To the embarrassment of the Badal government the ongoing budget session in the Vidhan Sabha on Thursday witnessed sharp differences and exchange of words between Akali leaders, including cabinet ministers, on various issues during the question hour.
SAD MLA from Bholath Bibi Jagir Kaur wanted to know from agriculture minister Tota Singh as to why the work at the grain market Damullian at Nadala in Kapurthala district had not been started though its foundation stone was laid more than three years ago.
Tota Singh informed the Akali MLA that since the place where the grain market was being sought was a low-lying area where the grains were likely to get damaged during the rains, it was not a good idea to have it constructed there.
"I have learnt that the area where the grain market is being sought is nearly 8 feet low. It would require at least Rs. 10 crore to get the earth work done at the low-lying area before the grain market could come up there. The marketing board does not have so much money. If the Bibi is ready to get the earth work done on her own I will send the consignment of bricks the very next day to get the work completed," Tota Singh said, adding that he wondered how the officials cleared the project.
This infuriated the Bibi who wondered as to why she should get the earth work done. She said the information Tota Singh had was wrong and it appeared that the officials had misled him. It appeared that he himself had not yet visited the site. There was no other grain market in the vicinity, and the farmers had been bringing their produce there from the nearby areas, the Bibi said. Tota Singh admitted that he had not been to the site but had read the case from official files.
Words were exchanged between Akali ministers when Congress MLA Tarlochan Singh Soondh sought to know from education minister Daljit Singh Cheema if education was a state subject and the state government had the right to pass laws on it.
Soondh also wanted to know if there was a move by the government to introduce board examination for the classes 5 and 8 students to lift the quality of education for the students studying in government schools, especially those from the rural background and poor sections.
Cheema said education was a concurrent subject. He said the Punjab government's department of school education had issued a notification in 2011 that no child admitted in school should be held back in any class or expelled till the completion of elementary education.
When Soondh argued that by not having board exams for the classes 5 and 8 students the quality of education was being compromised and the state government must take up with the union government to amend the Act, Cheema agreed that he too shared the sentiment but it would have to be amended by the Centre.
Suddenly, Tota Singh stood up and reminded the house that he too was education minister earlier and knew that education was a state subject. "We don't have to go to the Centre to get the Act amended.
If we decide to amend it, who would stop us?" wondered Tota Singh.
Rural development minister Sikander Singh Maluka, who recently handled the education portfolio, informed the house that during a meeting at the Centre, all state governments had supported to have board examination for classes 5 and 8 to better the quality of education.
Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal also extended support to the cause saying it was a serious matter. "On this depended the future of hundreds of students," the speaker said, asking Cheema to come prepared on Friday to inform the house if it was a state or concurrent subject.
BJP MLA Som Parkash said it appeared the entire house was confused. "Cheema is saying that education is a concurrent subject while Tota Singh says it is a state subject."
Cheema said he was absolutely clear that it was a concurrent subject. He said those members who said it was a state subject should be punished.