In the absence of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, the golden jubilee function of the Bhakra Dam here on Tuesday virtually turned into a Congress affair.
Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda hogged the limelight as he was seen leading the guests to the dam, visiting different areas, signing visitor's book and getting pictures clicked.
Union minister for water resources Harish Rawat was the chief guest and Anandpur Sahib MP Ravneet Singh Bittu was the other prominent Congress leader present on the occasion.
Union water resources minister Harish Rawat, Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Punjab finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa and Anandpur Sahib MP Ravneet Bittu (extreme right) during the release of the souvenir on the golden jubilee of the Bhakra Dam at Nangal in Rupnagar district on Tuesday. Gurpreet Singh/HT
Punjab finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa, irrigation minister Janmeja Singh Sekhon, BJP's Rajya Sabha MP Avinash Rai Khanna and Himachal Pradesh minister for social welfare Col Dhani Ram Shandil were present on the dais but they were not called to address the audience.
Interestingly, Dhindsa could address the gathering only after he insisted and Rawat asked the organisers to allow him to speak. By the time Dhindsa spoke, the chief guest had left and the audience had also started moving out. Dhindsa welcomed the audience saying he was feeling bad that chief minister Parkash Singh Badal couldn't attend the function.
When contacted, the BBMB management said there were no directions from any side. "The function was so planned because of the time constraint," said a senior official.
Union minister of water resources Harish Rawat, Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda reviewing one of dam's site. Gurpreet Singh/HT
Badal and Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh cancelled their visit a day prior to the function. Their respective offices said they were busy in other engagements.
Earlier, on a demand raised by Bittu, Hooda announced a grant of Rs. 51 lakh for upgrading a hospital in Nangal, in the presence of the Akali ministers.
They were further embarrassed when Hooda demanded the share of water from the second link of the Ravi-Beas rivers downstream of Madhopur. "I ask Rawatji that the project be completed at the earliest and Haryana be given its share of water," said Hooda. Punjab has been opposing the proposal.
The Haryana chief minister also proposed to give two months' salaries to all employees of the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) managing the Bhakra Dam and other related projects, and subsequently Harish Rawat made a formal announcement. Hooda also recalled the day of commissioning of the project when he was 16 and had accompanied his father Ranbir Singh Hooda to the site.
On the occasion, Bittu demanded channelisation of the Sutlej from Nangal to Rupnagar, besides that of Swan and Sirsa rivers and releasing water to Gurdwara Patalpuri. Rawat called him the most pampered MP and that he would try to accept all his demands.
Union minister of water resources Harish Rawat, Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda with others seeing the the dam's model at Nangal on Tuesday. Gurpreet Singh/HT
Rawat said, "We have given Rs. 670 crore to Punjab under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme for irrigation projects and Rs. 55,200 crore has been kept for the purpose in the current financial year," adding that it was up to the states to send proposals and get the money.
PM kept BBMB on tenterhooks
The BBMB had been trying to have Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the chief guest for the celebrations, but at the last moment the board decided to drop his name as there was no confirmation from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). "For the past two months, we were on tenterhooks as there was no clarity from the PMO, we were simply made to wait without a confirmed status till two days ago, when we decided to drop his name," said a source in the BBMB.