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Punjab reneges on free power to farmers

Chandigarh, March 10: Chief minister Amarinder Singh today categorically ruled out reinstating free power and water to the agriculture sector, which he had earlier promised once the state’s fiscal situation improved.

The Congress, after coming to power last year, withdrew the free electricity provided by the previous coalition government of the Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP.

Amarinder’s latest statement follows an agitation for free power and water that six major organisations, led by the Bhartiya Kisan Union, launched here today. The chief minister said his government would not bow to the demands of farmers.

“There is no scope for free power as the move will hamper the progress of the state,” he said, addressing reporters after five ministers and three parliamentary secretaries were inducted into his Cabinet today.

The newcomers are Cabinet ministers Harnam Dass Johar and Joginder Singh Mann, and ministers of state Sardari Lal, Malkiat Singh Birmi and Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa.

The parliamentary secretaries are Kanwaljit Singh Lally, Ravinder Singh Sandhu and Hans Raj Josan.

Amarinder, under pressure from party leaders for the last couple of months, finally succumbed today by inducting Birmi, who had sought an inquiry into the role of three Punjab ministers in an alleged sex scandal in Gujarat.

With this expansion, the number of ministers in Amarinder’s Cabinet has gone up to 26. He has promised another expansion after the budget session, beginning Friday. Some women legislators who had been lobbying for ministerial posts would have to wait till then. Amarinder promised to give them a chance in the next expansion.

According to the chief minister, the Punjab State Electricity Board would be privatised on the recommendations of the Haldea Committee that was set up to look into the issue.

The committee recommended privatisation of the Board’s generation and distribution wing. “Power reforms are on top of our agenda,” Amarinder said.

He lashed out at a section of Board engineers for opposing the power reforms and said they should stick to their job. “The engineers have no business to lobby against the government’s decisions. They can only give their suggestions,” he said.

Amarinder said he would soon appoint chairmen to corporations and boards while some loss-making corporations would be disbanded. Amarinder took the opportunity to thank supporters for having faith in his administration after his party swept most of the local bodies.

The local poll results were announced late last night. “I will continue to pursue the anti-corruption agenda,” he said.

The Congress government has so far arrested nine former ministers of the SAD-BJP government led by Parkash Singh Badal.

Amarinder today reiterated that the vigilance bureau was probing corruption allegations against Badal. He had alleged that the Akali leader amassed wealth worth over Rs 3,000 crore during his tenure as chief minister.

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