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Punjab

Kartarpur corridor: Foundation stone replaced amid row over credit

A massive political slug-fest was played out on Monday in full public view, shoving protocol to the side in the presence of Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu, as political leaders from opposing sides in Punjab bared it at what was meant to be solemn celebration related to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara corridor project.
 
Naidu lays foundation stone for Dera Baba Nanak-Kartarpur Sahib corridor
A massive political slug-fest was played out on Monday in full public view, shoving protocol to the side in the presence of Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu, as political leaders from opposing sides in Punjab bared it at what was meant to be solemn celebration related to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara corridor project.
 
Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday laid the digital foundation stone of a road project that will link the Kartarpur corridor (in Pakistan) by pressing a button.
 
The actual foundation stone was removed by the authorities just three hours before the event after Punjab cabinet Minister and local legislator Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa objected to the names of former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal and Union Minister Harsimrat Badal on the foundation stone.
 
A clearly upset Randhawa announced that he would 'boycott' the foundation stone ceremony and even put black tape on the stone where the names of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Punjab PWD Minister Vijay Singla and his own (Randhawa) were put on the foundation stone along with the names of the Badals.
 
Officials of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), sensing that the situation could get unpleasant in the presence of dignitaries, removed the foundation stone and replaced it with the digital one.
 
The foundation on the screen carried the names of Vice President Naidu, Punjab Governor V. P. Singh Badnore, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari.
 
Though the ceremony was to celebrate the approval of the governments of India and Pakistan to allow the Kartarpur corridor to enable people to pray at the gurdwara in Pakistan, leaders of the Akali Dal and its ally BJP on one side and Punjab's ruling Congress on the other not only indulged in running each other down and claiming credit for getting the project cleared but even raised slogans against each other in the presence of the Vice President.
 
Harsimrat Badal, in her address at the function, took a dig at the Congress leaders over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. There was immediate sloganeering against her by Congress leaders and activists.
 
When Gurdaspur MP and Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar was giving his vote of thanks, he hit back at the Akali Dal leadership by making Punjab a drugs hub. This led to protests and sloganeering by Akali Dal leaders, including Harsimrat's brother and former Minister Bikram Singh Majithia.
 
Earlier, Randhawa was seen speaking and gesturing angrily to officers while they made arrangements for the high-profile function.
 
The Minister, the Congress legislator from Dera Baba Nanak, was visibly disturbed and shouted at officers. He later told a TV channel: "I will not boycott the function but I will boycott the foundation stone itself. I cannot see my name and those of my ministerial colleagues along with the Badals."
 
"The Badals have no contribution in getting the Kartarpur corridor project cleared. They ruled Punjab from 1997 to 2002 and again for 10 years (2007-17). Did they come here to offer prayers while in power? They are only trying to take credit (for the Kartarpur corridor) just because they (Akali Dal) have an alliance with the BJP," the Minister said.
 
Randhawa blamed the NHAI officers for the foundation stone controversy. He said that he had serious objections to the foundation stone carrying the names of the Badals. 
 
"The sanctity of the function should have been kept. The foundation stone should have carried only the names of the Vice-President and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh," Randhawa said.
 
The Minister was also upset that the Congress leadership in Punjab, including him (as the local minister and legislator), Gurdaspur MP Sunil Jakhar (the Punjab Congress President) and cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu were being deliberately ignored for the function while all attention was being given to the Badal family.
 
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Randhawa's outburst came even as the SAD-BJP and Congress leaders in Punjab were in the midst of a major controversy in claiming credit for getting the Kartarpur corridor project cleared by the governments of India and Pakistan.
 
The NDA government at the Centre, of which the SAD is a part, approved the project in Punjab linked to the Kartarpur corridor on November 22. The date of the foundation stone was hurriedly decided for November 26 to ensure that it was done before Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the actual Kartarpur corridor in Pakistan on November 28 (Wednesday).
 
The Congress government in Punjab was going to hold its own function here this week but Chief Minister Amarinder Singh decided to be part of the central government function itself.
 
The SAD-BJP combine leadership has also been trying hard to take the credit away from state cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu who in August went to Pakistan for the swearing-in of his cricketing friend Imran Khan and was the first to announce that Pakistan was keen to open the Kartarpur corridor for devotees from India.
 
The Akali Dal leadership, including Harsimrat Badal, branded Sidhu as a 'traitor' for hugging Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the swearing-in function. They questioned his statements regarding Pakistan's move on the Kartarpur corridor.
 
Harsimrat Badal is now herself headed to Pakistan as the central government's representative for the foundation stone ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor on Wednesday. Sidhu is also going for the same event.
 
It was at the Kartarpur gurdwara, which is located around two to three kilometre from the India-Pakistan border and is situated right opposite the border belt in Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab's Gurdaspur district, that Sikhism founder, Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539), spent 18 years of his life till he died in 1539.
 
The gurdwara, which fell in Pakistan territory following the partition of India in 1947, has major significance in Sikh religion and history.
 
For the past 71 years, ever since partition, Sikhs have been offering prayers near the international border.
 
IANS
 

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Three killed, 15 injured in grenade attack near Amritsar

Three people were killed and at least 15 others injured when two motorcycle-borne masked youths threw a grenade at a religious congregation in Rajasansi area in Punjab's Amritsar district on Sunday, police said.
 
3 killed, 20 injured in grenade blast in Amritsar
Three people were killed and at least 15 others injured when two motorcycle-borne masked youths threw a grenade at a religious congregation in Rajasansi area in Punjab's Amritsar district on Sunday, police said.
 
The grenade attack took place on the Nirankari Satsang Bhawan of the Nirankari sect in Adliwala village, about 15 km from Amritsar. The sect campus is located in Amritsar's rural belt.
 
The injured were rushed to hospitals in Amritsar. A few of them were in serious condition, police said. All victims were sect followers from nearby villages who had gathered for the Sunday weekly religious meeting.
 
Witnesses told the police that two youths on a motorcycle, their faces covered, forced entry to the sect campus by pointing a pistol at a woman volunteer at the gate.
 
"Everything happened within a couple of minutes. They got in, threw the grenade and fled," one man told the police.
 
The attack came amid a high alert issued on November 14 by the Punjab Police regarding the movement of 6-7 terrorists in the state. 
 
Punjab Police Inspector General (Border Range) S.P.S. Parmar confirmed to the media that three people were killed in the grenade attack.
 
Asked if it was a terror attack, Parmar said that all angles were being investigated.
 
"The people had gathered for prayers. There were around 200 people. Preliminary reports suggest that the two persons threw one grenade. Three people have been killed and 15 to 20 are injured. No firing took place," Parmar said.
 
"We are investigating the incident from all angles," Parmar said.
 
Senior police officers rushed to the village following the grenade attack.
 
Congress legislator Raj Kumar Verka told the media that no compromise would be made by the Congress government in Punjab on terrorism.
 
"We will deal with it strictly," Verka said, admitting that the incident showed intelligence failure on the part of the Punjab Police.
 
The Punjab Police, along with the Jammu and Kashmir Police, had recently busted two modules of Kashmiri students who were studying in institutions in Punjab and having links to terrorist outfits in troubled Kashmir.
 
Posters of Kashmiri terrorist Zakir Mussa had mysteriously appeared in Punjab's Gurdaspur district on Friday saying that he had been seen in Punjab.
 
The Nirankari sect has millions of followers across the country and abroad. The sect has its headquarters in Delhi.
 
IANS
 

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58 dead, 72 injured as train mows down Dussehra revellers in Amritsar

As many as 58 people were killed and 72 others injured after a speeding train mowed down a large group of people who had strayed on to the railway tracks at Joda Phatak, a level crossing, during Dussehra celebrations here this evening, sources said.
A view of a train crashing through a crowd of people who had strayed on to the railway tracks during Dussehra celebrations at Joda Phatak in Amritsar, Punjab on October 19, 2018. Photo taken from a video posted on Twitter by an eyewitness.
A view of a train crashing through a crowd of people who had strayed on to the railway tracks during Dussehra celebrations at Joda Phatak in Amritsar, Punjab on October 19, 2018. Photo taken from a video posted on Twitter by an eyewitness.
As many as 58 people were killed and 72 others injured after a speeding train mowed down a large group of people who had strayed on to the railway tracks at Joda Phatak, a level crossing, during Dussehra celebrations here this evening, official sources said.
 
There were conflicting reports about what exactly happened but it appeared that, as the effigy of Ravana was set ablaze and fire crackers flew all around in the dark, several people from the crowd unwittingly moved on to the railway tracks, close to the venue of the celebrations, to avoid being singed by the fire crackers.
 
The loud noise and the blinding lights appeared to have prevented the people from noticing that a train was speeding towards them. Before the people, engrossed by the spectacle before them, realised what had happened, the Jalandhar-Amritsar train went by in a flash, running over several of them.
 
Amritsar Police Commissioner S. S. Srivastava told reporters that 58 people had died and 72 had suffered injuries in the incident.
 
The injured, many of them in a critical condition, were rushed to the Civil Hospital, the Medical College Hospital and other hospitals in the city.
 
Hundreds of people gathered at the scene. While many of them were grieving for their near and dear ones, others were angry with the authorities for failing to ensure the safety of people participating in the celebrations. Similar crowds also gathered outside the hospitals.
 
Senior officials from the district administration, the police and the Northern Railway had reached the spot and were supervising the rescue and relief efforts.
 
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said on micro-blogging site Twitter that he was rushing to Amritsar to personally oversee the relief effort. He was due to leave on a visit to Israel later tonight but the trip has now been called off.
 
Capt. Amarinder Singh also announced that the Punjab government would give Rs. 5 lakh to the next-of-kin of those who were killed in the incident and free treatment for the injured.
 
"Rushing to Amritsar to personally supervise relief & rescue in tragic rail accident on Dussehra in Amritsar. My govt will give Rs 5 lakh to kin of each deceased & free treatment to injured in govt & pvt hospitals. District authorities have been mobilised on war footing," he said.
 
"We will do everything possible to assist the injured. Have directed the district administration to leave no stone unturned to ensure the best possible treatment for them," he said, adding that a Crisis Management Group had been set up to monitor the relief and rehabilitation efforts.
 
"The state will remain in mourning tomorrow in view of #Amritsar train mishap. All offices & educational institutions will remain closed," he added.
 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the loss of lives in the accident.
 
"Extremely saddened by the train accident in Amritsar. The tragedy is heart-wrenching. My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and I pray that the injured recover quickly. Have asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required," he said.
 
Congress President Rahul Gandhi said, "The train accident in Punjab in which over 50 people have died is shocking. I urge the state government & Congress workers to provide immediate relief at the accident site. My condolences to the families of those who have died. I pray that the injured make a speedy recovery."
 
Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, who was on an official visit to the United States, is flying back to India after cancelling his remaining engagements.
 
IANS adds:
 
A large number of some 700 people were watching the huge Ravan effigy in flames amid exploding crackers while on the tracks at Joda Phatak near Dhobi Ghat within the city when the Jalandhar-Amritsar DMU passenger train coming to Amritsar from Hoshiarpur came hurtling down around 7 p.m.
 
It took just about 10-15 seconds for the train to pass -- and leave behind a heap of crushed and dismembered bodies.
 
Amritsar Police Commissioner S.S. Srivastava told reporters that 58 people have died and 72 have been rushed to hospitals in the city. The toll could go up, Srivastava said. 
 
Video clips posted on social media showed some people who had apparently seen the approaching train trying to run away from the site. A few of them were also mowed down.
 
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Wails and cries filled the air as people frantically looked for their near and dear ones. Severed bodies, including those of children, were lying at the accident site hours after the incident with angry people not allowing authorities to remove them.
 
"I have lost my child. I want him back," an inconsolable mother was wailing at the disaster spot.
 
Most people reportedly could not hear the hooting of the train due to the exploding crackers.
 
"Out of nowhere came the train," said a man, while speaking to journalists. "Before anyone could realise what was happening, it ran over scores of people."
 
"When the effigy started to burn in full flow, people began running away from it fearing it may fall over them," said another man. "They did not realise that a speeding train was coming and the train did not sound its hooter."
 
Another man felt that the tragedy would have claimed at least 100 lives. The dead included several children, another witness said.
 
Ironically, moments before the tragedy, another train passed the area but there were no casualties, a railway official said.
 
A local resident, Nirmal Jit Sindhu, alleged that the Dussehra celebrations were organised by forcing the local administration to grant permission near the railway tracks.
 
He said last year the administration had not granted permission for the use of this venue for Dussehra celebrations owing to its proximity to the tracks.
 
Some people blamed Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur, who was the Chief Guest at the celebrations, saying her late arrival delayed the burning of the effigy by more than half an hour.
 
Sidhu told a news channel on telephone from Bengaluru that the death toll was alarmingly high.
 
BJP leader and former local bodies minister Anil Joshi blamed Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur for running away from the Dussehra celebrations site soon after the train accident.
 
"The Dussehra celebrations were organised without the local administration permission. She (Navjot Kaur) disappeared midway during the ceremony when she was apprised about the disaster," Joshi told reporters.
 
"The driver didn't slow down the train and was watching towards the burning Ravana," said one of the witnesseses.
 
Another woman was inconsolable as she said her son was missing.
 
"The administration and the Dussehra committee are at fault as they should have informed the railways authorities about the celebrations", said another eyewitness.
 
Eyewitnesses said there were no barricading near the railway tracks and the people were forced to see the Dussehra ceremony by standing on tracks.
 
The effigy of Ravana was being burnt around 200 feet away from the railway track.
 
A railway official said in New Delhi that the drop gates at the spot were down but people still massed on the tracks in violation of railway rules.
 
Several senior railway officials were set to fly by an Indian Air Force plane to Amritsar to help oversee the relief and rescue effort.
 
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Congress wrests Gurdaspur in Punjab from BJP, its ally IUML retains Vengara in Kerala

In a morale booster for the party ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has wrested the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat from the BJP by a huge margin and its ally, the IUML, retained the Vengara Assembly seat in Kerala in bye-elections held on October 11.
 
Congress' Sunil Jakhar wins Gurdaspur LS bye-election
In a morale booster ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has wrested the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha  seat from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by a huge margin and its ally, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), retained the Vengara Assembly seat in Kerala in bye-elections held on October 11.
 
Congress candidate Sunil Jakhar drubbed Mr. Swaran Singh Salaria of the BJP by a record margin of 1,93,219 votes in Gurdaspur.
 
In Vengara, Mr. K. N. A. Khader, the candidate of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), who is a member of the IUML, won from Vengara, defeating his nearest rival, P. P. Basheer of the Left Democratic Front (LDF), by a margin of 23,310 votes in the October 11 bye-election.
 
Counting of votes was taken up in both constituencies this morning, and the results were out by noon.
 
Gurdaspur had fallen vacant following the death on April 27 of well-known Hindi film actor Vinod Khanna, who represented the constituency in the Lok Sabha as a candidate of the ruling BJP.
 
Mr. Jakhar polled 4,99,752 votes against the 3,06,553 votes secured by Mr. Salaria. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Suresh Khajuria got just 23,579 votes.
 
Considering the fact that Mr. Khanna had won the seat by an impressive margin of 1.35 lakh votes in 2014, the bye-election ended up being a cakewalk for Mr. Jakhar, 63, the Congress Punjab unit chief and son of late Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jakhar.
 
In between, in March this year, the Congress won a resounding victory in the elections to the Punjab Legislative Assembly and its leader Amarinder Singh returned as Chief Minister of the state. The bye-election had turned into a battle of prestige for both sides.
 
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had ended up on the losing side in all the nine Assembly segments in Gurdaspur. Mr. Jakhar has managed to turn this around, winning from all the nine segments this time.
 
Gurdaspur was considered a Congress stronghold for long years, with its candidate Sukhbuns Kaur Bhinder winning the seat five times in a row from 1980 to 1996 before the BJP brought in Khanna, a top Bollywood actor, as its candidate in 1998. The actor-turned politician was re-elected from the seat in 1999, 2004 and then in 2014. In 2009, former Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa by a thin margin of 8,359 votes.
 
Mr. Jakhar described the bye-election result as a "referendum" on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance's government at the Centre and said the people of the constituency had sent a "strong message of resentment" over its policies.
 
"Congratulations to @sunilkjakhar ji for his impressive win in #Gurdaspur bypoll, it's a victory for @INCPunjab policies & development agenda," Mr. Amarinder Singh on microblogging site Twitter.
 
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"Assure people of #Gurdaspur that every single promise made by @sunilkjakhar will be fulfilled and all development works will be fast-tracked," he added.
 
Congress leader and Punjab minister Navjot Sidhu said, "This is a beautiful Diwali gift, packed with a red ribbon, for our would-be party president Rahul Gandhi."
 
In Vengara, Mr. Khader polled 65,227 votes against 41,917 secured by Mr. Basheer, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the main constituent of the ruling LDF in the state.
 
Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) candidadte K. C. Naseer ended up third with 8,648 votes while Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominee K. Janachandran  Master, finished fourth with 5,728 votes in the results announced today.
 
The bye-election in Vengara was necessitated by the resignation of IUML leader P. K. Kunhalikutty, who was elected to the Lok Sabha on April 12 from the Malappuram seat that fell vacant following the death of former Union Minister E. Ahamed.
 
While the UDF celebrated the victory, the LDF drew satisfaction from the fact that they had reduced the IUML candidate's victory margin from 38,057 votes in the 2016 Assembly elections, when Mr. Kunhalikutty had won, to 23,310 votes in this bye-election.
 
Today's results have come just three days after the Congress swept the municipal elections in Nanded-Waghala in Maharashtra, considered a stronghold of the party. The party won 67 of the 81 seats, while the BJP won four and its ally Shiv Sena got just one.
 
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29 killed, 250 injured in violence after Panchkula court convicts Dera Sacha Sauda chief in rape case

At least 29 people were killed and more than 250 others suffered injuries as thousands of followers of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh went on the rampage after he was convicted in a rape case by a special CBI court in Panchkula, Haryana on Friday.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
At least 29 people were killed and more than 250 others suffered injuries as thousands of followers of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh went on the rampage after he was convicted in a rape case by a special CBI court in Panchkula, Haryana today.
 
The quantum of punishment for the 50-year-old self-styled godman will be pronounced on August 28. Meanwhile, he was taken into judicial custody and flown in a helicopter from Panchkula to Rohtak, where he was lodged in a special jail.
 
Police officials said 28 people had died in Panchkula, which bore the brunt of today's violence, several of them in police firing. There were clashes between Ram Rahim's supporters and the police in Sirsa, where the Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters are located.
 
One person died and four people suffered injuries in police firing in Sirsa, where the situation remained tense, with large numbers of Ram Rahim's followers gathered inside the Dera headquarters.
 
The officials said the police had been able to clear the mobs off the streets in all other towns in Haryana.
 
About 60 policemen also suffered injuries in today's incidents, including two senior superintendents of police and one deputy superintendent of police, they said.
 
In Delhi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who returned during the day from a visit to Kyrgyz Republic, spoke to Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and discussed the situation with them. Mr. Rajnath Singh assured them of all necessary assistance from the Centre.
 
Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said he had talked to the Chief Secretary of Haryana who had told him that the situation was being brought under control. "The situation is tense but under control," he said, adding that the Centre was monitoring the situation continuously.
 
Thousands of Singh's supporters had gathered at different points in Panchkula and other parts of Haryana and Punjab and violence erupted shortly after news of his conviction came.
 
 
29 dead as Dera followers bring Panchkula to its knees
In Panchkula, scores of vehicles, including fire tenders, outdoor broadcast vans of television news channels and two-wheelers were set ablaze. The mobs also attacked some government property. Police used teargas, lathi-charges, pellet guns and finally resorted to firing to disperse the mobs.
 
A former follower of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had accused him of repeatedly raping her inside the Dera campus near Sirsa in Haryana in 1999. The first information report in the case had been filed in 2002.
 
The mobs targetted media vehicles and attacked some journalists reporting from the scene.
 
Incidents of violence were also reported from various other places in Haryana as well as Punjab, Rajasthan and Delhi.
 
In Delhi, some buses in Jahangirpuri and other localities and two coaches of a train parked in the railway yard at Anand Vihar were partially burnt after they were set on fire by miscreants. Police said reinforcements had been rushed to all affected and patrolling had been stepped up all across the city. The situation was under control, they added.
 
Though thousands of policemen had been deployed in Panchkula and elsewhere in Haryana to prevent any untoward incident, they were unable cope with the wave of violence that started after the verdict was pronounced. Police used teargas shells to try and disperse the mobs. Curfew was imposed in some towns of Punjab.
 
Television pictures showed ambulances bringing scores of injured persons to the government hospital there.
 
The Railways had, as a precautionary measure, cancelled some 300 mail, express and passenger trains passing through  Haryana in the past few days.
 
The Centre had sent several companies of central armed police forces to Haryana at the request of the state government and the Army's assistance had been sought at some places.
 
Mr. Khattar urged people to stay calm and maintain peace. He said strict action would be taken against those who disturb the peace and took law into their own hands.
 
In Gurgaon, near here, the police staged a flag march which passed through Kherki Daula, IMT Manesar, Bilaspur, sohna, Bhondsi and Badshapur as a precautionary measure.
 
"A close watch is being kept on the anti-social elements and miscreants who try to take advantages of such situation," a press release from Gurgaon Police said.
 
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the "instances of violences" were "deeply distressing". He said he strongly condemned the violence and urged everyone to maintain peace.
 
"The instances of violence today are deeply distressing. I strongly condemn the violence & urge everyone to maintain peace," he said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
 
"The law & order situation is being closely monitored. I reviewed the situation with the NSA & Home Secretary," he said.
 
"Urged officials to work round the clock to restore normalcy and provide all possible assistance that is required," he added.
 
In Delhi, the police has imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, banning the assembly of five or more persons, as a precautionary measure in 11 districts, including New Delhi.
 
"Adequate police arrangements in place & Law & Order situation under control. Officers with reserve force on rounds to maintain peace," the Commissioner of Police said on Twitter.
 
"Appeal to all to maintain peace & order. #DelhiPolice on full alert. Strict legal action will be taken against miscreants for any violation," he added.
 
Meanwhile, the Congress has demanded the resignation of Mr. Khattar and urged the Prime Minister to put the interests and safety of Indians before his party's interests.
 
Congress President Sonia Gandhi expressed grave concern and shock at the violence.
 
Ms. Gandhi spoke to Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh about the situation. She urged the Governments of Punjab and Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh to ensure the safety and security of citizens. She also appealed to the people to maintain peace and harmony.
 
"Violence & brutality have no place in our society. Condemn the rampage and lawlessness in Haryana & appeal to restore peace and tranquility," Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter.
 
Mr. Amarinder Singh appealed to the people of Punjab to maintain peace and harmony. "We won't allow anyone to disturb the peace and tranquility of our state," he added.
 
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Assembly elections: Counting of votes to be taken up on Saturday

Counting of votes will begin on Saturday morning in the crucial elections to the State Legislative Assemblies of five States -- Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa -- and most of the results are expected to be out within a few hours after that.
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Counting of votes will begin tomorrow morning in the crucial elections to the State Legislative Assemblies of five States -- Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa -- and the keenly-awaited results are expected to have far-reaching implications for national politics.
 
The elections in five States have taken place mid-way through the five-year term of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and just weeks after the sudden decision of the government on November 8 to demonetise Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 banknotes.
 
Polling in Uttar Pradesh -- India's most populous state -- was held in seven phases between February 11 and March 8, while Manipur had polling in two phases on March 4 and 8. Punjab and Goa had single-phase polling on February 4 and Uttarakhand had single-phase voting on February 15.
 
The terms of the Goa, Manipur and Punjab assemblies are due to normally expire on March 18, Uttarakhand on March 26 and Uttar Pradesh on May 27.
 
The Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly has 403 seats, including 84 reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) and two for Scheduled Tribes. Punjab Assembly has 117 seats (34 SC), Goa 40 (1 SC), Uttarakhand 70 (13 SC, 2 ST) and Manipur 60 (1 SC, 19 ST).
 
The Election Commission will give out counting trends and results of the elections through its website from 8 am tomorrow.
 
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Among other things, the website will give details such as the number of votes secured by the candidates round-wise and constituency-wise and political party-wise and candidate-wise trends.
 
The website can also be accessed through the main website of the Election Commission of India.
 
For the first time, the Commission will also provide analytics through interactive dashboard in the form of clickable infographics. Users can download data, crosstab, PDF and images for analysing the elections further at their end. It will include comparative analytics between 2012 and 2017. 
 
An official press release said users will get constituency analysis with respect to participation of electors (constituencies with more female electors, constituencies by slabs of voter turnout, turnout by poll days) and candidates (gender wise participants, winners and major competitors). To assess performance of political parties, analysis on seats won by them, the percentage vote-share in the State and the profile (age and social category)of candidates fielded by them have been included. Candidates have been mapped to their constituencies and the votes polled in their favour, it said.
 
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Punjab, Goa go to the polls to elect new legislative assemblies

Punjab and Goa went to the polls on Saturday to elect new state legislative assemblies -- the first two of five states holding crucial elections midway through the five-year term of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and two months after the November 8 demonetisation of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 bank notes.
 
Voters queue to cast their votes amidst tight security
Punjab and Goa went to the polls today to elect new state legislative assemblies -- the first two of five states holding crucial elections midway through the five-year term of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and two months after the November 8 demonetisation of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 bank notes.
 
Voters began queueing outside polling stations in both states from early morning and their numbers were steadily increasing as the day progressed. 
 
Voting, which began at 7 am in Goa and at 8 am in Punjab, will end at 5 pm in both states.
 
Polling also took place today for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, which fell vacant after the resignation of Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh.
 
The Punjab Assembly has 117 seats and the Goa Assembly 40 seats and both states have single-phase polling today.
 
Uttarakhand will have single-phase polling on February 15, Manipur will have polling in two phases on March 4 and 8 and Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous state, will have polling in seven phases between February 11 and March 8.
 
Counting of votes in all the five states will be taken up on March 11 and all the results are expected by late evening that day.
 
The terms of the Goa and Punjab assemblies are due to expire on March 18.
 
The Election Commission has made elaborate arrangements for smooth, free and fair elections in both the states.
 
Punjab has a total of 19879069 voters, including 10503108 males and  9375546 females. There are 1145 candidates in the fray, including 81 women and one of the third gender. The Election Commission has set up 22,615 polling stations across the state.
 
In Goa, there are a total of  1110884 electors, including 546742 men and 564142 women. A total of 251 candidates, including 19 women, are in the fray.  The Commission has set up 1642 polling stations across the state.
 
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making a determined effort for another term in office in Goa, while the Congress is hoping to come back to power in Goa. The three-party alliance forged by Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, Goa Suraksha Manch and Shiv Sena is the other major player in the state.
 
Similarly in Punjab, the Congress is trying to wrest power back from the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine, which has been in office for a decade.
 
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The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the ruling party in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, has gone all out to emerge as the alternative to the established players in both the states.
 
In Punjab, SAD leader and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, 89, is seeking re-election for the sixth time. He will face Capt. Amarinder Singh, the chief ministerial candidate of the Congress, in the Lambi constituency. The Congress leader is also contesting the elections from his traditional seat of Patiala, where his opponent is former Army chief Gen J J Singh, a candidate of the SAD.
 
The Chief Minister's son Sukhbir Singh will face AAP's Bhagwant Mann, MP, who is his party's likely chief ministerial candidate, in Jalalabad.
 
Former Indian Test cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, who joined the Congress weeks ahead of the polls, is contesting from Amritsar East, a part of the Amrtisar Lok Sabha constituency that he represented in Parliament as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for two terms.
 
Prominent candidates in Goa include Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar (BJP) and five former Chief Ministers -- Ravi Naik, Digambar Kamat, Pratapsinh Rane and Luizinho Faleiro (Congress) and Churchill Alemao (NCP). There have been indications that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar might return to Goa as Chief Minister if the BJP retains power.
 
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Modi thanks Imran, flags off pilgrimage to Pakistan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor at Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab on November 9, 2019.  (Photo: IANS)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor at Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab on November 9, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday thanked his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan for respecting the sentiments of India and flagged off the pilgrimage to Darbar Sahib in Pakistan after inaugurating the Kartarpur Corridor.
 
In the first-of its-kind occasion in seven decades, Modi sent the first lot of 500 pilgrims to visit Darbar Sahib, also called Kartarpur Sahib, the last resting place of first Sikh Guru Nanak Dev, in Narowal district in Pakistan's Punjab province.
 
"Visit to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib will become easy now," Modi said at the Kartarpur Corridor inauguration event before opening the state-of-the-art Integrated Check Post for the corridor that connects Dera Baba Nanak shrine here in Punjab's Gurdaspur district with the historic Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara across the border in Pakistan.
 
The event is ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of first Sikh master Guru Nanak Dev that falls on November 12.
 
"I thank all who have been associated with the construction of the corridor," he said, adding he also thanked "Imran Khan for understanding Indian sentiments, respecting and working in the way to the construction of the Kartarpur Corridor within timeframe".
 
Donning a saffron turban, Modi, in his half an hour address at the function organised by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), said the corridor and the Integrated Check Post would serve thousands of devotees daily.
 
"Guru Nanak's teachings are being translated into various languages so that the next generation can also be enriched from them. We must vow to imbibe the preachings of Guru Nanak, which are still relevant," Modi said.
 
"Every Sikh Guru, starting from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh have made efforts for the unity, defence and security of India. It is this tradition which has been carried forward by the Sikhs in the independence struggle and thereafter in protecting the country," the prime minister said.
 
Also expressing gratitude to Unesco for helping in spreading the message of Guru Nanak, Modi said after abrogation of Article 370, the Sikh families in Jammu and Kashmir could also exercise rights like other Sikhs across the country to visit Kartarpur sahib.
 
Modi also released a special coin and postal stamps on the occasion.
 
Before flagging off the first batch of pilgrims, who included former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Modi and other leaders partook at a 'langar'.
 
IANS
 

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Modi pays obeisance at Punjab's historical Sikh shrine

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Ahead of inaugurating the historic Kartarpur Corridor, a first in seven decades between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday paid obeisance at a highly revered Sikh shrine here.
 
Wearing a scarf, Modi spent time at the Gurdwara Ber Sahib located along the banks of the holy 'Bein', which is connected with many events in the life of the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev, whose 550th 'Prakash Purb' (birth anniversary) falls on November 12.
 
Modi was received by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Union minister Harsimrat Badal.
 
The Prime Minister flew in   Sultanpur Lodhi in a helicopter from the Amritsar airport.
 
The Shriomani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which has control over Sikh religious affairs, manages gurdwaras (Sikh temples) in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, including the holiest of Sikh shrines Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as Golden Temple in Amritsar, presented a 'siropa' (robe of honour) to Modi.
 
One of the main wishes of the pilgrims arriving in the historical Sultanpur Lodhi have been to take a dip in the 'Bein'.
 
To fulfil the wish, the Punjab government has spent Rs 4.96 crore on the development of the Bein and made arrangements for the pilgrims to take a dip without any hassle.
 
The pilgrims take a dip in the Bein before paying obeisance at the Gurdwara Ber Sahib.
 
From the Gurdwara Shri Sant Ghat to Busowal curve, the 4-km stretch of the Bein, has undergone transformation and several "ghats" have been developed.
 
Around 500 cusecs water is being released from the Mukerian Hydel Project to give a fresh lifeline to the ecology of the Bein.
 
The government has spent Rs 4.96 crore on the lining of the holy river's banks before releasing water in the Bein. A separate enclosure for the "shnaan" of women pilgrims has also been prepared.
 
For the benefit of pilgrims, two high-level bridges have also been constructed. The pilgrims are using these bridges for reaching the Bein and to pay obeisance at Gurdwara Ber Sahib.
 
IANS

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Modi to inaugurate Integrated Check Post at Kartarpur Corridor on Saturday

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Integrated Check Post (ICP) of the Kartarpur Corridor at Dera Baba Nanak, Gurdaspur in Punjab tomorrow.
 
Prior to the inauguration, Modi will pay obeisance at the Ber Sahib Gurudwara in Sultanpur Lodhi. Later, he will participate in a public programme at Dera Baba Nanak.
 
The inauguration of the ICP check post would facilitate Indian pilgrims to visit  Gurudwara Kartapur Sahib in Pakistan. India had signed the agreement with Pakistan on  October 24 on the modalities for operationalisation of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor at Zero Point, International Boundary, Dera Baba Nanak.
 
The Union Cabinet had passed a resolution on November 22, 2018 to celebrate the historic occasion of the 550th Birth Anniversary of Shri Guru Nanak Devji in a grand and befitting manner, throughout the country and across the globe.
 
The Union Cabinet also approved the building and development of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to the International Boundary, to facilitate pilgrims from India to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, round the year, in a smooth and easy manner.
 
As part of the development work, a 4.2-km four-lane highway connecting Dera Baba Nanak from Amritsar – Gurdaspur Highway was constructed at a cost of Rs 120 crore.
 
The state-of-the-art Passenger Terminal Building is located on 15 acres of land. The fully air-conditioned building, akin to an airport has more than 50 immigration counters, for facilitating about 5,000 pilgrims a day.
 
It has all the necessary public amenities including kiosks, washrooms, childcare, first aid medical facilities, prayer room and snacks counters inside the main building. A robust security infrastructure has been put in place with CCTV surveillance and public address systems.
 
A 300 ft. National Monumental Flag is also being hoisted at the International Border.
 
The agreement signed with Pakistan provides a formal framework for operationalisation of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.
 
The highlights of the agreement are that Indian pilgrims of all faiths and persons of Indian origin can use the corridor; The travel will be Visa Free; Pilgrims need to carry only a valid passport; Persons of Indian Origin need to carry OCI card along with the passport of their country.
 
The corridor is open from dawn to dusk. Pilgrims travelling in the morning will have to return on the same day; The Corridor will be operational throughout the year, except on notified days, to be informed in advance.
 
Pilgrims will have a choice to visit as individuals or in groups and also to travel on foot; India will send the list of pilgrims to Pakistan 10 days ahead of travel date. Confirmation will be sent to pilgrims 4 days before the travel date.
 
The Pakistan side has assured India on sufficient provision for ‘Langar’ and distribution of ‘Prasad’ besides the Portal for Registration.
 
The pilgrims will have to necessarily register themselves online on the portal prakashpurb550.mha.gov.in and exercise their choice to travel on any day. Pilgrims will be informed by SMS and email of the confirmation of registration 3 to 4 days in advance of the date of travel.
 
An Electronic Travel Authorization will also be generated. The pilgrims need to carry Electronic Travel Authorization, along with their passport, when they arrive at the Passenger Terminal Building.
 
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1,303 Indian Sikh pilgrims leave for Kartarpur Sahib in Pak

Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan  (Photo: Xubayr Mayo, Wikimedia Commons)
Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan (Photo: Xubayr Mayo, Wikimedia Commons)
A total 1,303 Indian Sikh pilgrims on Tuesday left for Pakistan via Attari border to participate in celebrations to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev.
 
The pilgrimage, organised by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the body that manages Sikh shrines in India, will conclude on November 14.
 
The devotees will visit Sikh shrines, including Nankana Sahib -- the birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev in Punjab province -- Panja Sahib in Hasanabdal city and Kartarpur Sahib.
 
The Kartarpur Gurdwara, located some 4 km from the border with India, is believed to have been built on the site where Guru Nanak died in the 16th century. It is going to be linked with the 4.2 km-long Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.
 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Kartarpur Corridor on November 9 and dispatch the first lot of pilgrims to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan's Punjab province on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev that falls on November 12.
 
IANS

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Delhi chokes: PM's Principal Secretary holds emergency meet

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The Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister has reviewed the grave situation of severe air pollution in Delhi, its adjoining National Capital Region (NCR) and other parts of North India on Sunday.
 
P. K. Mishra, on Sunday, reviewed at a high-level meeting the situation arising out of the severe air pollution. Senior officials from the States of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi -- the three states most affected, joined the meeting through video conferencing.
 
Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba will monitor the situation with these States on a daily basis and instruct necessary action to facilitate better coordination. The three states are ruled by different political parties which resulted in a lot of politicking and blame game.
 
Chief Secretaries of these States have been asked to monitor the situation right at the district level in their respective States, on a 24x7 basis.
 
This is the first of its kind emergency intervention that has taken place this season with unprecedented air pollution which hovered over 625 AQI in over all Delhi on Sunday and hitting the 999-mark at parts of the national capital like Bawana. The capital woke up to thick layers of smog and near-zero visibility that forced diversion of many flights to Delhi airport on Sunday.
 
Interestingly, the much needed move came on a day the Aam Aadmi Party held a press conference demanding an answer from the union environment minister Prakash Javadekar in the "next one hour" on when he intends to convene an emergency meeting of state environment ministers of North Indian states.
 
The move also comes in the backdrop of Punjab Chief Minister  Amarinder Singh writing to the Prime Minister on Saturday, asking him to intervene.
 
IANS

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Punjab, Haryana farmers caught in vicious time-cycle web

File photo of paddy stubble on  the outskirts of Amritsar, Punjab (IANS)
File photo of paddy stubble on the outskirts of Amritsar, Punjab (IANS)
Farmers in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, that are considered the granaries of India, are forced to burn paddy residue in the open owing to lack of technology for its management and no cash incentive to dispose it off scientifically, believe agricultural experts.
 
But citing helplessness in terms of burning being the only way, the governments are blaming one another for failure to check the stubble burning.
 
The farmers are caught in a vicious time-cycle as they have to harvest rice from mid-October to mid-November each year and cultivate wheat in a space of 10-15 days.
 
"Rice straw is not used for fodder, so we have to dispose it off after every harvest. Since the government is not coming up with any cash incentives, most of the farmers prefer to burn it despite the ban," Ajaib Singh, a 65-year-old farmer who owns 10 hectares on the outskirts of Punjab's Khanna town, the biggest grain market in Asia, said.
 
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has been seeking cost compensation of Rs 100 per quintal of paddy from the Centre to motivate the farmers against the burning of residue in the fields.
 
A sum of Rs 100 per quintal of paddy should be given to farmers so that they can arrange to manage the stubble without resorting to its open burning by using the compensation money to meet the paddy straw management cost, the Chief Minister said in his letter to the Prime Minister on September 25.
 
Agriculture officials told IANS that, every year after post-paddy harvest, Punjab faces the challenge of managing nearly 20 million tonne of paddy straw.
 
Going by estimates, about 85-90 per cent of this paddy straw is burnt in the fields.
 
On its part, the state is doing all it can to check the problem of stubble burning by providing around 28,000 paddy straw management machines to the farmers last year on subsidy ranging from 50 to 80 per cent.
 
Another 26,000 machines would be supplied to them this year, in addition to vigorous campaigns at the grassroots to sensitize farmers against stubble burning, and its ill effects on environment and human health.
 
The situation is a far cry as a majority of farmers struggle for survival in Punjab and Haryana.
 
There is an additional cost of using the machines, that is between Rs 2,500 and Rs 3,000 per acre, which the farmers can not afford.
 
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Friday directed authorities to apprise the farmers about options for the management of crop residue to conserve the environment.
 
Thirty-four per cent decline of field fires has been registered in Haryana till October 22 compared to the corresponding period in last year.
 
Last year, crop residue burning was reported on 57,000 hectares compared to only about 38,000 hectares this year.
 
Khattar directed officers of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare Department to visit top 10 villages of the state where the maximum crop residue burning have been reported to ascertain the reason behind the activity.
 
He announced a cash incentive of Rs 1,000 to those who provide information about the stubble burning and the identity of that person would be kept secret, apart from exploring possibilities of utilization of residue in sugar mills for power generation.
 
Terming the AAP's protest against stubble-burning in the national capital an obvious political stunt with an eye on the upcoming Assembly elections there, the Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder lashed out at his Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal over his "brazen lies on the grave issue of air pollution".
 
"The air pollution in the capital was directly related to the rampant construction activity, widespread industrialisation and total mismanagement of the city traffic," he said, hitting out at Kejriwal for "trying desperately to divert public attention from his own government's failures by indulging in such outright lies".
 
"By blaming others for his own lapses, Kejriwal was showing signs of his poor leadership," Amarinder Singh said.
 
Kejriwal's claim that "stubble burning in neighbouring states was responsible for the horrendous situation in Delhi was absolutely ludicrous", especially considering that the number of farm fires in Punjab had actually been the same as last year, he said.
 
If stubble burning is the primary cause of Delhi's air pollution, as Kejriwal claims, then how can he explain the atrociously high AQI (air quality index) in the national capital even during December and January, Amarinder Singh asked.
 
Taking a jibe, six-time BJP legislator and former state Health Minister Anil Vij asked Kejriwal that he should find causes of air pollution in Delhi itself instead of blaming the neighbouring states.
 
"When there is no burning of stubble, at that time why the pollution level of Delhi is alarmingly high," he said, adding Kejriwal should look into the causes of pollution in Delhi itself rather than blaming farmers of Haryana and Punjab.
 
"This is the style of Kejriwal's politics that he blames the entire world for everything," added Vij, who is quite popular with his action-oriented style of functioning and for his no-holds barred comments, including on his own government and colleagues.
 
IANS

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Congress slams govt over 'generosity' to Sikkim CM, Rajoana

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The Congress on Monday slammed the "generous" Election Commission and a "super generous" Central government for reducing the disqualification period of Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang after his conviction in a corruption case.
 
The Election Commission reduced Tamang's disqualification period to 13 months, which ended on September 10, thus enabling him to contest polls. Tamang, who had earlier spent a year in jail after being convicted in a corruption case, had also been barred from contesting elections for six years.
 
Tamang was found guilty in 2016 of misappropriating government funds in a cow distribution scheme when he was the Minister for Animal Husbandry in the 1990s. The verdict was upheld by the state high court as well as the Supreme Court.
 
He had moved the Election Commission to waive his disqualification period.
 
The Congress also questioned the government on "what is this new very-very cheap definition of pure politics" for commuting the death sentence of Balwant Singh Rajoana, who was convicted for the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, to life imprisonment.
 
Addressing a press conference, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi asked what was the BJP government's "commitment to basic values and principles".
 
Referrring to Rajoana, he said: "Here is a heinous offence of a constitutional post holder... here is a party which ignores the loss of 16 other lives."
 
On August 31, 1995, the then Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh was killed in an explosion outside the Civil Secretariat in Chandigarh. Sixteen others also lost their lives in the terror attack in which Punjab Police employee Dilawar Singh had acted as a human bomb.
 
IANS
 

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IndiGo introduces daily flights from Amritsar to Sharjah

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Low-cost carrier IndiGo has announced plans to introduce a daily direct flight between Amritsar in Punjab and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with effect from October 1.
 
With the launch of this flight, IndiGo will be the first airline to provide direct connectivity between Amritsar and Sharjah.
 
This will be IndiGo’s second flight from Amritsar connecting a destination in UAE, after the launch of flight to Dubai last year, a press release from the airline said.
 
William Boulter, Chief Commercial Officer, IndiGo said, “We are pleased to announce the first direct connection between Amritsar and Sharjah, which will also be our second non-stop flight from Punjab to UAE. As Punjab government works towards increasing industrialization and investment in the state, the direct connections with UAE will not only enhance mobility but also promote trade opportunities between the two regions. As UAE finalises its plans for a mega food park in Punjab, increased connectivity will be an enabler for channelizing the business potential into commercial opportunities. These connections will also strengthen IndiGo’s presence in UAE and the Middle-east market”.
 
“IndiGo will continue to expand its network in middle-east to meet the requirements of both business and leisure travellers. It is our constant endeavour to provide flexibility of choice to our customers as IndiGo continues to offer them on-time, affordable, courteous and hassle-free flying experience always," he added.
 
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21 killed, 26 injured in blast in Punjab firecracker unit

Rescue workers at the scene of a blast at an unauthorised firecrackers factory in Batala town of Gurdaspur district of Punjab, on September 4, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
Rescue workers at the scene of a blast at an unauthorised firecrackers factory in Batala town of Gurdaspur district of Punjab, on September 4, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
At least 21 people were killed and 26 injured in an explosion following a blaze at an unauthorised firecrackers manufacturing unit in a densely-populated residential area in Punjab's Gurdaspur district on Wednesday, an official said. Two people are still missing.
 
The dead included the firecracker manufacturing unit's owner and his son.
 
Rescue workers, including National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel, were on the job to retrieve two missing people from the badly-damaged building located next to the totally damaged firecracker unit in Batala town of the district, Deputy Commissioner Vipul Ujwal told the media at the spot.
 
He said seven grievously injured were referred to the Guru Nanak Hospital in Amritsar.
 
A number of nearby buildings, including a car workshop, were badly damaged in the explosion. An elderly woman and her grandchild, who were passing close to the disaster spot, were among the dead.
 
The cause of the blast, which damaged the buildings in a radius of up to 200 metres, is yet to be ascertained, police said. Even a few stranded vehicles were flung up in the air with the blast.
 
Cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, who reached the accident spot, announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the next-of-kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 for the injured.
 
The government ordered a magisterial probe into the incident.
 
Locals complained the firecracker unit was running illegally for the past many years. It was manufacturing and storing crackers for a 'nagar kirtan' -- a religious procession relating to the birth anniversary celebrations of Sikhism's founder Guru Nanak Dev -- slated to reach the town late Wednesday evening.
 
"The firecracker factory has been working in this locality for the past many years. We have complained against the factory seven-eight times to the local administration, but no action has been taken against it," a local resident told the media.
 
He said a similar blast occurred in this area in January 2017, leaving one person dead and three injured.
 
Expressing anguish over the loss of lives, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said rescue operations were underway with the Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police heading the relief efforts.
 
Gurdaspur MP Sunny Deol too expressed grief over the blast.
 
"Saddened to hear about the news of blast in Batala factory. NDRF teams and local administration has been rushed for rescue operation," Deol tweeted.
 
IANS
 

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16 killed in blast in Punjab firecracker factory

Rescue workers at the scene of a blast at an unauthorised firecrackers factory in Batala town of Gurdaspur district of Punjab, on September 4, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
Rescue workers at the scene of a blast at an unauthorised firecrackers factory in Batala town of Gurdaspur district of Punjab, on September 4, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
At least 16 people were killed and many injured in a blast at an unauthorized firecrackers factory in a residential in Batala town of Punjab's Gurdaspur district on Wednesday, an official said.
 
Rescue workers were on the job to retrieve the bodies from the badly-damaged building, an official told IANS over phone.
 
The cause of the blast is yet to be ascertained, he added.
 
IANS
 
 
 
 
 

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Floods hit life in Punjab and Haryana, Delhi threat dips

Hutments submerged in the swollen Yamuna river which is flowing above the danger mark with the water level at 206.60 metres, in New Delhi on Aug 21, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
Hutments submerged in the swollen Yamuna river which is flowing above the danger mark with the water level at 206.60 metres, in New Delhi on Aug 21, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
Large areas across Punjab and Haryana on Wednesday remained affected by the floodwaters which have submerged crops and marooned villagers even though water levels in swollen rivers were receding, officials said. In Delhi, the Yamuna was still above the danger level, but not rising any more.
 
Punjab has declared a national calamity, while Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar carried out an aerial survey of the affected areas in his state.
 
In Delhi, the Yamuna continued to flow above the danger mark at 206.44 metres at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, but was now showing a receding trend, a Flood Control Department official told IANS but added the situation is still "critical".
 
The water level rose due to rain in northern India and discharge of water from the Hathnikund Barrage in Haryana.
 
Thousands of people living along the banks of the river in Delhi were moved to safer places. They have been asked to stay in the tents until the water level comes down to normal. Rail and vehicular traffic on the Old Yamuna Bridge was suspended as the water level rose.
 
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Revenue Minister Kailash Gahlot inspected a relief camp at Usmanpur on Wednesday, while Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari, who is also a Lok Sabha MP from the city, visited the flood-affected areas of Kisan Basti, Usmanpur and Gadhi Mandu.
 
In Punjab, more than 300 villages, mainly in Ropar, Jalandhar and Ferozepur districts, were badly affected by flooding by the Satluj river and authorities on Wednesday deployed helicopters to airdrop food and water supplies to the residents.
 
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had asked the Financial Commissioner to officially declare a natural calamity in the villages as a unit in order to facilitate the affected people to claim insurance against the losses.
 
He also asked the Finance Department to immediately clear the pending relief funds to the tune of around Rs 100 crore.
 
An official with the state Drainage Department said the overall situation in the Beas and Ravi rivers was under control though danger continued to lurk in areas adjacent to the Satluj river and further downstream at the Harike headworks in Ferozepur.
 
Meanwhile, relief teams of the Indian Army under the Western Command were carrying out rescue operations in various areas of Punjab and Haryana.
 
In Haryana, with the decline in rainfall activity in the past two days, the water level came down in the swollen Yamuna river, which was responsible for flooding in Yamunanagar, Karnal, Panipat and Sonipat districts.
 
A dozen villages in Yamunanagar district were flooded by the excess water released from the Hathnikund barrage, submerging thousands of acres of paddy, sugarcane and maize crops. Farmers in other districts were also hit and were demanding special 'girdawari' to assess the crop loss.
 
Meanwhile, the Bhakra Dam authority, which has been facing criticism for flooding downstream in Punjab with the release of water from the dam, on Wednesday said it has managed to handle one of the worst-ever floods in the region in 40 years.
 
Bhakra Beas Management Board Chairman D. K. Sharma told IANS that the release of controlled water from the dam into the Satluj river from August 16 onwards helped in keeping the dam deflection angle - where the structure is minutely displaced when reservoir is filled close to its carrying capacity - under control.
 
"An unprecedented hydrological event on the night of August 17 occurred when there was an inflow of 311,130 cusecs. It raised the water level to 1,681.33 feet on August 19.
 
"Keeping in view the safety of the dam, we had to resort to controlled water release of 19,000 cusecs through the spillway from August 16, which was increased to 41,000 cusecs on August 19 in addition to the release for the power generation through the turbines," Sharma said.
 
Sharma said they were monitoring the inflows into Bhakra reservoir continuously, and it has also been decided to bring down its present level by at least five feet to 1,675 feet to handle possible future floods.
 
The next challenge for the board is the Met prediction of the next spell of heavy rainfall from August 23.
 
In Maharashtra, where the toll in the Pune division has crossed 50 while another four are missing, legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar and superstar Aamir Khan have contributed Rs 11 lakh and Rs 25 lakh, respectively towards the Chief Minister's Relief Fund.
 
The worst-hit is Sangli district accounting for 26 deaths, followed by Kolhapur with 10, Satara 8, Pune 9 and Solapur one. Two people are still missing in Kolhapur and one each in Sangli and Pune districts.
 
In Kerala, the Pinarayi Vijayan government decided that Onam celebrations will be low key as the state is still recovering from devastating floods.
 
Heavy rains have battered several districts of the state since the past fortnight leaving 125 people dead and destroying property worth crores. Over 6,000 people are still staying in 86 relief camps set up in the state.
 
Last year, the state government was forced to cancel Onam celebrations after the state witnessed similar floods and devastation.
 
IANS
 

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Flood-hit Punjab declares natural calamity

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The Punjab government on Monday declared the current flood situation in the affected villages of the state as a natural calamity, with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh directing the Financial Commissioner Revenue to issue the necessary notification at the earliest.
 
Amarinder Singh asked the Financial Commissioner to officially declare natural calamity in the villages as a unit in order to facilitate the affected people to claim insurance against the losses from various companies.
 
This would also help the banks, especially the state cooperative banks, to restructure and defer the recovery of crop loans from the farmers, as per the norms of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
 
The Chief Minister was chairing a high-level meeting to review the flood preparedness in the state.
 
During the meeting, he asked the Finance Department to immediately clear the pending relief funds to the tune of around Rs 100 crore for expeditious disbursement by the Revenue Department through the respective Deputy Commissioners.
 
Amarinder Singh, who had earlier in the day visited the flood-hit areas in Ropar to make an on-the-ground assessment of the situation, also directed all the Deputy Commissioners, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and all other state government departments and entities to closely monitor the flood situation in close coordination with the police with a view to providing not only expeditious rescue and relief operations, but also to take pro-active preventive measures.
 
Compensation as per the prescribed norms should be disbursed expeditiously in case of death to the next of kin forthwith, the Chief Minister directed, while also ordering temporary subsistence allowance to the migrant labours, who may otherwise not be covered in the existing relief norms under the state policy, to be paid out of the Chief Minister's Relief Fund.
 
IANS
 

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Punjab man ends life after killing 5 family members

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A 27-year-old agriculturalist who was under depression committed suicide after he shot dead five members of his family in a village in Punjab with a stolen revolver over alleged land sale dispute, police said on Saturday.
 
The incident took place at Nathuwal village near Moga on Friday night, police said.
 
Sandeep Singh allegedly shot dead his grandmother, father, mother, sister and her three-year-old daughter and later shot himself, a police officer said.
 
His grandfather Gurcharan Singh received bullet injuries.
 
A 19-page suicide note said the ancestral land sale by the family disturbed him.
 
He also cited his proposed marriage in December, which was against his wishes, as the reason for the extreme step. He wrote that he was "impotent", but his family deliberately concealed this fact from his would-be bride.
 
Locals said Sandeep, who was the only child, took the extreme step in a fit of rage.
 
Village sarpanch Jagsir Singh said as per the suicide note, the weapon used in the crime was stolen from a relative's place.
 
The victims had a big house built in the village.
 
IANS
 

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Two killed, 12 hurt in blast at Ludhiana iron furnace unit

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Two labourers were killed and 12 others injured in a blast in an iron furnace unit in Punjab's Ludhiana town, police said.
 
The injured, most of them migrant workers, were rushed to hospitals here with 25 to 30 per cent burns. Two of them have been shifted to Rajindra Medical College and Hospital in critical condition.
 
The labourers were involved in remodeling hot iron when the incident occurred, a police official said. The blast was so powerful that the factory was also partially damaged.
 
"We rushed to the site on hearing the sound of the blast. Two labourers died due to burns, while 12 others were admitted in hospital," a labourer told the police.
 
Prima facie it appears to be a case of negligence, said the official.
 
Ludhiana and its nearby town Mandi Gobindgarh are iron industry hubs of Punjab.
 
IANS
 

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Punjab Chief Minister accepts Navjot Sidhu's resignation

Navjot Singh Sidhu. (File photo: IANS)
Navjot Singh Sidhu. (File photo: IANS)
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday accepted his Cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu's resignation.
 
The Chief Minister forwarded the resignation to Governor Punjab V. P. Singh Badnore for formal acceptance, an official in the Chief Minister's Office told IANS.
 
Sidhu, who had been at loggerheads with the Chief Minister, formally resigned on July 14 as Minister for Power and New and Renewable Energy Sources, the portfolio he had not taken charge of.
 
Amarinder Singh has said that if Sidhu did not want to do his job, there was nothing that he could do about it.
 
The Minister should have accepted his new portfolio instead of shunning work in the middle of the crucial paddy season, said the Chief Minister, reiterating that Sidhu was given a job, which he should have accepted and done.
 
On June 6, Sidhu had been divested of the charge of Local Government and Tourism and Cultural Affairs portfolios and given Power and New and Renewable Energy Sources in a Cabinet reshuffle, the first after the Lok Sabha election results.
 
Barring four, there were changes in the portfolios of all the ministers as a result of the reallocation, which Amarinder Singh said, would help further streamline the governing system and bring more transparency and efficacy to various departments.
 
However, Sidhu, who had been at loggerheads with the Chief Minister ever since his wife Navjot Kaur was denied a ticket for the Lok Sabha polls, refused to take charge of his new portfolios.
 
On June 10, Sidhu met Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Ahmed Patel in New Delhi and told them that his department had been singled out and publicly blamed for the party's Lok Sabha poll defeat. Patel was entrusted with the task of resolving the rift between the Amarinder Singh and Sidhu.
 
The Chief Minister even met Patel during his visit to Delhi last month, but his office described the meeting as merely a "courtesy call".
 
IANS

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Sidhu sends resignation to CM Amarinder Singh

Navjot Singh Sidhu. (File photo: IANS)
Navjot Singh Sidhu. (File photo: IANS)
Ending the suspense in this regard, Punjab Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on Monday said he had sent his resignation to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
 
"Today I have sent my resignation to the Chief Minister Punjab, has been delivered at his official residence...," he said on Twitter.
 
However, the Chief Minister was away in Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There was no comment on the issue from the Chief Minister's Office.
 
IANS
 
 
 
 

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Navjot Singh Sidhu resigns as Punjab minister

Navjot Singh Sidhu. (File photo: IANS)
Navjot Singh Sidhu. (File photo: IANS)
The rift between Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his Cabinet colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu deepened on Sunday, when the latter resigned as Minister for Power and New and Renewable Energy Sources.
 
"I hereby resign as Minister from the Punjab Cabinet," the former-cricketer-turned politician wrote in his resignation letter. Posting the letter on Twitter, Sidhu tweeted: "My letter to the Congress President Shri. Rahul Gandhi Ji, submitted on 10 June, 2019." 
 
"Will be sending my resignation to the Chief Minister, Punjab," Sidhu tweeted after the Chief Minister's media adviser Raveen Thukral told IANS that the CM office had not received his resignation. 
 
Reacting to the development, Punjab Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa said it was technically wrong of Sidhu to submit his resignation from the Cabinet first to the party President.
 
Urging Sidhu to reconsider his decision, he said the politician should talk to the Chief Minister and resolve the issues between them. "He is an intelligent man and can contribute a lot to his new department," he added.
 
On June 6, Sidhu was divested of the charge of Local Government and Tourism & Cultural Affairs portfolios and given Power and New and Renewable Energy Sources in a Cabinet reshuffle, the first after the Lok Sabha election results. 
 
Barring four, there were changes in the portfolios of all the ministers as a result of the reallocation, which Amarinder Singh said, would help further streamline the governing system and bring more transparency and efficacy to various departments.
 
However, Sidhu refused to take charge of his new ministry. On June 10, he met Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Ahmed Patel in New Delhi and told them that his department had been singled out and publicly blamed for the party's Lok Sabha poll defeat. He had gone into hibernation since then. 
 
In his absence, Amarinder Singh on July 10 took crucial decisions related to electricity shortage as it was affecting paddy sowing in the state.
 
IANS
 

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Congress needs charismatic Gen Next leader: Punjab CM

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Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday backed a young leader to galvanise the Congress in the wake of Rahul Gandhi's resignation as the party President.
 
Pointing to the large and growing youth population in the country, the Chief Minister urged the Congress Working Committee (CWC) to look for Gandhi's replacement in a charismatic Gen Next leader, who can enthuse the people with his pan-India appeal and grassroots presence.
 
"Gandhi had shown the way for youth leadership to take the party's reins and steer it to greater heights", said the Chief Minister, adding that with India leading the world in terms of the largest youth population, it was natural that a young leader would understand and relate to the desires and aspirations of the people more effectively.
 
Any change in the party leadership must reflect India's societal reality, with 65 per cent of its population under 35, said Singh said in a statement.
 
He said Gandhi's decision to stand firm on his resignation was a major disappointment and setback for the party, from which it could recover only under the dynamic leadership of another young leader.
 
Only a youth leader could revive the grand old party, said the Chief Minister, urging the Congress leadership to keep the energy infused by Gandhi going.
 
The Congress needs young blood to galvanise its rank and file, and once again make it India's preferred and only choice, said Singh.
 
The leadership of the party should be such that it reflects the realignment of its vision to the evolving aspirations of the nation, he added.
 
A youth leader, with a forward-looking approach, would not only connect better with the large majority of India's young population but would inculcate the party with a dose of fresh thinking, desperately needed to pull the nation back from the regressive and divisive policies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he said.
 
Singh said under the guidance of the experienced party veterans, a young leader, with a visionary approach and modern outlook, would pave the way for the birth of a new India -- more vibrant, dynamic and progressive.
 
It was time, he said, for the old to give way to the new, without which the Congress could not effectively tackle the challenges faced today.
 
IANS

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