked like Mumbai had successfully reined in, Rahul went berserk in the last two overs and together with Mandeep Singh (7 not out) associated a brisk 46-run stand for the fifth wicket.

Brief scores: Kings XI Punjab 197/4 (K.L. Rahul 100, Chris Gayle 63; Hardik Pandya 2/57) vs Mumbai Indians 198/7 (Keiron Pollard 83; Mohammed Shami 3/21)


India World

Punjab National Bank fraud; Choksi cites risk to life, moves court

One of the key accused in the PNB fraud case, Mehul Choksi, on Friday moved a fresh application in a special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court in Mumbai seeking cancellation of a non-bailable warrant against him.

His application came three days after his nephew Nirav Modi, another key accused in the Rs 13,500-crore Punjab National Bank loan default case, was arrested in London.

In his application, Choksi, who had fled India in January 2018 months before the scam surfaced, has cited ailment and risk to his life. Choksi’s lawyer Sanjay Abbot in the application said the jeweller has a long history of heart ailments and a blood clot in the brain.

He also mentioned in the application about Choksi’s apprehension over his safety.

On May 22, 2018, after taking cognisance of the second chargesheet filed in the PNB case by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the special court had issued the non-bailable warrant against Choksi, owner of Gitanjali Group.

His move comes two days after the investigation agencies said that Choksi’s extradition process has begun in Antigua where he has taken citizenship.

The court has adjourned the matter for April 9 for arguments.

Choksi’s counsel submitted his detailed medical history citing his ailments constraining him from travelling and hence leading to his inability to return to India.

His counsel also placed 38 documents on record, including a latest prescriptions in which doctors recommend that Choksi should remain under continuous medical supervision in Antigua and should avoid travelling as his medical condition may deteriorate.

Choksi, along with his nephew and diamantaire Nirav Modi are accused of colluding with bankers to secure credit from overseas banks using fraudulent guarantees. Both have denied the allegations and have moved abroad.

Nirav Modi was taken into custody in London on March 19.

However, Choksi had secured a passport from Antigua and Barbuda, where wealthy foreigners can become citizens in exchange for investing in the country. He was granted citizenship on January 15, 2018.

He then deposited his cancelled Indian Passport No. Z3396732 and a mandatory fee of $177 for other formalities.



Punjab back on track under Congress regime; Chief Minister

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday claimed it is the people trust in his Congress government that has helped in bringing the state back on the path of development and prosperity.

Singh ‘s assertion came as his government completed two years in office. The Chief Minister took to Twitter to claim fulfilment of most of the promises made to the people. He added some were still in the process of getting started though.

“As I complete two years in office today I wish to thank each and everyone of you for your trust and support, which has helped us put Punjab back on the path of development and prosperity. And I promise to continue to work ceaselessly for your welfare.” he said.



J&K students assaulted in Maharashtra, teacher asked to quit in Punjab

Four Kashmiri students in Maharahstra have been assaulted while a Kashmiri teacher in a private university in Punjab said he was asked to quit on Thursday even as the Supreme Court said it may take up Friday a PIL seeking security for students from the Valley in wake of the Pulwama terror attack.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Congress for their silence over attacks on Kashmiri students, while senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad appealed to people to not push Kashmiris “back into quagmire” by boycotting or beating them up.

In Yavatmal, Kashmiri students of Dayabhai Patel College of Physical Education were pounced upon near their rented home in Waghapur Road area on Wednesday night.

Two of the students – Umar Rashid Dar and Umar Nazir Ganai, both from Kashmir’s Kupwara – and their friends were intercepted outside their home by activists allegedly from the Yuva Sena, the youth wing of the Shiv Sena.

The dozen strong mob demanded to know where they hailed from. When the students replied Kashmir, they were slapped, kicked, punched and threatened with “dire consequences”.

The mob also demanded to know whether their relatives were “terrorists” and forced them to raise slogans of “Bharat Mata ki Jai,” “Hindustan Zindabad” and “Vande Mataram”.

The visibly-scared boys told media persons that “it was difficult for us to pursue education in our home state and now even here. We don’t know what to do or where to go.”

However, they said the police and college authorities have assured them full protection and support especially since their final exams were starting next week.

College Principal, Sandeep Chawak, told IANS that the entire college stands “unitedly” with the four students, three of whom are here for three years and one for the past one year.

Amidst all round condemnation, Yuva Sena President Aditya Uddhav Thackeray attempted damage control by appealing “not to vent anger against Pakistan” against people living in our own country, while the organisation’s Secretary Varun Sardesai assured action against the culprits if they were found to be the party’s activists.

In another related incident. Salman Shaheen, an Assistant Professor of English at Lovely Professional University (LPU) near Punjab’s Jalandhar city said that he was “forced” to resign after a social media post linking him to comments regarding the Pulwama terror attack.

Alleging that a photo of his Facebook status was distorted to create an impression that he had written something objectionable, he said he was also confronted at his rented accommodation outside the university campus.

University sources confirmed the resignation but said that the teacher “realized his mistake and decided to quit”.

In wake of the attacks by right-wing groups, particularly in Uttarakhand, which have led to a large number of Kashmiri students leaving the state, Omar Abdullah warned that such attacks “will result in further alienation of Kashmiris”.

“Kashmiri boys and girls pursuing studies outside the state have nothing to do either with politics or the Kashmir issue. They are simply trying to build their careers.

“These students have somehow managed to contact us saying that they have been harassed and threatened to leave different colleges and universities outside the state,” he told media persons in Srinagar.

Abdullah said it appeared that those targeting Kashmiris had the blessings of the establishment, pointing out that the Meghalaya Governor had called for a boycott of the Kashmiri community.

He criticized Modi for his silence over the attacks on Kashmiri students and traders outside the state.

“…If he (Modi) was busy, the Home Minister could have said something. Even the Congress has not said anything comforting. We need a statesman, not a politician,” he said.

Azad, who is also a former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, said the Kashmiri youth who are studying at various universities across India are the ones who have shunned the lure of militancy and are for joining the national mainstream.

“It means they feel safer among their countrymen. If they will be beaten up here, and persecuted by militants back home, where would they go,” he said at a press conference in the capital.

He said mere advisories would not do and the state government officials must visit educational institutes and colleges and assure them. “Let them (Kashmiris) come into the mainstream. Don’t push them back into the mire, these students want to escape,” Azad said.

A Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Sanjiv Khanna indicated that it may hear on Friday a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking direction to the Centre and the state governments to protect Kashmiri students after senior counsel Colin Gonsalves mentioned it for an urgent hearing.

PIL petitioner Tariq Adeeb referred to a dozen media reports of attack on Kashmiri students across the country after the Pulwama attack, while citing the apex court’s July 17, 2018 judgment on the issue of curbing of activities of vigilante groups and mob lynching.





Punjab seeks Britain’s apology on Jallianwala Bagh massacre

As we approach the centenary year of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar, in which hundreds of innocent people were killed by the British forces, the Punjab Assembly on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution to mount pressure on the Centre for seeking a formal apology from the British government “for one of the worst ever bloodbaths in the world”.

The resolution said that an apology for the massacre would be a befitting tribute to the martyrs of the massacre that happened on Baisakhi Day on April 13, 1919.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Brahm Mohindra moved the resolution, which was passed unanimously by the members led by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh through a voice vote.

“It was a dastardly act perpetrated upon the innocent people who had converged at the Jallianwala Bagh on the fateful day of Baisakhi on April 13, 1919, to protest against the Rowlatt Act of the Imperial rulers,” Mohindra said.

“Even the British government of the time had realised the gravity of the irresponsible act, as is evident in the premature superannuation of General Dyer from the British Army,” the Minister said, adding that Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore had also returned the title of Knighthood in protest.

Mohindra said it was high time for India to prevail upon the British government to tender an apology to assuage the bruised psyche of Indian people affected by the massacre.