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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
 

(Our News Desk can be contacted at desk@netindian.in)

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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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India, Pakistan officials meet at Attari to discuss modalities for Kartarpur Corridor

Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan  (Photo: Xubayr Mayo, Wikimedia Commons)
Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan (Photo: Xubayr Mayo, Wikimedia Commons)
Indian and Pakistan today held their first meeting to discuss and finalize the modalities for the Kartarpur Corridor  -- that will facilitate Indian pilgrims to visit the Gurudwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur across the border in Pakistan -- at Attari, Amritsar on the border between the two countries.
 
The Indian delegation to the talks was headed by Mr. S. C. L. Das, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Pakistani delegation by Dr. Mohammad Faisal, DG, South Asia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
 
The talks are being held in keeping with the Government's decision to operationalise the Kartarpur Corridor on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, and meet the long pending public demand to have easy and smooth access to the holy Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib.
 
The Union Cabinet had, in November 2018, approved the proposal to develop a Kartarpur Corridor from Gurdaspur in Punjab to the international border to facilitate pilgrims' passage to Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan, on the banks of Ravi river in Narowal district of Pakistan's Punjab, where Guru Nanak Dev spent 18 years and where he died in 1539. It is located 4.5 km from the border near the Dera Baba Nanak town in Punjab's Gurdaspur district. 
 
Since many pilgrims visit the location on the international border from where the gurudwara in Kartarpur is visible, the government decided to set up the special corridor with all modern facilities at the border terminal including visa and customs facilities for those who are permitted to cross the border. Pilgrims would then be able to visit the holy shrine throughout the year.
 
India has also urged Pakistan to complete building the corridor on its side with suitable facilities.
 
In November 2018, Pakistan issued over 3,800 visas to Sikh pilgrims for the ongoing celebrations of the 549th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
 
India and Pakistan share a bilateral Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines that was signed in 1974.
 
IANS adds:
 
The meeting started after the arrival of the Pakistani delegation via the Attari-Wagah joint check post land border. It is being held at the Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Attari on the Indian side.
 
Officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), National High Authority of India and other related departments represent the Indian side at the talks. Pakistan has sent an 18-member team headed by its Foreign Office's Director-General of South Asia, Muhammad Faisal, who is also the Foreign Office spokesperson.
 
India has made it clear that the meeting was in no way a resumption of a bilateral dialogue.
 
"It is not any resumption of bilateral talks, let me make it very clear that it is not in any way a resumption of a bilateral dialogue," the MEA spokesperson said earlier. 
 
The Ministry has said that the issue relates to emotions and sentiments of the Indian citizens of the Sikh faith and its decision regarding the meeting reflects a strong commitment to operationalise the corridor on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev. 
 
Sources said that security aspect was of paramount importance and there will be no dilution in that. 
 
India is wary of the Pakistan establishment's direct and indirect support to pro-Khalistan elements who would like to take advantage by reaching out to pilgrims from India.
 
They have also said that Pakistan will also be conveyed that places of pilgrimage should not be used for separatist propaganda by anti-India elements. 
 
India is keen for visa-free access to the pilgrims to the historic Sikh shrine across the border.
 
Officials from both sides were also expected to discuss the alignment of the project as there is some mismatch in the coordinates.
 
"Continuing with our spirit of constructive engagement and flexibility and in line with our sincere efforts to deescalate the situation for regional peace and stability," Faisal told Pakistani media before leaving for India for the talks. 
 
He said that this was the first in a series of meetings. "We hope this initiative of the Prime Minister (Imran Khan) will not only facilitate Sikhs, especially from India, but will be a step forward in the current direction from conflict to cooperation, animosity to peace and enmity to friendship," he added.
 
An Indian delegation will visit Islamabad for a follow-up meeting on March 28.
 
The meeting is taking place a month after a militant of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terror outfit on February 14 blew up a truck of a Central Reserve Police Force convoy killing 40 troopers, and triggering India-Pakistan tensions.
 
The governments of India and Pakistan are trying to facilitate the travel of pilgrims to offer prayers at the gurdwara -- a demand made by the Sikhs for the past over 70 years.
 
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh wants "passport and visa-free 'khule darshan' for pilgrims".
 
The Union Government has already announced the setting up of a Rs 190-crore state-of-the-art Passenger Terminal Building Complex at Dera Baba Nanak, with its design inspired by the symbol "Khand", which symbolises values of oneness and humanity.
 
It will cater to about 5,000 pilgrims per day with provision to cater to additional 10,000 pilgrims during festivals.
 
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Gadkari lays foundation stones for two road projects worth Rs 746 crore in Punjab

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Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari laid the foundation stones for two road projects worth Rs 746 crore yesterday, one each at Phagwara in Kapurthala district and Sri Anandpur Sahib in Roopnagar district of Punjab. 
 
At Sri Anandpur Sahib, the Minister laid the foundation stone for upgradation of the 67.64 km long Banga-Garhshankar-Sri Anandpur Sahib-Naina Devi road at a tentative cost of Rs 581 crore in which 8.80 km area of the project falls in Himachal Pradesh. 
 
He also laid the foundation stone of construction of 2.555 km long elevated structure and vehicular underpass on NH-44 in Phagwara city at a cost of Rs 165 crore.
 
Addressing a public meeting here, he said the six-lane National Highway from Delhi to Beas will be upgraded up to Amritsar.  He also assured the channelization of Swan river in the area. The Minister paid obeisance at Takhat Sri Kesgarh Sahib, Sri Anandpur Sahib in Roopnagar district. 
 
Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Vijay Sampla, Public Works (B&R) and Information Technology Minister, Punjab, Vijay Inder Singla, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha from Sri Anandpur Sahib, Prof Prem Singh Chandumajra and Rajya Sabha member Shwait Malik were present at the function.
 
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'Prosperous India' not possible without 'Prosperous Punjab': Finance Commission

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Fifteenth Finance Commission Chairperson NK Singh today said a “Prosperous India” was not possible without a “Prosperous Punjab".
 
The Commission had a detailed meeting with the State Government Punjab headed by the Chief Minister of Punjab Captain Amrinder Singh. The meeting was also addressed by the State Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal.
 
The Commission was informed that Punjab constitutes 1.53% of total area of the country. The State has 2.33% of the total population of the country with an urbanisation rate of 37.48%. 
 
The sex ratio of the State was 895 as per Census 2011 as compared to 943 at all-India level. 
 
Population density of Punjab is very high as against the national average and has grown consistently since 1951, though at a slower pace than the latter. Population density of the State is 551 as compared to the national average of 382. Though comprising of 2.33% of total population of the country, the state’s share in inter-se devolution was 1.577.
 
States contribution to National GDP has been around 2.8-3.1% in the past 5 years (2011-12 to 2016-17). Share of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary sector is 29.2, 24.6 and 46.2% in 2016-17. Its per capita income is Rs. 128890 (Rank 13th) in 2016-17 as compared to India’s average of Rs 103870. 
 
Punjab is the first State to achieve 100% rural electrification, 100% rural connectivity through all-weather roads, mandi linkages of rural areas and now 24X7 rural water supply, an official press release said.
 
The state has among the lowest Transmission & Distribution Losses (T&D) in the country at 13.6% in 2017-18 down from 16.95% in 2013-14. The state has 100% road connectivity and, with a road density of 133 per square kilometre, the State is ranked second in the country.
 
The State has made significant development in reducing poverty, thereby showing its commitment towards SDG 1. It has a poverty ratio of 8.3 in 2011-12 declining from 20.9 in 2004-05 (Population below Poverty Line Tendulkar Methodology.
 
The memorandum submitted to the Commission by the State has given a balanced picture of both equity and efficiency indicators. It has proposed various indicators for performance measurement like in the areas of renewable energy, efficiency in Public Finance Management through IT initiative, Sewerage System in villages, efficient water resource management and solar-powered street lights.
 
The State ranks 2nd as per the Health Index 2018, prepared by the NITI Aayog in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare & the World Bank.
 
The Commission was concerned to note the State’s Rising Outstanding Debt to GSDP Ratio, Declining Tax Revenues, Challenges for the State Finances, Debt Trap Situation, Agriculture Distress & Groundwater Depletion and other issues. The state is exhibiting a rising trend in its Outstanding Debt to GSDP no’s. The Debt to GSDP ratio has increased from 30.99% in 2012-13 to 42.61% in 2016-17.
 
High interest payments coupled with the historical legacy of accumulated debt, which further got augmented due to the additional debt burden on the back of UDAY Scheme (of approx. Rs 15628 crore) and takeover of the legacy Cash Credit Limit (CCL) gap (of approximately Rs. 31000 crore) into long term loan.
 
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Double-digit debt growth rate of government of Punjab for the past years violated the norms of fiscal prudence, the release said.
 
As understood from the Principal Accountant General (PAG), Punjab and during the internal deliberations in the Commission, the State has been exhibiting lower growth rate of own tax revenue since 2013-14. This has also led to lower buoyancies of own tax with reference to GSDP in the recent years. The buoyancy has declined significantly over a period of five years from 1.70 in 2012-13 to 0.96 in 2017-18, the release said.
 
The projections submitted by the state government also indicate that the State is projecting its own tax revenues to grow at a mere trend growth rate of 4.13% during 2020-25.
 
As state’s own resources contribution is a significant contributor (around 70%) to the total revenue receipts of the State, this trend is disturbing and would not augur well for the state’s fiscal health, it said.
 
The implementation of the Pay Commission recommendations is expected to lead to significant growth in expenditure on Salaries & Wages and put an additional burden on the already strained financial resources of the State, constraining its fiscal space further. Committed expenditure comprising Salary, Interest payment, Pension and Subsidies constitutes more than 90% of the Total Revenue Receipts of the State.
 
The State is in a situation where its gross borrowings are not even enough to meet its expenditure on repayment of principal and interest payment, leaving little scope for the State to spend on developmental works, it said.
 
Some special demands from the State include a special package of Rs 12,000 crore for water cycle management in cities and villages, Rs. 1,000 crore for stubble burning; and Rs 1900 crore for providing revival to debt stressed farmers.
 
Special one-time infrastructure development package of Rs 500 crore for improving border area; Special recommendation to address the issue of disaster relief along the lines SDRF to address the issue of crop damages; Special debt relief package to improve fiscal performance; Rs. 2694 crore in lieu of payment for security loan during militancy period (1980-95); Waiving of CCL or division amongst stakeholders GOI, GO Punjab & Banks.
 
“All the issues, concerns and challenges raised by the Punjab Government will receive the Commission’s serious consideration over the coming months”, the Chairman said.
 
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Congress cheating farmers in name of loan waivers: Modi

In a frontal attack on the Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the Congress was cheating farmers in the country in the name of loan waivers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing a public meeting at Gurdaspur in Punjab on January 3, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing a public meeting at Gurdaspur in Punjab on January 3, 2019. (Photo: IANS)
In a frontal attack on the Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the Congress was cheating farmers in the country in the name of loan waivers.
 
"The Congress earlier cheated the country in the name of 'garibi hatao' for years and is now cheating farmers in the name of loan waivers," Modi told a public rally of the BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) alliance in Gurdaspur town.
 
"The Congress is doing the politics of lies and cheating. It has done nothing for farmers. It is misleading farmers in the name of waiving farmer loans," Modi said in his 35-minute address.
 
He said that in Karnataka, loans of farmers were not being waived and police were raiding their homes to arrest them, forcing the farmers to be on the run.
 
Referring to Punjab, Modi said the Congress promised to waive massive loans of farmers but that was far from truth.
 
"The truth is something else. As per their own documents and admission, only loans worth Rs 3,400 crore were waived in one and a half years.
 
"Is loan waiver a five-year plan for Congress? Will they (give loan waiver) after the farmer dies?" 
 
Modi said that the central government was working hard to bring around development in rural India. 
 
"We are working to doubling farmers' income by 2022. We want to empower the farmers and make them self reliant," he said.
 
Accusing the Congress of messing up on issues of national security, the Prime Minister said that the NDA government at the centre "is constantly working to make the country secure".
 
"The Congress leadership has messed with national security. They are spreading lies for the benefit of one family," he said, in an obvious reference to the Congress raking up irregularities and corruption in the Rafale fighter jet deal.
 
Modi accused the Congress leadership of not only shielding the leaders accused of killings of hundreds of innocent Sikhs in Delhi in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots but also rewarding them with Chief Ministership.
 
"Their history has been the massacre of innocent Sikhs. They have rewarded one accused with Chief Minister's chair. The whole country wanted that Congress leaders should be punished for the killings of Sikhs in Delhi. Our government formed the SIT (special investigation team) and the result is before you all," he pointed out.
 
SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal, Union Minister Harsimrat Badal and the entire senior leadership of the SAD-BJP alliance was present at the rally, around 230 km from Chandigarh.
 
IANS
 

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Congress claims massive win in Punjab panchayat polls

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Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday hailed the sweeping Congress victory in the just concluded panchayat polls in the state.
 
Describing it as a victory of democracy and a clear vindication of his government's policies, Amarinder Singh pointed out that 80.38 per cent out of the over 1.27 crore eligible voters exercised their franchise in the panchayat elections held on Sunday.
 
"Of the 13,175 sarpanches (village headman) elected so far, 11,241 belong to the Congress, with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accounting for only 981 and 100, respectively. Other smaller parties and independents accounted for 813 of the elected sarpanches," he said in a statement here.
 
"The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has suffered another ignominious electoral defeat, indicating that it had become completely irrelevant and was a non-entity in Punjab," he added.
 
The Chief Minister congratulated the people of Punjab for ensuring a largely peaceful poll with record polling percentage.
 
Of the 17,268 booths in which polling was held, re-poll was ordered in a mere 14, the Chief Minister pointed out, lauding the security forces for maintaining law and order during the elections "despite attempts by the opposition to trigger trouble".
 
"Undeterred by the false propaganda unleashed by the opposition parties against the Congress government, the voters came out in large numbers without fear to cast their votes in favour of (Congress) candidates," he added.
 
"This shows that the disillusionment of the electorate with the SAD and other opposition parties, including the BJP and AAP, was complete. The people of Punjab were no longer willing to be misled by the canards being spread by these parties," he said.
 
Amarinder Singh said that the panchayat polls indicated the palpable pro-Congress mood in the state ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
 
"The negative campaigning of the opposition, which was clearly bereft of any positive agenda, had also contributed to the Congress victory in the panchayat elections and would continue to stand the party in good stead in the Lok Sabha polls," he added.
 
The Congress came to power after Assembly elections in March 2017.
 
IANS
 

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Voting begins for Punjab panchayat elections

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Amid a cold wave sweeping the state, voting for panchayat elections began across Punjab's rural belt on Sunday.
 
The State Election Commission (SEC) officials said over 1.27 crore voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the panchayat (village council) elections.
 
The polling is being held for 13,276 panchayats.
 
Though the voting, which started at 8 a.m. at 17,268 polling booths, was slow initially, people braved the cold conditions to come out and cast their votes.
 
In some of the polling stations, enthusiastic voters were standing in long queues early in the morning. These included many women.
 
The Punjab Police has made elaborate security arrangements for the panchayat elections.
 
While there are 28,375 Sarpanch (village headman) candidates in the fray for the 13,276 panchayats in Punjab, 104,027 candidates are trying their luck for the post of Panch (village council member).
 
A spokesman of SEC had earlier said 1,863 sarpanches were elected unopposed after the end of the withdrawal process of nomination papers, and 22,203 panches have also been elected unopposed.
 
Authorities in Punjab had received 210,494 nominations for the panchayat elections. Of these 48,111 nominations papers were filed for the post of sarpanch and 162,383 nominations papers filed for the post of panch.
 
At total of 83,831 panches would be elected for 13,276 panchayats. Of these, 17,811 seats are for Scheduled Castes, 12,634 for Scheduled Caste Women, 22,690 for general category women, 4,381 for Backward Classes and 26,315 seats are for the general category.
 
The Congress has been in power in Punjab since March 2017.
 
The Opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has accused the Congress government of getting nomination papers of its candidates rejected at a number of places.
 
IANS
 

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Rajiv Gandhi statue vandalized in Ludhiana; Congress, Akalis in war of words

 
Youth Akali Dal leaders vandalise bust of Rajiv Gandhi in Ludhiana
Punjab's ruling Congress and opposition Shiromani Akali Dal were on Tuesday involved in a bitter war of words after the statue of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was vandalized in the industrial city of Ludhiana.
 
The statue was vandalized allegedly by workers of the SAD's youth wing following which Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh ordered strict action by the district police against the perpetrators. Following this, the police registered a case in this matter.
 
The incident, carried out by Youth Akali Dal activists Meetpal Dugri and Gurdeep Singh Gosha in Salem Tibri area of Ludhiana, around 120 km from here, led to a war of words between Congress and SAD leaders.
 
Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu later cleaned the statue with milk.
 
Blaming Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress for the killing of hundreds of Sikhs in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the Youth Akali Dal activists used spray paint to blacken the face of Rajiv Gandhi and painted his hands in red colour.
 
The activists then announced that they were doing this (vandalism) to show their anger against the role of Rajiv Gandhi, father of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, in the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984 in the aftermath of the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two bodyguards.
 
Strongly condemning the vandalism, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday asked SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal to stop indulging in petty politics. 
 
Warning him that "such acts would backfire on his party in the coming Lok Sabha elections", the Chief Minister asked Badal to immediately "apologize for the obnoxious act of his party workers". "Indulgence in such petty and condemnable actions will not absolve you or your family of the many sins of omission and commission against the Guru Granth Sahib and the Sikh community," Amarinder said in a statement.
 
"They are well aware of the fact that the Gandhis were never named or implicated in the 1984 riots, yet they continued to drag the family into the case to further their own political agenda," said the Chief Minister.
 
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SAD president Sukhbir Badal reacted strongly to Amarinder's statement. "You @capt_amarinder should apologise to the Sikh sangat for failing them as CM and standing with hated Gandhi family. The community has shown what it thinks of Rajiv Gandhi in Ludhiana. Don't disrespect the sentiments of Sikhs," Badal tweeted.
 
"If you @capt_amarinder have any 'dard' for the Sikh 'qaum' you would resign as CM and stand with the community to expose Gandhi family for authoring and engineering genocide of Sikhs in 1984. But it seems you are made of stone. No amount of suffering of the community moves you," Badal said.
 
"It would have been better if you @capt_amarinder as a true Sikh & Punjab CM had condemned the Gandhi family and demanded expulsion of #1984SikhGenocide culprits Sajjan Kumar & Kamal Nath from Congress party. But you are too busy in sycophancy of Gandhi family to save your chair," Badal added.
 
Congress Sewa Dal activists later blackened the faces of SAD president Sukhbir Badal and former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on posters in Ludhiana in retaliation against the statute vandalization. They burnt posters of both Akali Dal leaders.
 
Amarinder reiterated that only a few Congress, BJP and RSS workers were involved in the violence against the Sikh community in 1984 and the judiciary was proceeding to act against them.
 
"Sajjan Kumar had already been sentenced to life and others involved in the perpetration of the riots would also face legal action," he added. 
 
"Had the Gandhis been involved in any way, they would have been named by at least some of the victims in the wake of the riots," he observed, adding that while he had personally visited the refugee camps to meet the victims, Sukhbir had packed his bags and left for the United States and was totally unaware of the developments at that time."
 
"The Akalis, in their frustration to seize political mileage, are taking law into their hands, which my government would not allow at any cost," the Chief Minister warned, adding he would not let the state's hard-earned peace be disturbed by anyone.
 
Punjab has a Congress government since March 2017, headed by Amarinder Singh.
 
IANS
 

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Amritsar's miracle baby boy: Flushed down train toilet, recovered alive

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A baby boy, who was flushed down the toilet of a train in Amritsar but was miraculously recovered alive by sweepers cleaning the train, was on Sunday being treated at the Amritsar Civil Hospital, officials said.
 
The new-born was recovered from the Amritsar-Howrah Express train by sweepers on Saturday afternoon when the train stopped for cleaning.
 
The baby, who appears to be just one-day-old, was apparently abandoned and flushed down the train toilet. 
 
The Government Railway Police (GRP) and authorities in the Punjab city of Amritsar were investigating the matter.
 
CCTV footages at railway stations were being examined to ascertain who was behind the act.
 
The sweepers have told the GRP that a 'dupatta' (traditional stole) was found tied around the neck of the infant prompting suspicion that it was done in order to strangulate it before flushing it down the toilet. 
 
However, the baby did not fall from the train toilet.
 
A doctor at the Amritsar hospital on Sunday said the baby, who was found without any clothes and was shivering, was out of danger.
 
Police officials and doctors said that the infant was lucky to have survived despite being dumped "so mercilessly and left in the winter cold in the toilet flush".
 
The GRP has registered a case under Indian Penal Code's Section 317 against unidentified persons for exposure and abandonment of child under twelve years, by parent or person having care of it.
 
IANS
 

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Mumbai man, released form Pakistani prison, reaches India

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Hamid Nehal Ansari, the Mumbai man who was released from a Pakistani jail after six years for alleged espionage charges, crossed over to the Indian side at the Attari-Wagah border in Punjab on Tuesday.
 
A weary looking bespectacled Ansari in a jacket, muffler and a pashtun cap, was welcomed by his parents, Nehal and Fauzia, who were waiting at the border along with a large contingent of India-Pakistan friendship activists and officials.
 
Stepping on to the Indian side, the 33-year-old along with his family knelt down and touched the soil of his motherland with their foreheads.
 
As Ansari, stood up, he first hugged his mother and then embraced his father in an emotional reunion.
 
The three were then whisked away by the authorities without allowing any small talks with the media. 
 
Pakistan had alleged that Ansari, an engineer, was an "Indian spy" who illegally entered the country. Islamabad accused him of involvement in anti-state crimes, forging documents, and jailed him.
 
For the family, it was an ordeal since November 2012 when he left the country for Kabul for employment and then was reported "missing".
 
He reportedly became friendly with a Pakistan girl on social media and reached Kohat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to save her from a forced marriage.
 
On November 12, 2012, Ansari crossed over from Afghanistan border in Jalalabad to Peshawar in Pakistan where he was nabbed by Pakistan intelligence.
 
Later, a military court sentenced him to three years in jail, a term that he completed on December 15.
 
On Monday, the External Affairs Ministry said that it has received a note from Pakistan that they would be releasing Ansari on Tuesday.
 
"It is a matter of great relief, especially for the family members, that six years of incarceration of the Indian civilian in Pakistan jail is coming to an end," Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
 
"We would like Pakistan to take action to also end misery of other Indian nationals and fishermen whose nationality has been confirmed and who have completed their sentences, but continue to languish in Pakistan jails."
 
IANS
 

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Amarinder Singh admitted to hospital for kidney stone removal

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Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh was admitted to the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) here on Sunday. He will undergo a kidney stone removal procedure.
 
The 76-year-old Chief Minister wrote on Twitter on Sunday: "Got myself admitted to the PGI Chandigarh today evening for removal of a Kidney stone, a simple laser procedure will be performed tomorrow morning & I shall be returning to my work by Tuesday."
 
Amarinder was admitted to the PGIMER earlier on November 28 after he developed fever. He was kept in the hospital for the night and was discharged after completion of medical tests.
 
Congress president Rahul Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had on Monday (December 10) visited the Chief Minister at his official residence here to enquire about the latter's health. 
 
Both leaders were here for the re-launch of the 'Navjivan' Hindi newspaper in Mohali town in Punjab, adjoining Chandigarh. The Chief Minister could not attend the function due to ill-health.
 
Amarinder became Chief Minister of Punjab in March 2017, leading the Congress party to a thumping majority in the Assembly elections. Earlier, he was Chief Minister from 2002 to 2007.
 
IANS
 

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Kapil Sharma, Ginni Chatrath marry in Jalandhar

Kapil Sharma and Ginni Chatrath at their wedding at Jalandhar on December 12, 2018.
Kapil Sharma and Ginni Chatrath at their wedding at Jalandhar on December 12, 2018.
Star comedian Kapil Sharma married his lady love Ginni Chatrath here at a traditional Punjabi ceremony, which was enlivened by popular singer Gurdas Maan.
 
Kapil made a late entry at the wedding venue, which was done up in red and gold.
 
The bride stuck to the traditional for her attire, and accessorised her look with maatha patti, nath and statement earrings and a layered neckpiece.
 
Kapil sported a green sherwani, with string adding some drama to his look. His triple kalgi on the turban and sword grabbed attention, as did his bearded look.
 
He shared their first wedding picture himself via Instagram, with an emoticon with folded hands in gratitude for the love and blessings from all over.
 
The venue had ample security considering Kapil is an established name in the industry and has a huge fan following. Invitations to the wedding itself had a barcode for entry.
 
A guest on condition of anonymity told IANS that there was a limited gathering of the couple's close family members and friends, apart from a few names from the world of comedy.
 
It was very much a Punjabi wedding in terms of the food, barring special Thai food arrangements.
 
The star attraction was a performance by Gurdas Maan.
 
The "Comedy Nights With Kapil" star and Ginni wanted the wedding to be rooted in their culture. In fact, they chose Lovely Sweets, a 60-year-old Indian sweets manufacturer from here, for the sweets they have distributed, and Lovely Imagination, for designing the elaborate wedding invitations and sweets.
 
Their wedding was preceded by days of ceremonies and pre-marriage rituals, including a sangeet which saw their friends dance the night away.
 
IANS
 

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Cabinet approves Shahpurkandi Dam on the Ravi in Punjab

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The Union Cabinet on Thursday approved the Shahpurkandi Dam Project on the river Ravi in Punjab. 
 
Central assistance of Rs 485.38 crore (irrigation component) would be provided for the project over five years from 2018-19 to 2022-23, an official press release said.
 
Implementation of the project would help minimise water wastage through the Madhopur Headworks downstream to Pakistan. On completion of the project, an irrigation potential of 5,000 ha in Punjab State and 32,173 ha in Jammu & Kashmir would be created, it said.
 
In addition, water being released to provide irrigation in 1.18 lakh ha area under UBDC system in Punjab would be managed/regulated efficiently through this project and the irrigation in the area would be benefitted. On completion, Punjab would also be able to generate 206 MW of hydropower, it said.
 
Funding for Central assistance to Shahpurkandi Dam project will be made through NABARD under existing system for funding of 99 PMKSY-AIBP projects under LTIF.
 
In addition to existing monitoring mechanism for projects by Central Water Commission, a committee headed by Member, Central Water Commission and consisting of concerned Chief Engineers of Punjab and J&K and other concerned officers will be constituted to oversee/monitor the implementation of project.
 
The Advisory Committee of MoWR, RD&GR on Irrigation, Flood Control and Multipurpose Projects accepted the second Revised Cost Estimate amounting to Rs 2715.70 crore (February, 2018 Price Level) in its 138th meeting held on October 31.
 
The project will be implemented by Punjab with Central assistance of Rs. 485.38 crore. It will be completed by June 2022.
 
The Indus Waters Treaty was signed between India and Pakistan in 1960 for sharing of Indus waters. According to the Treaty, India got the full rights for utilization of waters of the three Eastern Rivers, namely Ravi, Beas and Satluj.
 
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Cabinet approves amendment of Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Act, 1951

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The Union Cabinet on Thursday approved the amendment of the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Act, 1951.
 
The decision aims to suitably amend the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Act, 1951 so as to secure representation as Trustees, “the Leader of Opposition recognized as such in the House of the People, or where there is no such Leader of Opposition, then the Leader of the single largest Opposition Party in the House”.
 
In the existing Act, there is a provision for representation of a single national political party. Deletion of the party-specific member from the Trust will make it apolitical. The proposed amendment ensures representation of the Opposition Party in the Trust, an official press release said.
 
The proposed Amendment will empower the Government to terminate and replace a Trustee to participate in the functioning of the Trust or for any other reason.
 
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Amritsar train tragedy: Sidhu's wife gets clean chit

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Punjab cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur has been given a clean chit in a Punjab government-appointed magisterial probe into the Amritsar train tragedy on Dusshera evening in which 60 people died, sources said here on Thursday.
 
The probe, conducted by Jalandhar Divisional Commissioner B. Purushartha, has indicted Saurabh Madan Mithoo, the son of Congress councillor in Amritsar and a close political aide of the Sidhu couple, and officials of the Amritsar Municipal Corporation, local administration, police and railway authorities for lapses that led to the tragedy.
 
The officials have been blamed for giving permissions without ensuring safety while railway officials have been blamed for allowing the speeding train to move on the tracks without bothering about people crowding on the tracks.
 
The report has been sent to Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh for further action.
 
Over 60 people were killed in the tragedy when a diesel multiple unit (DMU) train mowed them down on a railway track near Joda Phatak in Amritsar on October 19 while they were watching the burning of a Ravana effigy.
 
A separate inquiry into the train tragedy conducted by the Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety had blamed "negligence" of the people, who were standing on the railway track, for the incident.
 
Mithoo was the main organiser of the Dusshera event while Navjot Kaur was the chief guest.
 
Shiromani Akali Dal leader Virsa Singh Valtoha said on Thursday that they had predicted earlier that the Sidhu couple would get a clean chit in the magisterial probe.
 
The probe commissioner submitted his 300-page report to the Punjab Home Department on November 21. Over 150 people were examined during the probe.
 
Sidhu and his wife were both summoned by the one-man probe commission. However, Sidhu, who was present in Amritsar on November 2 when he was summoned, failed to turn up and said he was not in Punjab from October 16 to 20 and could not give any "inputs".
 
Opposition leaders and locals alleged that Navjot Kaur, a former legislator, fled the scene after the train killings.
 
There were allegations that the event was organised without mandatory permissions, which had to be given by the municipal corporation which falls under the local government department headed by Sidhu.
 
IANS
 

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Kartarpur: Minister sees 'opportunity', warns on 'ground realities'

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Union Minister of State Hardeep Puri on Wednesday said there was an "opportunity and goodwill" in the decision of the Indian and Pakistani governments to build the Kartarpur Corridor, but sounded a note of caution: "We have to be acutely conscious of the ground realities" in the two nations.
 
"This is a historic day. This is a long standing demand of the Sikh community. At least, what I know, since 1994-95, we have been making this demand," Puri, who walked across to Pakistan through the Attari-Wagah check post, around 30 km from Amritsar, along with Union Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, told the media before leaving.
 
Both Ministers will represent India at the function where Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan will on Wednesday afternoon perform the ground-breaking ceremony for the Kartarpur Corridor project near the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara, where Sikhism's founder, Guru Nanak Dev, spent the last 18 years of his life.
 
"This decision is anchored in hope and goodwill. But we have to be acutely conscious of the ground realities. 
 
"And the ground realities are that the two countries, on account of a lot of factors, house distrust. 
 
"We have felt for very long that we have been at the receiving end of actions of a country which should not have allowed certain forces on their territory. I don't want to touch on those now," Puri said.
 
The Minister made it clear that he was not going for any bilateral discussions with Pakistan.
 
"I am not carrying any bilateral brief. But equally, if the ground-breaking ceremony and these atmospherics is done in a positive way and we are able to invoke the Guru Maharaj's blessings, I am sure that it will become a stepping stone to positive things happening in the future," he said.
 
"This is a corridor that should have been operationalised many years ago. The cartographer who made the (boundary) line made a fundamental mistake. I think this (gurdwara) should have been on this (India) side (of the border). 
 
"But let's accept the ground realities. We should take one step at a time without getting euphoric," he said.
 
Puri said that both countries now need to operationalise the corridor project smoothly.
 
"I am expressing hope in my personal capacity and as a member of the Union Council of Ministers, that there is an opportunity here that the demand of the Sikh community has been met but we need to operationalise the decision. 
 
"And (for) making the corridor operative and to take this process further will require actions by all the stakeholders. 
 
"Let's take these things one step at a time. I don't want to jump the gun, I think we must allow the goodwill of the Guru Maharaj that is the essence of his teaching. 
 
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"He was a person at least half a century ahead of his times. And the kind of teachings he has given, if those teachings can be invoked to resolve our problems, it would be a very proud day for me as a Sikh," he added.
 
"I can tell you that I regard myself as particularly privileged and blessed to be able to make this pilgrimage and go and pay obeisance at the gurdwara sahib which has a very special significance in the life of every Sikh as it is the final resting place of the Guru," Puri said.
 
He added that the cabinet decisions of November 22, also brought about the opening of the corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to Kartarpur Sahib that was "one of the more significant measures".
 
Asked to comment on the statements of Punjab Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is projecting himself as the person who was instrumental in getting the Kartarpur Corridor project cleared by both countries, Puri said: "I don't want to comment on my colleague (Sidhu) in any way. 
 
"I have desisted from that. I never comment on what other people say. There is no scope for personalisation here. This is a demand of the Sikh community."
 
It was at the Kartarpur gurdwara, which is located around two to three kilometre from the India-Pakistan international border (IB) and is right opposite the border belt in Dera Baba Nanak in India's Gurdaspur district in Punjab, that Guru Nanak Dev spent his last days till he died in 1539.
 
The gurdwara, which fell inside Pakistan's territory following the Partition of India in August 1947, has huge significance in Sikh religion and history.
 
For the past over 71 years, ever since the Partition, Sikhs have been offering prayers near the IB watching the gurdwara from a distance.
 
IANS
 

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Thousands throng gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana to mark 'Gurpurab'

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Thousands of devotees thronged gurdwaras across Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh on Friday to offer prayers on the occasion of 'Gurpurab' - the 549th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev.
 
It also marks the start of the year-long celebrations leading to the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539) next year.
 
The holiest of Sikh shrines Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as Golden Temple, in Amritsar and other gurdwaras elsewhere saw religious fervour to mark the occasion. 
 
Long queues of devotees could be seen waiting to offer prayers inside the sanctum sanctorum.
 
People braved the early morning chill to offer prayers at gurdwaras. 
 
Guru Nanak Dev was born in 1469 in Nankana Sahib town (now in Pakistan), around 80 km west of Lahore city.
 
Reports of Gurpurab celebrations were received from Nankana Sahib also.
 
Over 3,000 Sikh devotees have gone to Pakistan to celebrate at Nankana Sahib.
 
Tight security arrangements were made around all leading Sikh shrines in Punjab in view of recent terror-related incidents in the state.
 
The Golden Temple complex was decorated with lighting since Diwali and Bandi Chhor Diwas earlier this month. 
 
Hymns were being rendered at the holy shrine and scores of other gurdwaras across the region to mark the occasion. 
 
At other gurdwaras in cities, towns and villages, hundreds of people could be seen coming to offer prayers. 'Langars' (community kitchen) were arranged at most gurdwaras.
 
Punjab Governor V. P. Singh Badnore and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh greeted people on the occasion and urged them to follow the Guru's teachings and to maintain peace and harmony.
 
IANS
 

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Cabinet gives go-ahead for Kartarpur corridor to ring in Nanak's 550th birth anniversary

The Union Cabinet on Thursday decided to develop a Kartarpur Corridor from Gurdaspur in Punjab to the international border to facilitate pilgrims' passage to Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan as part of the 550th birth year celebrations of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev, next year.

Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan  (Photo: Xubayr Mayo, Wikimedia Commons)
Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan (Photo: Xubayr Mayo, Wikimedia Commons)
The Union Cabinet on Thursday decided to develop a Kartarpur Corridor from Gurdaspur in Punjab to the international border to facilitate pilgrims' passage to Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan as part of the 550th birth year celebrations of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev, next year.
 
The government will also develop Sultanpur Lodhi in Punjab, the city associated with Guru Nanak's early life, as a heritage town conforming to all principles of smart cities, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said a press conference after a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at which the decisions were taken.
 
It will also run special trains to sacred places and gurudwaras associated with the Sikh Guru's life, he said.
 
"The government will develop a Kartarpur Corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur, Punjab to the international border to facilitate pilgrims from India to visit the holy Gurudwara Darbaar Sahib Kartarpur on the banks of Ravi river in Pakistan where Guru Nanak Devji spent 18 years," he said.
 
The Minister said since many pilgrims visit the location on the international border from where the gurudwara in Kartarpur is visible, the government decided to set up the special corridor with all modern facilities at the border terminal including visa and customs facilities for those who are permitted to cross the border.
 
"Pilgrims would then be able to visit the holy shrine throughout the year," a Home Ministry official said.
 
Meanwhile an External Affairs Ministry official said India has urged Pakistan to complete building the corridor on its side with suitable facilities.
 
"In keeping with the resolution adopted by the Cabinet today to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji in 2019, we have approached and urged the Pakistan government to recognise the sentiments of Sikh community and build a corridor with suitable facilities in their territory to facilitate easy and smooth visits of pilgrims from India to Kartarpur Sahib throughout the year," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in response to queries. 
 
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"Government of India has already decided to build the corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to the International Border with all modern amenities on our side," Kumar said.
 
Kartarpur Sahib is the place where the holy gurdwara, built on the site where Guru Nanak died in 1539, is located.
 
Earlier in November, Pakistan issued over 3,800 visas to Sikh pilgrims for the ongoing celebrations of the 549th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
 
India and Pakistan share a bilateral Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines that was signed in 1974.
 
Jaitley further said at the Sultanpur Lodhi, a heritage complex would also be developed called "Pind Baba Nanak Da" to depict the life journey and teachings of the Sikh Guru.
 
"We have also decided to establish a Centre for Interfaith Studies in Amritsar and chairs in foreign universities including in the UK and Canada," he said.
 
He added that all States, Union Territories and foreign missions of India will hold special events to commemorate the 550th birth year of the Sikh Guru.
 
"Coins and postal stamps will also be released. Doordarshan and All India Radio will telecast special programs and gurbani on life and teachings of Guru Nanak Devji. The National Book Trust will publish texts on his life in all Indian languages," Jaitley said.
 
He added the government will also request UNESCO to translate those texts in various world languages.
 
IANS
 

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Punjab Police arrests one over Amritsar grenade attack

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh addressing a press conference in connection with Sunday's grenade attack on the Nirankari Satsang Bhawan near Amritsar that left three persons dead, in Chandigarh on November 21, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh addressing a press conference in connection with Sunday's grenade attack on the Nirankari Satsang Bhawan near Amritsar that left three persons dead, in Chandigarh on November 21, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
The Punjab Police has arrested one person in connection with Sunday's grenade attack on the Nirankari Satsang Bhawan that left three persons dead, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said here on Wednesday.
 
The arrested person has been identified as Bikramjit Singh, he said. The second person involved in the attack, identified as Avtar Singh, is still absconding.
 
The Chief Minister said that the grenade used in the blast was Pakistan-made. According to him, the motorcycle used in the crime has also been recovered.
 
Amarinder said it was a "terror incident" and there was no religious link to it.
 
IANS
 

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