Via varsities, Punjab government on image makeover drive

  • Navrajdeep Singh, Hindustan Times, Patiala
  • Updated: Jan 15, 2015 22:05 IST

Carrying forward the contention that Punjab’s image is being tarnished by vested interests by citing the drug menace and corruption, the state government has targeted universities as venues for a counter-argument exercise. Armed with a 90-minute multimedia presentation, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal helmed the first in series of public conclaves at Punjabi University here on Thursday.

The aim, as per the government, is to educate people about “actual facts”, besides revealing “wrong propaganda spread by other parties”. However, later, in a press release issue to the media, the figures cited were wrong, and a correction followed.

At the conclave attended by university professors, principals of several colleges, economists and top bureaucrats, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir claimed, “Just for their vested interests, leaders of some political parties have defamed Punjab by dubbing it a bankrupt, poorly governed state, besides labelling the youth of Punjab as drug addicts.”

The idea of the conclave series came up after multinational companies desirous of investing in the state started querying about the extent of drug addiction in Punjab, according to Sukhbir. He said it would be an “eye opener” as intellectuals would be informed about “true facts”: “It will help government take its voice to the masses by [sharing] actual figures about financial health, drug addiction and development.”

The state chief secretary has been directed to organise such meets at educational institutions; the next is at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar on January 27.

While also urging leaders to rise above petty party interests and “stop denigrating the image of Punjab and Punjabis”, he alleged, “These wrong perceptions have been created by some ill-informed political leaders, which have been twisted by the media.”

A key figure reinterred by Sukhbir was: Punjab registered maximum numbers of FIRs, 14,654, with 80.5% conviction rate, in drug-related offences, whereas in Goa, which too has a drug problem, only 50 FIRs were registered in 2013. He also announced that the school education department would include a chapter on ill-effects of drugs in the curriculum.

Overall, he said power generation, the gross state domestic product and revenue had doubled during the SAD-BJP tenure.
The Akali Dal has, in particular, been under fire over the drug menace ever since it became an issue in the Lok Sabha polls last year. After a below-expectation show, even ally BJP has been trying to shift the blame to the SAD. Recent quizzing of SAD firebrand and revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia in a case related to a multi-crore drug racket has not helped matters for the ruling party either.

‘True’ facts needed correction

Even as deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal went all-out to make his 90-minute presentation to the intelligentsia impactful, the press release later issued by the public relations department goofed up in figures. The release stated that the gross state domestic product (GSDP) had “doubled from Rs 5000 crore to Rs10,000 crore in five years”. When HT noticed this, and sought correct figures, PR officials dictated the correct figures over the phone. The GSDP had doubled from Rs 5,04,937 crore to Rs 10,09,874 crore in five years, according to a corrected note that followed.

Survey on to determine drug menace extent

Announcing a statewide exercise to “scientifically monitor” the extent of drug abuse in Punjab, deputy CM Sukhbir Badal announced at Punjabi University here that the Indian Council for Medical Research, New Delhi, had already sanctioned the survey that would take “more than two years”. The state government has sanctioned `2 crore for it.

“All the figures in the past about prevalence of drug addiction in the state are faulty, as no such survey has ever been conducted,” he said, again attacking Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for having “branded 70% Punjabi youth as addicted to drugs, using his half-baked knowledge”.

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