Punjab assembly session begins today, Amarinder govt braces for sandstorm | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Punjab assembly session begins today, Amarinder govt braces for sandstorm

The session will also see the tabling of the state bill for the implementation of the Goods and Service Tax (GST), an official said.

punjab Updated: Jun 14, 2017 12:36 IST
Punjab Congress Legislative Party (CLP) has convened a meeting later Tuesday to chalk out a strategy to counter the opposition onslaught.
Punjab Congress Legislative Party (CLP) has convened a meeting later Tuesday to chalk out a strategy to counter the opposition onslaught.(HT File )

Till a fortnight ago, the Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress government appeared to be on a roll.

But then the “benami bids” controversy in sand mine auction, triggered by the involvement of former employees of power minister Rana Gurjit Singh, broke out, pushing it on the back foot and galvanising a demoralised opposition.

Both frontline opposition parties, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), armed with details of grimy deals, are now determined to go after the state government in the first budget session.

AAP has already sounded warning that it will not let the house function until a discussion is held on the controversial auction and action taken against the minister. If mood and utterances of the opposition parties are an indication, the session, starting on Wednesday, will be a stormy affair.

Dubious bids, farmer suicides

Besides sand mining mafia, farmer suicides, agricultural debt waiver, violence against Dalits and the state’s poor fiscal health are among the issues expected to dominate the assembly proceedings.

“The assembly must discuss the mining scam before everything else. We will give a notice of an adjournment motion to the speaker on June 15 to adjourn the House and discuss the issue. If they do not allow a discussion, we will not let the House run,” said AAP legislator Sukhpal Khaira.

The Bholath MLA, who led charge against the alleged “front men” in sand deals, said the government cannot be allowed to take the state for a ride. The AAP, which emerged as the principal opposition party after the February 2017 elections, also wants to bring up farmer suicides, law and order, poor quality of education and debt write-off and other issues.

“These are all burning issues and the state has done nothing,” said Phoolka, griping about short duration of the assembly session. Though the government set up an inquiry commission under Justice JS Narang (retd) to probe allegations of impropriety against its minister in the mining controversy, giving it one month to submit the report, both AAP and SAD have rejected it. SAD, riled by the recent crackdown on buses of its leaders, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its alliance partner, have also switched gears, holding protests at district headquarters against the state government.

SAD president Sukhbir Badal and BJP’s state president Vijay Sampla submitted a memorandum to the Punjab governor on Tuesday, demanding an investigation by national agencies in mining controversy and complete farm loan waiver.

“There is already no dearth of issues against this government in such a short span. I have never seen this kind of performance from any government,” said Sukhbir Badal.

Cong braces for onslaught, keen to alter narrative

Despite its advantage in numbers with almost a two-thirds majority in the state assembly, Congress is bracing for the onslaught. The state government, which had initially dismissed the criticism, first set up the inquiry panel to go into the minister’s role and then cancelled the e-auction of 56 sand mining sites on June 9, just two days before it was to be held.

The auction will be held in the first week of July after the session is over.

Finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal said Congress had made its stand absolutely clear. “The chief minister has appointed a judicial commission. It has been asked to give its report within 30 days which is not much, considering that 10 days have already passed. I don’t think the government could have done anything more,” he said. The Congress, which had packed its poll manifesto with populist promises, wants the focus to be on the budget of its government to be presented by Manpreet on June 20, white paper on state’s finances, and the welfare initiatives, including debt write-off, reservation for women and pension hike, likely to be announced during the session.