Well begun is half done: Amarinder hits the ground running in Punjab
It surely is a deviation from the culture of complacency that the Congress has come to be known for.
Whether it is because of compulsion, or the need of the hour, or commitment, Captain Amarinder Singh has started his innings as the Punjab Chief Minister on a positive note, while giving out the message that he is committed to walk the talk.
The decisions that have been taken since the new government took over are along the lines of what was promised in the run up to the polls, and the need is to just maintain the tempo and deliver to the people.
Amarinder justified his claim of taking more than 100 decisions in the first cabinet meeting. These decisions, if implemented earnestly, can go a long way in addressing the problems of the state.
The first positive message that came from the government was to do away with the VIP culture that has become synonymous with Punjab. Acting quickly on the cabinet decision, and without waiting for a formal notification, Amarinder and his council of ministers have stripped their vehicles of red beacons.
This step came after the first meeting of the new cabinet on Saturday. Though the CM and cabinet ministers were exempted from this in the Congress manifesto, they decided to bring themselves within the ambit of the decision.
The government claims that this decision marks the beginning of the effort of the state government, burdened by a huge debt inherited from the previous regime, to clean up the official system of the much-maligned 'VIP culture' that has been a huge drain on the exchequer over the years, while causing extreme hardship to the common man.
Some of these decisions are measures to check wasteful expenditure that had got identified with the previous regimes. Foreign travel of all ministers, MLAs and officials at government expense has been banned for two years, except in cases where it is mandated or provided under any bilateral agreement.
Secondly, reimbursement of medical expenses, including foreign medical bills of all MLAs, ministers, ex-ministers and the Chief Minister will henceforth be done through health insurance. No state banquets or dinners will be held at government expense, except in honour of the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Governors and foreign dignitaries.
Meanwhile, DGP Suresh Arora has constituted a state level review committee under the chairmanship of DGP (Law & Order) Hardeep Singh Dhillon, to review the security provided by the state police to various protectees. Sources say the move is aimed at pruning the security provided to VIPs. According to reports, there are no less than 6,000 policemen attached to politicians and police officers, a majority of whom can used for field duty and improving the law and order scenario.
Adopting a zero-tolerance policy against drugs and corruption, Amarinder has pinned the responsibility of maintaining a corruption, drugs and crime-free society on the police and administrative chiefs in the districts.
Amarinder has made it clear that the government will hold top officers directly accountable for any cases of corruption, illegal mining, illegal transport, registration of false cases, non-registration of FIRs, traffic violations, street crimes and bootlegging.
He has sent out a strong warning to the police on the issue of drugs, saying that Police Commissioners, Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs), Sub-Divisional Police Officers (DSP Sub-Division) and Station House Officers (SHOs) will be held directly accountable for the supply and sale of drugs in their jurisdiction.
He said he was personally aware of complaints of corruption against field officers of various ranks, including DSPs and SHOs, in handling of drug cases in the past, which is non-pardonable. He has warned of swift and severe punishment if any such case came to his notice.
Former Director General of Police (DGP) Shashikant Sharma, who had exposed the politician-drug mafia nexus in Punjab in 2007, recently wrote an open letter to Amarinder, offering his help in tackling the menace. The letter states: “It (eradicating drugs) will necessarily include cutting the chain of supply, identification of drug dons in all spheres; social, political, police, civil etc., as also creating awareness, and ensuring all preventive steps on which I have also been assisting the Punjab and Haryana High Court as well.”
He has further asked Amarinder to dig up the list of major drug lords that was prepared by the intelligence wing way back in 2007. “It may be a somewhat difficult task because the officials of the intelligence wing had been, on account of political pressures, filing wrong and motivated affidavits in the courts of law denying the existence of the list on file. If it surfaces, then they will have to face the charge of perjury,” the letter says.
The government has decided to set up a Special Task Force for the day-to-day monitoring of the measures taken to check supply and consumption of drugs.
There are also reports of Congress MLAs making use of public address systems in Gurudwaras, particularly in the Majha area near the international border, to appeal to villagers to shun drugs and their trade. An announcement on behalf of Khadoor Sahib MLA Ramanjit Sikki warns those involved in the drug trade to leave their business within 24 hours, or move to a different state. Similar announcements are also being made in the neighbouring Patti Assembly segment in Tarn Taran district and some areas of Baba Bakala segment in Amritsar. This move is being welcomed by the villagers.
The cabinet decided to set up a group of experts to assess and analyse the agriculture debt of farmers and propose ways and means to waive the debt in a time bound manner.
It also decided to establish a commission of inquiry to review all false cases registered during the last decade of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government, to ensure justice to innocent people and fix accountability of the guilty.
The cabinet also approved the abolition of the 'Halka in-charge' system. Reports suggest that while there are moves at some places to change the jurisdictions of the police stations, keeping in mind the convenience of the people instead of political constituencies, the move to hold senior officers responsible for happenings in their areas will also help bring an end to the most unpopular system in place under the previous regime.
Blueprint for future?
A senior political observer from Ludhiana is amazed at this new, improved version of Amarinder that Punjab is seeing.
“This is a completely changed Amarinder than the one who ruled Punjab from 2002 to 2007. If he is able to implement all these decisions, the Congress will have a model of governance to sell in other states,” he said.
Amarinder has come to be known as the one man standing between the BJP and its dream of a Congress-free India. If he can continue the way he has begun, he could provide the Congress with a saleable non-BJP model of governance that it is currently lacking.