Reiterating firm commitment of state government to safeguard the interests of the state, the Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann on Tuesday vehemently raised the issues of the state during the 31st meeting of the Northern Zonal Council (NZC) meeting chaired by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
At the very outset the Chief Minister welcomed the Union Home Minister and the Chief Ministers of the other states on behalf of the Government and the people of Punjab. Profusely thanking the Ministry of Home Affairs for choosing this sacred land to organize the 31st meeting of the Northern Zonal Council, he said that this is a sacred city, which is deeply revered by one and all, in the annals of history, where more than one lakh devotees from all over the world pay homage daily to seek peace and solace.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that the city was a trade hub in the past and with the concerted efforts of the state government it will be very soon our gateway to the markets of Central Asia and beyond.The Chief Minister said that the hardworking and brave Punjabis had closely witnessed numerous pages of history unfolding on this sacred land of five rivers.
He said that besides being the nation’s food bowl, Punjab also has a distinction of being the sword arm of the country and its people are well known all over the world for their courage, resilience and spirit of enterprise.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that NZC is an excellent platform to raise the level of interstate cooperation for our economic development as it is in our interest to sit together and explore the best possibilities of socio-economic development in the region, which is otherwise geographically disadvantaged, being landlocked and with hostile borders.
Batting for need of a genuine federal structure in the country, the Chief Minister said that the need of more financial arid political power to the states has been felt across the entire spectrum of political opinion. He said that there is a wide consensus, cutting across party lines, that the state governments need to be given much greater operational freedom in choosing and financing their developmental priorities. Bhagwant Singh Mann said that federalism remains one of the basic pillars of our Constitution but unfortunately, there has been a trend towards centralization of authority during the past 75 years. “Everybody knows that the state governments are in a much better position to understand, address and solve the problems of their people, at the cutting edge” he added.
Strongly opposing the demand of Rajasthan for member in Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB), the Chief Minister said that BBMB is a body constituted under the provisions of the Punjab Reorganization Act 1966, which primarily deals with the successor States of Punjab and Haryana.
He said that the state of Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh or any other State for that matter is not concerned at all under provisions of the above said Act. Bhagwant Singh Mann therefore, strongly opposed the proposal of having a third member in the BBMB from the State of Rajasthan or Himachal Pradesh.
Flagging the issue of Shanan Power House, the Chief Minister lamented that the issue that has been unnecessarily raised by Himachal Pradesh regarding transfer of Shanan Power House in Jogindernagar on the ground that the 99 year lease of land given by the Raja of Mandi in 1925 is expiring in 2024.
He said that it is sad that this issue has been raised notwithstanding that this project was given to Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB) under the provisions of Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966 which is the Act of Parliament that created the successor states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that the same Act entrusted the ownership and control of downstream Bassi Power House (Uhl Hydel Project Stage 2) to Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board.The Chief Minister said that the position has been scrupulously maintained as unalterable by the Government of India for over half a century.
He further said that PSEB undertook expansion of the project at its own cost from 1975 to 1982 enhancing its capacity from 48 MW to 110 MW. Bhagwant Singh Mann expressed hope that the Government of India will uphold the said and correct legal position as any other stand taken with respect to the ownership of Shanan Power House would be ultra vires of the Act and also constitute great injustice to Punjab and its people.
The Chief Minister also opposed the move to fill posts of Members of Irrigation and Power in BBMB on direct basis through open recruitment. He said that the Ministry of Power has on February 23, 2022 notified BBMB (Amendment) Rules by which the posts of Members of Irrigation and Power will be filled on direct basis through open recruitment.
Bhagwant Singh Mann vehemently opposed this as it alters the traditional arrangement wherein the Member Power was always drawn from Punjab and Member Irrigation from Haryana.The Chief Minister further said that the new eligibility criteria makes no engineer from Punjab eligible to apply for the Member Power position.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that the original position (pre-2022) may be restored as Punjab is the largest contributor to BBMB which itself has been created under the provisions of Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966.
He also urged the Union Home Minister to direct the Ministry of Power to appoint a full time Chairman in BBMB as the organisation is running with ad hoc responsibilities in the absence of full time Chairman and Members.
On the demand of Rajasthan to maintain full level of Pong and Bhakra Dam, the Chief Minister said that technically when both these dams were designed, the original height of the Bhakra dam was 1685 ft. and that of Pong Dam was 1400 ft.
He said that during the year 1988, Punjab faced severe floods and then a decision was taken by the Government of India and the CWC that FRL level of both the dams i.e. Bhakra and Pong are reduced by 5ft and 10 ft. respectively.
Bhagwant Singh Mann pointed out that no flood waters of the rivers namely Sutlej or Beas flow to Haryana or Rajasthan or to any other State due to which Punjab had to face all the damage caused by the floods in the year 1988, in the year 2019, also during the intervening period and most recently a month back too.
He said that under the circumstances when the government of Punjab does not get any special support during the times of crisis from Rajasthan, it is unjustifiable that the full reservoir level of the dams is increased.
The Chief Minister also opposed the directions issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Power vide their letter dated May 15, 2023 to the Chairman, BBMB waiving the conditions of seeking No Objection Certificate for drawing water by the State of Himachal Pradesh for Water Supply and Irrigation schemes.
He said that the directions issued to BBMB by Government of India, are not acceptable to the state of Punjab and needs reconsideration by Government of India as in wake of water agreements, no water is required to be allocated to the state of Himachal Pradesh out of the River Sutlej and Beas.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that moreover the work of BBMB is only for administration, maintenance and operation of the dam and reservoirs adding that it is not authorized under the Punjab Reorganization Act to give any water out of the rivers to any State other than the partner States. Himachal Pradesh is not a partner state also.
Forcefully pleading for upward revision of flood relief norms, the Chief Minister said that Punjab has already borne the brunt due to the heavy downpour in the hilly areas early this year. He said that due to excessive rainfall in hilly areas 16 districts of the state were flooded resulting in heavy loss of life and property of people but unfortunately those states which seek share in waters of Punjab were not even ready to take water during these times.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that the heavy floods in vast expanses of agricultural fields and other areas had paralysed normal life but the compensation offered to people is too meagre. Requesting for a relaxation in the norms for financial assistance to the flood-affected people, the Chief Minister said that there is no shortfall in the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) and only a change in the norms for compensating the damage is required so that loss of the people can be fully compensated.
The Chief Minister reiterated that the state has no spare water to share with any other state so instead of Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, the project should be now conceived as Yamuna Satluj Link (YSL). He said that Satluj river has already dried up and there is no question of sharing even a single drop of water from it. Rather, Bhagwant Singh Mann said that water from Ganga and Yamuna should be supplied to Punjab through Satluj river.
The Chief Minister said that SYL canal is a highly 'emotive issue' for Punjab and construction of this canal will lead to serious law and order issues and it will become a national problem, with Haryana and Rajasthan also suffering the impact.
He said that Punjab has no surplus water to share with Haryana and reassessment of availability of water is required as per international norms adding that setting up a new Tribunal as per new Terms of reference and changed circumstances including Yamuna waters is the only solution of the water Dispute.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that Punjab’s 76.5% blocks (117 out of 153) are over exploited where the stage of ground water extraction is more than 100%, whereas in Haryana only 61.5% (88 out of 143) are over exploited.
The Chief Minister said that river Yamuna like rivers Ravi and Beas also flowed through the erstwhile state of Punjab before re-organization but while apportioning the river waters, between Punjab and Haryana, Yamuna waters were not considered, whereas, Ravi and Beas waters were duly taken into account for the apportionment.
He said that the state has been requesting for its association in negotiations for allocation of Yamuna waters, but our request has not been considered on the ground that no geographical area of Punjab falls in Yamuna basin.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that Haryana is not the basin state of the rivers Ravi and Beas, but Punjab is forced to share waters of these rivers with Haryana adding that if Haryana gets Ravi-Beas waters being a successor State of Punjab, on the same analogy, Yamuna waters should also be shared with Punjab being a successor State.
Firmly pleading for utilization of the discharge of river Ujh and Ravi going waste to Pakistan, the Chief Minister said that the state had proposed long back to stop this water by constructing a barrage across River Ravi just downstream to the confluence point of River Ujh with River Ravi at Makaura Pattan which is within 4 km from Indo-Pak border.
He said that it was also proposed to use this water and divert discharge to Kalanour and Ramdas distributary system of UBDC CANAL system to make these system perennials from non-perennial. Bhagwant Singh Mann said that this project should be cleared and its execution should be allowed on fast track.
Opposing the levy of water cess by the state of Himachal Pradesh on hydro power projects, the Chief Minister cited the section 7 of the Inter State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 provides that no State Government shall impose additional rate or fee on other State or the inhabitants thereof, if the basis of the levy is only because works for conservation, regulation or utilization of water of the Inter-State River has been constructed within the limits of the State.
Thus, he said that Himachal Pradesh cannot impose Cess merely because Bhakra and Beas Projects Powerhouse are located within the limits of its territory.On the issue of diversion of chakki river water by Himachal Pradesh, the Chief Minister said that the hill state is contemplating to construct a canal to divert about 127 cusecs of water from the Chakki River in the state.
He said that the Water Supply and Sanitation Department, Punjab has installed seven schemes to uplift Chakki River water to supply water for drinking purpose to far situated villages in hilly areas of Punjab. Bhagwant Singh Mann said that there is very less discharge in Chakki in summer season and if the water is diverted then it will greatly affect the water supply schemes installed for 35 villages due to less water in the river resulting in less replenishment of groundwater.
On the issue of release of grants to Panjab University, the Chief Minister said that University has a deep connect with the people of Punjab as after partition it moved from Lahore to Hoshiarpur in Punjab and then to Chandigarh, our capital.
He said that after Reorganisation Act in 1966 Panjab University became an Inter-State Body Corporate with four stakeholders i.e. Centre, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh adding that expenses of the University were to be equally shared by the three partner States (20:20:20) along with the Centre (40%).
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that the states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, unilaterally, withdrew their colleges from Panjab University in 1973 and 1975 respectively and set up their own Universities and stopped funding Panjab University altogether.
The Chief Minister said that it is only Punjab which supported and nurtured this University for the last 50 years but now at this stage they do not understand why Haryana wants to affiliate its colleges with Panjab University, when they are already affiliated for the last 50 years with Kurukshetra University a A+ NAAC accredited university.
He questioned what has changed for Haryana to now seek this affiliation having ignored Panjab University for the last 50 years. Bhagwant Singh Mann said that as far as funding of Panjab University is concerned, Punjab has always financially supported the university and is committed to providing in future also, the required funds to Panjab University as per a mutually consultative process.
The Chief Minister said that commitment to provide Grant-in-aid to Panjab University, as per the revised formula finalised by the Government of India in 2017, has been fully honoured by the Government of Punjab and against the due share of Rs. 188.31 crore, the government has released Rs. 261.96 crore till 2022-23, to cover not only the deficit grant but also additional grant for the constituent colleges of Panjab University.
He said that for 2023-24 the state Government has sanctioned Rs. 47.06 crore in the budget but has further enhanced the Grant-in-aid to Rs. 94.13 crore to take care of the enhancement in salaries on account of implementation of UGC scales by the University. Bhagwant Singh Mann said that the Government has also sanctioned Rs. 48.92 crore to Panjab University for constructing two new hostels, one for boys and the other for girl students.
The Chief Minister said that while the state of Punjab has met its commitment, the Central Government is yet to approve their share of the enhanced Grant-in-aid of Rs.51.89 crore to Panjab University on account of adoption of UGC scales.
He urged the Home Minister to have this additional grant released at the earliest in the larger interests of the students. Bhagwant Singh Mann reiterated the stand of the Punjab Government that there should be no change in the status of Panjab University adding that Panjab University is our University and we will continue to support and fund it in future also.
Advocating the setting up of a regional centre of National Security Guards (NSG) in Pathankot at the earliest, the Chief Minister said that Punjab being a border state is always prone to the terror attacks from across the border that put the security, unity, integrity and sovereignty of the country in peril.
He said that in order to combat this challenge NSG hub must be set up in the Pathankot district as announced by the Union government. Bhagwant Singh Mann impressed upon the Union Home Minister that this matter must not be delayed as it is the need of the hour to safeguard the borders of the country.
Requesting for the development of technology to counter the threat of drones, the Chief Minister said that Centre of Excellence for Drones in Punjab should be set up in the state as being a border state, drones pose a mammoth challenge for Punjab Police, as reflected in the year-on-year increase in the drone sighting and recoveries.
He said that drones are mainly being used by hostile entities for espionage, cross border smuggling of weapons/drugs and drone-led terror attacks. Bhagwant Singh Mann said that present capacity is hardly sufficient on various aspects of drone technology.
Flagging another important issue regarding the smuggling of weapons from within the country, the Chief Minister said that they are posing great threat to law and order in the state. He said that it is unfortunate that the number of weapons smuggled from within the country (especially from states like Madhya Pradesh) is much more than that smuggled from across the border.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that this needs to be checked with a heavy hand so that the security of the country is not jeopardised. The Chief Minister also underscored the need for revision of clause of paid military for Punjab as being a border state, the state is fighting the nation's war to combat terrorism and drugs but unfortunately whenever the state needs central para military forces to maintain law and order on behalf of the country we are asked to pay a hefty fee for it.
He said that this is unfortunate as the state whose maximum sons are martyred while serving the country in the Armed forces has to pay this fees. Bhagwant Singh Mann said that this clause of ‘para military forces on rent’ should be abolished as far as Punjab is concerned adding that the centre must be magnanimous in allocation as companies as now only the deployment of force is too inadequate against the demand.
On the issue of the recently fixed Minimum Export Price (MEP) on Basmati, the Chief Minister said that this has been fixed at $1200 per ton which has adversely hit the domestic price of the crop. He said that this decision will do considerable and irreparable damage to the economic situation of the farmers as well as the traders as the hard working and resilient farmers of the state are already at a crossroads due to the ever escalating cost of the farm inputs and low MSP.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that the state produces maximum basmati in the country and this decision of the Centre will also give major setback to initiatives being taken by the state government to promote diversification.
Seeking the kind intervention of the Union Home Minister for release of the Rural Development Fund (RDF), the Chief Minister bemoaned that it has been stalled for a long time. He said that the Punjab government has already removed all the ambiguities done by the previous governments but unfortunately the centre has not released the funds yet.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that he had personally called on the Union Rural Development Minister who had assured him that these funds will be released soon but it never happened and the Union government has not yet released the RDF of the state worth more than Rs 5637.4 crore.
The Chief Minister apprised that the Government of Punjab had successfully implemented the Regional Connectivity Scheme UDAN and now with concerted efforts of the state government, flights have been awarded from Adampur to Nanded, Bangalore, Kolkata, Delhi, Goa and Hindan.
Similarly, under Regional Connectivity Scheme 2023 flights have been awarded from Delhi to Bathinda Airport, Delhi to Ludhiana Airport. He said that though the issue has been resolved for Adampur, Sahnewal and Bathinda Airport, this is still pending for Pathankot Airport adding he requested the GOI to cover Pathankot Airport under Regional Connectivity Scheme-UDAN-2023 at the earliest.
Similarly, Bhagwant Singh Mann said that flights from Adampur to Varanasi and Amritsar to Nanded also need to be started under the scheme acknowledging the religious sentiments of the residents of these areas.
Presenting a strong case for handing over Chandigarh to the state of Punjab, the Chief Minister said that the Capital city of Punjab was officially shifted from Shimla to Chandigarh on September 21, 1953 and the same was inaugurated by India's first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad Ji on October 7, 1953.
However, he said that at the time of bifurcation of the State in 1966, the city of Chandigarh was made Union Territory under provisions of Section 4 of the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966 with effect from November 1, 1966. Bhagwant Singh Mann said that the same status has been continuing as such till date which is a grave injustice with the people of the state.
The Chief Minister said that the city of Chandigarh was formed as a new Capital of Punjab over the land acquired in the State of Punjab. But, he bemoaned that the matter of restoration of its status as capital of the State of Punjab is still pending, which has bruised the psyche of every Punjabi.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that although the issue has remained under deliberations at various forums, despite our references at various levels, this long pending demand of the State of Punjab remains unredressed.
Demanding a firm strategy to check the unholy nexus existing between the travel agents engaged in exporting manpower and those facilitating tourist visas, the Chief Minister said that gullible youth, swayed by the attraction of settling down in developed countries, often fall prey to them.
He said that these travel agents allure the youngsters with the promise of an assured overseas job, but end up providing them only with a tourist visa and confiscate their passports upon arrival, leaving them at the mercy of the agents.
Therefore Bhagwant Singh Mann said that there is a strong need to mandate the registration of travel agents, engaged in manpower export, with the State Government in which their client resides.The Chief Minister said that since the state government is already registering travel agents who deal only with tourist visas, the Government would be in a better position to jointly monitor the activities of these travel agents.
He further said that the Indian Emigration Act provides that any person desirous of taking up unskilled employment abroad should be registered with the Protector of Emigrants and the work contract should be submitted adding that if this provision is strictly enforced then it will deter normal visa processing travel agents from engaging in work visas.
In addition, Bhagwant Singh Mann said that since the District Administration is better equipped to monitor the activities of travel agents, the powers of the Protector of Emigrants should also be conferred upon the District Magistrate or the District SP.
Raising the issue of pending payment of grain procurement towards the Union government, the Chief Minister said that farmers of Punjab, reeling under the weight of indebtedness, are today the most neglected people in the eyes of the Central Government. He said that this is clearly evident from the step brotherly treatment meted out to Rural Punjab for its sincere efforts in feeding the Nation and ensuring National Food Security.
Bhagwant Singh Mann bemoaned that over the years Punjab has depleted its water table and spoilt the quality of its land, through the use of fertilizers and pesticides, to diligently produce food grains in large quantities much beyond its own requirements, in order to ensure that no one in the country goes hungry.
But unfortunately, the Chief Minister lamented that the Union Government is deliberately not reimbursing Punjab for the total expenditure incurred on the purchase of food grains for FCI. He said that with every passing year, the state losses are increasing and are now running into thousands of crores of rupees annually.
Bhagwant Singh Mann said that indeed it is a farce that the Union Government is providing subsidized free food grains to its citizens rather the Punjab Government is bearing a significant portion of the cost of these food grains.
Requesting all that existing fine balance as per the constitution should be maintained by all means, the Chief Minister said that already accepted issues to maintain balance amongst the state should not be unnecessarily disturbed.
He expressed hope that all the issues pertaining to the state and its people will be resolved amicably. Bhagwant Singh Mann reiterated the firm commitment of the state government to safeguard the interests of the state and its people.