Controversies, red beacons & appointments: Amarinder government faces teething problems
Captain Amarinder-led Congress government in Punjabis is facing teething problems as it gets down to implementing its poll promises. The fortnight-old government is feeling the heat as it struggles to live up to the public's expectations while the Opposition keeps their hawk eyes on it.
It was obvious right from the beginning that this new government would be functioning under tremendous pressure on two counts:
– First, it needs to fulfill the expectations of the people who handed them a sweeping victory in 77 of the 117 Assembly seats despite of the Modi wave that took over the other states what went to polls alongside.
– Secondly, this government, if it functions well, can put the Congress on the path of revival.
While the start was made on the right track, there have been hiccups along the way leading to questions being raised on various counts like –
– Appointments of officers on special duties
– Withdrawing security cover of politicians and top officials
– Proposal to appoint chief parliamentary secretaries
– The issue of the red beacon lights on the vehicles that signify the VIP culture
The main issues
The government is also under tremendous pressure to deliver on the issue of the drug menace. It is being reminded of the poll promise of ending the menace within a month.
Amarinder has already constituted a Special Task Force (STF) for the purpose which has been mandated with the task of day-to-day monitoring of the steps taken, or to be taken, to check the trading and consumption of drugs, particularly the synthetic drug Chitta.
In one of the first major multi-state agency operations, 485 drugs traders and peddlers have been arrested and 387 cases were registered under the NDPS Act.
Station House Officer (SHO)-level teams, backed by Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) and Anti-Narcotics Cell units, have been formed in every district to implement the campaign to wipe out drugs. A government spokesperson said that State Special Operations (SSOP) cells have also joined the drive and the civil administration is extending its support to the anti-drugs campaign as well.
Amarinder has directed the state agencies to coordinate with central agencies like Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and the Customs Department to check on the supply and smuggling of drugs from other parts of India and abroad.
The government claims that between 16 March and 27 March, a total of 3.945 kg of heroin was recovered by the special teams. This includes 1 kg of heroin seized by the BSF. Other drugs seizures include:
Poppy husk (622.555 kg)
Smack (0.528 kg)
Charas (2.22 kg)
Opium (24.39 kg)
Cannabis (1.879 kg)
Ganja (65.6 kg).
The special teams have also recovered:
133 bottles of syrups
90993 capsules and pills packed with drugs
11.224 kg of intoxicant powder
Meanwhile, the government is also in the process of formulating a Bill for the appointment of chief parliamentary secretaries (CPS) that it plans to table in the Budget Session during June.
In August last year, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had set aside the appointment of 18 CPSs by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP government led by Parkash Singh Badal.
In a major embarrassment to the SAD-BJP alliance, just six months ahead of the polls, the court while ruling on two petitions filed four years ago had done away with the appointments. The petitioners, both lawyers, had contended that the appointment of CPSs was 'unconstitutional' and involved heavy spending of public money on paying salaries, perks and facilities.
The post of the CPS is one step lower than that of a minister and ruling party legislators are appointed on these posts to accommodate the MLAs since all cannot be made ministers due to the statutory ceiling of 15% on ministerial berths vis-a-vis the respective Assembly strength.
Amarinder said that the Bill would be legally vetted and the points raised by the High Court while quashing the appointment of the CPSs would be taken into account. He maintained that the ministers have a lot of work and attaching parliamentary secretaries of their choice would help them.
A point of contention that has arisen is that of appointments of officers on special duty (OSDs) and advisers. There have been reports of Amarinder having gone in for 13 OSDs as compared to Badal who had nine.
But Amarinder has reportedly stated that while the SAD-BJP government had appointed nearly 30 OSDs and advisers, the Congress has so far made only 14 political appointments. Observers said that he is going to make more political appointments in the days to come.
Controversies & red beacons
Amarinder's government had its first brush with controversy when a video made the rounds of the new Education Minister Aruna Chaudhary's husband seen seated next to her as she went about with her work in office.
Amarinder immediately took to fire-fighting by issuing a statement that he would talk to Aruna on the reported interference of her husband during her official work hours. He agreed that such behaviour was not proper and would not be condoned.
Then there has been the matter of the government withdrawing an 'erroneously' issued order which is being interpreted as a flip-flop on the issue of the use of red beacons.
On Tuesday evening the government came under attack for an order allowing vehicles of the chief minister, ministers, along with emergency vehicles to use beacons. This order was in contradiction to the cabinet decision of 18 March where Amarinder had announced giving up the red beacons as a move to do away with the VIP culture.
Once again, Amarinder quickly came out with a statement denying any change in his government’s policy on the use of red beacons while categorically ruling out the dilution of the same.
There had been voices of dissent when Amarinder had announced the decision of doing away with the red beacons on 18 March. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been claiming that the Congress was compelled to implement AAP's idea.
Journalist-turned-AAP leader Chander Suta Dogra wrote on her Facebook wall:
Edited by Jhinuk Sen