Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rs 276 cr, eight years and yet no train from Abohar to Fazilka

Residents suffer as official apathy denies vital rail link between Punjab towns

Prabhjot Singh/TNS
Chandigarh, June 27

On February 1, 2004, there was great rejoicing among residents of the border towns of Abohar and Fazilka in Punjab when the foundation stone of a massive railway project linking the two towns was laid by Nitish Kumar, the then Union Railways Minister, and now Bihar Chief Minister.

Fazilka Station: In ABsence of Train Service, Passenger facilities are rotting here

Estimated then at Rs 86 crore, the project involved construction of 42.11 km of railway tracks between the two towns, five new stations and 29 level crossings, besides houses for rail employees at each of the new stations. The project was to be completed in 2007 and trains were to ply on the route the same year.

The project has become a prime example of official neglect and apathy. Eight years later, the trains are yet to start running between the two towns though the five stations, the rail track and the 29 level crossings were largely completed by 2007. The cost by then had ballooned to Rs 276 crore. Every passing year, the liability in terms of damages and non-provision of services that constitute return on revenue is mounting.

When The Tribune visited the station in Churhi Wala Dhana, 5 km from Abohar, on June 23 it wore a desolate look. While the platform had been built and the tracks laid in 2007, both have remained unused. The station presents a dismal picture of neglect with thick vegetative growth and most of the sanitary and electrical fittings either vandalised or pilfered. At places even the floor of Platform Number 1 has caved in. The ramp leading to the platform number has been damaged beyond use.

Similar situation prevails in four other stations, including Jandhwala Kharata, Khui Kherra, Ghalo and Burj Mohar, that connect the two towns. Passenger facilities like drinking water, toilets, passenger benches and shelters have been vandalised. Fishplates of tracks, clamps, check rails and nuts and bolts have been either damaged or stolen. The signal boxes have caved in requiring total replacement.

Khui Kherra station: cracked platforms speak of official neglect (left) and links go bad: Damaged signal network at Burj Mohar (L) and Khui Kherra stations.

Ironically, the Railways Ministry did not seem to be aware of the sorry state of affairs. Last year it blissfully announced the start of train services between the two towns and even included it in the official time table released in 1 July 2011. It's been a year and no train has chugged on these tracks or any personnel hired to man the five stations and the 29 level crossings that are ready.

The shocking state of affairs has evoked strong protests not only from rail users but also a number of other bodies, including Beopar Mandal and social welfare organisations of both Abohar and Fazilka, who have formed the Sanjha Morcha to take their battle to its logical conclusion.

The Sanjha Morcha members point out that there would be huge savings for each family if the trains ran. Currently they are paying Rs 23 to travel by bus from Abohar to Fazilka and if the trains ran it would cost them Rs 6, according to the official Railways timetable. The Morcha charges the Railways of being in collusion with powerful private bus transport lobby in Punjab for not starting the service.

Spearheaded by Dr Amar Lal Bagla, Rajpal Gombhar, Raj Krishan Kalra, Comrade Shakti, Sushil Gombhar, Ashok Gulbadhan, Ramesh Vadhera, Satish Dhingra, Surjit Singh, Amrit Kreer, Jagdish Chander Kataria and Mohinder Partap, the Sanjha Morcha has started a hunger strike from June 1 agitating for the Abohar-Fazilka service to be made operational.

"We are not going to relent. How can an organization like Railways allow its property to be pilfered, vandalised and remain out of use for such a long time. Probably there is no audit control. An independent inquiry must be held to find out why the promised service was not introduced and how come such a huge public investment was allowed to be plundered by anti-social elements?" asks Amar Lal Bagla, president of the Northern Railways Passengers Association (NRPA).

The Sanjha Morcha has already made representations to the Union Railway Minister, Railway Board chairman and Northern Railways general manager. Bowing to public pressure, the Railways Ministry now claims it will start the train service from July 31 this year. It has become hyper-active.

Hundreds of workers have been at work to repair the damaged infrastructure. At every new railway station, workers are busy replacing fishplates, clamps, check rails, nuts and bolts and removing damaged panels, batteries and control panels.

Ferozepore Divisional Railway Manager NC Goel: "All I can say is that this train will start by July 31 this year. Railways have spent over Rs 200 crore on this project. We have identified the staff for the new stations, level crossings and will post them at appropriate time. I cannot say off hand how much loss Railways incurred because of delay in starting the service. There are no confirmed dates for the inspection of the track and facilities by the Commissioner of Rail Safety." Besides ordering a massive renovation and repair operation of the tracks and connected infrastructure, it has also identified staff to be posted at the new stations and level crossings. While Railways had advanced shortage of staff as one of the prime reasons for delay in commissioning the service, it has now decided to withdraw surplus staff from other areas. It has also put pressure on the Commissioner of Rail Safety for an early visit to the site for clearance.

It is only the Commissioner of Rail Safety who after inspection will determine the security and safety of the service besides recommending speed at which trains would run on this new track. Though officials refused to confirm the dates for inspection, those on renovation work have been told that much awaited inspection would take place by the end of first week of July, tentatively from July 4 to 6. "We are still keeping our fingers crossed till the service is actually made operational. We have our serious doubts that it will be ready," adds Dr Amar Lal Baghla.

(With inputs from Praful Chander Nagpal in Fazilka)

Shameful facts

  • Abohar-Fazilka Rail Link 
  •  Project started: Feb 1, 2004
  •  Length of track: 42.11 km
  •  New stations: 5
  •  Level crossings: 29
  •  Original cost: `86 crore
  •  Actual cost: `276 crore
  •  Original deadline: 2007
  •  New deadline: July 31, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

Waterlogging ensures farmers' money, efforts go down drain

Waterlogging has swallowed large chunks of fertile agricultural land in Abohar and Khuiya Sarvar blocks of Fazilka district. More than four lakh acres in other parts of state are affected by the problem. 
Water level that goes higher and higher damages crop on 5,000 acres every year  in Fazilka district and prevents the next round of sowing. Any crop sowed in saline water is lost.Bhawalwassi, Dhaba Kokria, Dharangwala, Ramgarh, Gdadobh, Bhangala, and Chanankhera in Abohar subdivision, and Abhoon and Begawali in Fazilka subdivision are the worst-affected villages.

At Abhoon and Begawali, the water level has increased by 5 to 8 feet. Villagers seek "waterlogged" status for the places.

Abohar legislator Sunil Jakhar, leader of opposition in the state assembly, wants serious steps for water management in Punjab. "It's futile throwing public money into laying new drains and other temporary measures to solve the problem," he said. "The Russian and Kazakh models seem the best permanent solutions, so let some experts go to the two countries to study how they do it."

The Fazilka land was best suited for horticulture, and it would be sad, if its potential were unrealised because of water accumulation, said Jakhar. On his last visit to Punjab, Jairam Ramesh, union minister for rural development, formed a team to solve the issue.

Dr Mihir Shah would lead an eight-member high-level expert group of the Planning Commission that would visit Punjab to review the situation.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Chandigarh set to get Metro

Chandigarh administration has decided to go ahead with the multi crore Metro Rail project for improving the public transportation system of the city.

Chandigarh administration is facing criticism for not having an effective public transport policy and the city administration is looking to rectify it. However, there are doubts about the success of it as recent attempts of improving the transportation were failures.

Chandigarh administration was deliberate to start this project because of increasing private vehicles in the city. As people are using more personal vehicles for commuting chaos in the city, reduction parking space at markets and in residential areas are quite common.

DMRC (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation) has submitted the detailed project report to the city administration and is likely to start the work at the earliest. DMRC also build a successful metro web in the national capital and is currently expanding the network.

However, not everyone is convinced about the success of Chandigarh administration's ambitious project. Navdeep Asija, a prominent environmentalist is not convinced about metro rail and feels that buses are still more suitable as public transport and the authorities should be putting its efforts on it.

Navdeep Asija said that the administration should rethink about the public transportation system and redesign it into a three tier system. First tier, cycle rickshaws for taking people to transport, second tier buses for commuting and third tier, auto rickshaws for those who don't want to use buses.

Buses services are prerequisite for the state and needed to be improved in the city as even the metro will not able to go everywhere in the city. Chandigarh's record in bus service is also not good as earlier launched air-conditioned free bus service to the high court for the lawyers was a failure.

Chandigarh administration has urged the residents to change their mind set toward the metro rail which may commence in the coming years.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Time to push the reverse gear - GoI Monitor, My Article

Time to push the reverse gear

Mon, 18/06/2012 - 17:53

India is widening roads and building flyovers to pamper car owners while the world is going for traffic-free ways and public transport

Delhi traffic jam

Our roads cater to all kinds of vehicles unlike the homogeneous traffic of Western countries. Image: Wikicommons

INDIA'S NATIONAL transport policy says there should be socially equitable distribution of space on roads but as is quite evident, we are biased towards motor vehicles. For a country like us, number of people transported is much more important than number of vehicles transported. By that standard, most of our highways are unconstitutional. We have only 18 four wheelers per 1,000 persons, which is much less when compared with US (809) and Germany (554). However, that does not stop us from importing their designs for our roads, thus, inviting disaster. Since the western road designs are for homogeneous traffic (because almost everyone there is on a car), they don't cater to our local traffic which include pedestrians, cyclists, animal-driven carts and a large number of two wheelers using the same road as heavy motor vehicles.

Also, expanding and building flyovers on our urban roads without a firm policy related to land use pattern along these roads is an illogical exercise. Practically, one urban road should not be expanded more than four lanes because according to the rule of traffic equilibrium, people shift to alternate, under-utilised routes whenever there is congestion. More than four lane makes it difficult for a pedestrian to cross the road in the available 15 to 20 second time.

Let's have a look at a scenario when there is a normal road with residences alongside. The traffic starts increasing with time, so the road is widened. Now, due to this extra lane, the route attracts more people and besides meeting its own demand, it has to cater to additional 10 per cent traffic. Due to the increased vehicle movement, the house owners residing along the road find it lucrative to turn their dwellings into commercial spaces. This change in activity will attract 20 per cent more traffic and during the day time, one lane will be occupied for parking again causing congestion. Now, the next 'logical' step for our planners is to further expand the road or build a flyover. The problem is we keep on digging the road while the solution lies on its side. If there had been a freeze on change of land use, there would not have been any commercial activity and the traffic would have been manageable. In many European cities, the planners are doing just that: freezing the land use change and returning to narrower roads with lesser traffic.

Stress on public transport

The urban highways are being dismantled in several cities across the world. Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a pioneer of this concept. In 2003, an expressway in the city's Central Business District (CBD) was demolished to reclaim a natural creek Cheonggyecheon. It was found that though the expressway served the mobility needs of the burgeoning car owners, it severely diminished the attractiveness of CBD which lost around 40,000 residents and 80,000  jobs in 10 years after the expressway was completed.

Seoul greenway

The revitalised Cheonggyecheon Greenway By: lensfodder via Flickr

Besides the demolition of expressway, Seoul also implemented a car restriction policy and established designated several kilometers of median lanes for buses resulting in increased accessibility to public transport. According to the traffic surveys by Seoul Metropolitan Government, the number of vehicles entering or leaving 24 entry/exist points along the Cheonggyecheon in 2006 decreased by 43 per cent and 47 per cent, respectively, as compared to their  2002 baselines. The commercial area started attracting investors and property prices  in the area increased. Improvement in air quality and reduction of noise pollution were additional advantages. Now, more than 50,000 people daily visit the creek for recreational activities. Similar success stories also exist in Paris, Berlin and US cities of New York, Portland, San Francisco and Milwaukee. Sadly, we are blindly borrowing from the infrastructure model of the US and other developed countries while they are junking it. Our cities need to lay more stress on public transport. A car's average household trip occupancy rate is 1.1 but it takes around 23 sq m, the same area which can host several cyclists. This will also help save the foreign reserve, one third of which is currently being spent on oil import.

In Delhi, the bus rapid transport (BRT) corridor has democratised the public space which had earlier been occupied by private vehicles. Besides offering faster service to bus users, it has brought around 1,200 new cyclists to the main road by offering them a separate lane. Scared of bigger motor vehicles, these cyclists were earlier taking internal, longer routes. The same BRT has been dubbed a failure by car users just because they are facing congestion. Owning a car is a luxury in our country and it should not automatically guarantee a right to freeway. The real benefits of BRT will be visible only if it's further expanded. People will switch to buses easing congestion and leading to improvement in air and noise pollution.

Example of Bogota in Colombia can be quoted here for better understanding. The city was facing heavy traffic congestion for which six urban highways (with toll plazas) and a metro system were proposed. However, Bagota's mayor decided to go for BRT and within six years of its implementation, traffic fatalities in the city reduced by 89 per cent while cycle use increased by five times because of traffic-free ways. The whole system was developed much faster and at a fraction of the cost of highways and metro system. A BRT corridor costs Rs 3-5 crore per km as compared to Rs 200 crore per km for a metro and can carry 30 per cent more passengers if designed properly. It's high time we understand these simple calculations and avoid falling into the trap of highly expensive expressways and flyovers just to ensure smooth ride to a small fraction of our population. 

Navdeep Asija is a civil engineering research scholar working in the field of road safety.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Eco cabs in Chandigarh

Chandigarh would soon have a new public transport service, eco cabs which are specially designed rickshaws.
Almost a year after deliberations, the Chandigarh administration has in principle agreed to run 100 Eco cabs, the city's first dial-e-rickshaw service. One has to call at a particular number to get a rickshaw at the doorstep.
The specially designed rickshaw would have an FM radio and cold mineral water bottle on separate payment. Navdeep Asija, the founder of the NGO Eco Cabs is excited about the proposal. Navdeep has to his credit the launch of Eco Cabs in Fazilka, the first in the country.
Navdeep says that the model has already been successfully tried in Patiala and Amritsar besides Fazilka. The drivers would be imparted training to act as tourist guides as well. The rickshaws would be run at a fixed per km fare and for tourists, it would also be available on a per day package basis.
The security aspect is also being looked into. Each and every eco cab and its driver would be registered with the administration. Asija, an IIT graduate says that environmental friendly public transport system was the need of the hour
Taking up the issue of congestion and high pollution in sector 17, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has repeatedly laid stress on making some areas of sector 17 as a no-vehicle zone. The administration could run non-motorised vehicle slike Eco Cabs in such areas, the high court had suggested.

Chandigarh Admin to go ahead with multi-crore metro project

The Chandigarh administration has been facing criticism for lack of public transport policy for the city. This has resulted in people relying more on personal transport, resulting in chaos on city roads and lack of parking space at markets and residential areas. The administration has now planned for a metro rail project but people are skeptical about its success. 
The Chandigarh administration has decided to go ahead with the multi-crore metro rail project. The deliberations on this ambitious project have been going on for a long time. Now, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has submitted its detailed project report and work is likely to start soon. The city residents are, however, skeptical about the success of the Metro in the State Capital Region.
A prominent environmentalist, Navdeep Asija, who is known for successfully running the eco cab project in Fazilka and other towns in Punjab, is not convinced that metro can be an effective public transport system in Chandigarh.
Asija feels that Chandigarh is more suitable for a bus transport system.
Asija also feels that there is a need for a three-tier public transport system. Cycle rickshaws are required to transport the people from their house to the nearest bus stop. Then people can use buses to cover long distances. Those who do not want to use the two could use the auto rickshaws.
Asija said that there was an immediate need to think of a proper public transport system. He also asserted the need to design new bus routes.
Chandigarh administration officials feel that public also has to change its mindset in this regard. The recently launched air-conditioned free bus service to the high court for the lawyers from different parts of city failed as it found no takers.
The Day and Night News team also talked to local residents to know their views on the public transport system.
However, it is for sure that metro or no metro, the bus service has to be improved in the State Capital Region as even the metro will not be connected to each and every sector.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Decks cleared for Rs.100 crore Anandpur Sahib-Naina Devi ropeway

CHANDIGARH: Decks were cleared for Rs.100 crore Anandpur Sahib-Naina Devi ropeway, as Punjab Chief Secretary Mr. Rakesh Singh and his team of officers had a detailed meeting with Himachal Pardesh Chief Secretary Mr. Sudripta Roy and his team of officers in Simla, in which all the contentious issues coming in the way of this project, were sorted out.

According to an official spokesman, Punjab Chief Secretary Mr. Rakesh Singh accompanied by Principal Secretary, Tourism, Mr. Geetika Kalha, Secretary, Public Relations, Mr. Anirudh Tiwari and Chairman, PIDB, Mr. Anurag Agrawal had a detailed meeting with Himachal Pardesh Chief Secretary Mr. Sudripta Roy, Additional Chief Secretary, Mr. S.K. Dash, Financial Commissioner, Revenue, Mr. Deepak Sanan. It was discussed in the meeting that this important project that was conceived 8 years ago, could have not progressed as both participating states could not sort out some issues.

It was pointed out that this project was of great importance for Punjab as 90 per cent pilgrims to Mata Naina Devi were from Punjab. It was decided that both Governments would get the MoU for this project, approved from their respective cabinets and after that both states would sign the MoU.

The meeting decided that Punjab Infrastructure Development Board (PIDB)would be the executing agency for this 4 kilo meter long rope way that would be constructed at the cost of Rs.100 crore.

Fazilka-Abohar rail link to start soon

Ludhiana: The much-awaited Fazilka-Abohar rail link may get operational 'within days' after the Union Railway Minister Mukul Roy cleared a file to this effect on Thursday. State forest minister and Fazilka MLA Surjit Jayani who presented the file to Roy, said, "The Union Minister surprised as to why railways was not running trains on this track even when the infrastructure was ready. He assured me that within few days trains will start running on the track." The rail link was sanctioned in 2003 and its foundation was laid by the then Railway Minister Nitish Kumar in 2004. Scheduled to be operational in 2007, the link could be completed in 2010. The Railways even created the time table for running the trains, but it could never be operational. Once the rail link starts, Ferozepur would get direct access to Sriganganagar in Rajasthan and southern and central parts of India.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

अबोहर-फाजिल्का रेल लाइन पर दौड़ने लगी गाड़ी

जागरण संवाददाता, फाजिल्का

इलाके के लोगों की दशकों पुरानी फाजिल्का-अबोहर के बीच रेलगाड़ी चलने की मांग अब जल्द पूरी होने की संभावना बन गई है। रूट पर नई रेललाइन पर मेंटीनेंस ट्रेन दौड़ने लगी है, जिससे आगामी कुछ दिन के भीतर इस ट्रैक यात्री गाड़ी चलाने के आस जग गई है।

उल्लेखनीय है कि करीब एक साल पहले इस रूट पर करीब 42 किलोमीटर लंबे रेल ट्रैक का निर्माण पूरा हो चुका है। हालांकि यह कार्य 2008 से पहले पूरा हो जाना चाहिए था लेकिन तीन साल की देरी के बाद आखिरकार जब जुलाई 2011 में काम पूरा हुआ तो तत्काल गाड़ियां चलने की उम्मीदें लगाई गई थी। लेकिन कमिश्नर रेलवे सेफ्टी द्वारा इस ट्रैक की सुरक्षा का जायजा लिए जाने में हुई देरी के चलते इस ट्रैक पर गाड़ियों का आवागमन शुरू नहीं हो सका। आखिरकार फाजिल्का व अबोहर के लोगों को इस ट्रैक पर गाड़ियां चलवाने के लिए संघर्ष का रास्ता अख्तियार करना पड़ा। अबोहर में रेल चलवाने के लिए पिछले 28 दिन से धरना जारी है तो फाजिल्का में भी पिछले 10 दिन से विभिन्न संगठन क्रमवार भूख हड़ताल पर बैठे हुए हैं। उसी का नतीजा है कि रेलवे ने इस ट्रैक पर गाड़ियां चलाने के लिए इसकी मेंटीनेंस तेज कर दी है। पिछले तीन दिन से एक मेंटीनेंस ट्रेन जिसमें एक इंजन व एक सवारी डिब्बा शामिल है रोजाना रेल ट्रैक पर आ जा रही है।

रेलवे सूत्रों के अनुसार रेलमार्ग की सुरक्षा का जायजा लिया जा रहा है। अगर कहीं कोई खराबी है तो मेंटीनेंस ट्रेन के सवारी डिब्बे में सवार वर्कर उसे ठीक कर रहे हैं। खासकर मानव रहित रेलवे फाटकों के रास्तों को बंद किया जा रहा है। दो दिन के भीतर मेंटीनेंस ट्रेन का स्टाफ इस लाइन को क्रास करने वाले करीब 40 रास्तों जहां फाटक नहीं है, को बंद कर चुका है।

वहीं पिछले दिनों फाजिल्का आए डीआरएम एनसी गोयल ने भी 31 जुलाई तक इस ट्रैक पर स्टाफ की भर्ती के बाद ट्रेन शुरू करने का वादा करके गए थे।

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Peace in the Pipeline

Getting gas via TAPI is not just a good business idea, it could herald peace in South Asia

By Narendra Taneja

AS THE US prepares to quit military operations in Afghanistan, other stakeholders in the country such as India are, unsurprisingly, an anxious lot. Western powers believe that measures like strengthening the Afghan armed forces and building multiple revenue streams for Kabul will help stabilise the country that is now central to the New Central Asia Great Game. They seem confident that the measures would help keep Islamic fundamentalists, Taliban and the ISI at bay — hence, the unprecedented hurry to construct the long-planned Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan will earn handsome amounts every year in transit fees, besides access to jobs and gas.

The 1,735 km pipeline, with a total gas capacity of 90 million cubic metres per day (MMSCMD), will follow the ancient trading route to India, passing through Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan, Quetta and Multan in Pakistan, before landing in Fazilka, Punjab. On completion in 2017, India is supposed to receive 38 MMSCMD of gas from the transnational pipeline.

TAPI promoters will begin international roadshows in August to lure investors and new consortium partners, mostly from countries perceived friendly by the West and, I hope, India. With more sceptics in the West than in the East, the promoters, which include New Delhibased PSU GAIL (India) Ltd, are predicted to face a tough scrutiny of the project, particularly on the issue of the pipeline's security in battletorn Afghanistan and in the Balochistan region where Pakistan's own domestic gas pipelines are bombed regularly by local separatists.

However, western powers claim they have new technologies in place that will take care of such concerns. Sure, some concerns may be overblown, but there is no doubt that TAPI will have to live with the intimidating title of the most threatened energy pipeline in the world for a long time to come. But the risk is worth taking since perceived gains in terms of building a new South Asia far outweigh apparent threats. Energy diplomats argue that TAPI can be almost fully protected by keeping it underground and by wiring it up with new-generation computer and satellite-controlled devices to report and repair any terrorist attack on an almost real-time basis. Helicoptermounted patrol and repair teams, preferably manned by locals — which would also bring in intelligence against any mischief involving locals — will add an additional element of safety.

TAPI could become the shining symbol of the growing Indo-Pak economic cooperation

Anyway, GAIL is confident of easily making up for any sudden supply disruption from the pipeline by pumping in more gas from its own sources and, if required, by using imported gas. The real worry is what happens if some rogue elements within the Pakistani armed forces or ISI lend support to the Taliban within their own country and in Afghanistan to mount a full-scale and dramatic annihilation of the pipeline, which, when completed, would probably become the shining symbol of the growing India-Pakistan economic cooperation on the one hand and of the deepening India- Afghanistan bonds on the other. It is no secret that hardliners of all hues in both Pakistan and Afghanistan are against the TAPI pipeline.

TAPI has the potential to be a game-changer if it is projected more as an economic cooperation initiative of the four countries involved than a geopolitical one aided by outsiders. If India has an opportunity to change the course of history by partnering in a project like TAPI, then we must avail it with full zeal and enthusiasm. TAPI can change the future of our entire region by creating a new constituency of vested interests and stakeholders in the four countries, but more importantly, in Pakistan. They may prove to be the catalysts for a new South Asia.

The US may be behind fast-tracking TAPI, but it may eventually serve India and Pakistan more than any other country. But TAPI alone would not be enough. India needs to show equal enthusiasm for the 2,775 km Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline (now in progress till Pakistan), which is often called the original "peace pipeline". The US may have its own reasons for opposing IPI, but it is for Delhi to decide what is good for its 1.21 billion energy consumers. We need Iranian gas and, equally importantly, we need to strengthen energy ties with Iran, which has been our civilisational partner for ages.

Narendra Taneja is an Expert on energy and geopolitical issues.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Chandigarh, June 6 (YP Bureau)
Punjab Chief Minister Mr. Parkash Singh Badal would launch the 'Green Punjab' mission from Hoshiarpur and Fazilka on July 1 to generate awareness amongst the masses about the clean and pollution free environment by initiating massive plantation drive across the state.  

This decision was taken by Mr. Badal in a meeting with the senior officers of the Forests & Wildlife Preservation department here at CMO this morning.

Giving a power point presentation on the scenario of forest and wildlife in Punjab, Principal Chief Conservator of the Forests apprised the Chief Minister that green Punjab mission has become all the more important in the present context with constant increase in levels of air pollution caused due to heavy vehicular and industrial influx besides alarming proportions of water pollution due to polluted river and ground water.  

Even the soil pollution due to excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, coupled with water logging and rise of salinity in Punjab had further aggravated the environmental problems in the state.   He said that trees and forest could play a crucial role in regulating our climate besides mitigating environmental pollution and degrading.  

According to estimates of forest cover, Punjab had area under forest as percentage of total land area 5.04% as compared to country's 23.41% and world 31%.  Likewise, Punjab has per capita FTC 2.9% of the world and 16% of the India.  Punjab had 4336 hectares of reserve forests and 1,13,738 protected forests besides 20,108 hectares of un-classed forests.  Punjab was the only state whose area under forest cover had increased by 6.01%.  

Taking part in the deliberations, the Chief Minister asked the state Forests and Wildlife Preservation department to launch an extensive plantation drive across the state to increase forest and tree cover from existing 7% to 15% over a period of 15 years on all available institutional lands, panchayat lands, mandis, police lines, jails, paramilitary areas, hospitals, educational institutions, cremation grounds, focal points, PSEB colonies, urban and peri-urban areas and farm forestry.  
 He also emphasized the need to improve productivity and stocking of existing forest areas besides imparting professional training to the forest guards to ensure that trees grow straight.  He also underscored the need for massive plantation across the major roads in the state over an identified area of 300 acres besides introduction of tree spade technology for transplanting of fully grown trees.  

The Chief Minister further asked the rural development & Panchayats department to motivate the village panchayats for plantation of trees over 150,000 acres of panchayat land as the Punjab Vidhan Sabha had already passed resolution to plant trees on 20% of panchayat lands.  He sought cooperation and support from the farmers for the implementations of the state government's initiatives for greening Punjab.  Mr. Badal also asked the Forest department to work out modalities for generation of additional resources to make the tree plantation drive financially sustainable.  

Meanwhile, the Forest Minister Mr. Surjit Kumar Jayani said the state forests department had already prepared a 15 years perspective plan with a mission to enhance the forest area under greening Punjab campaign.  The jurisdiction of forest beats was being revised to cover forest as well as non forest areas.  The new beat boundaries would now be village wise and all villages in the state would be covered by the forest beats.  He said that the newly recruited 180 forest guards were being properly trained to handle the assignment of promoting tree plantation in villages.  

Prominent amongst others who were present in the meeting included Financial Commissioner Forests Mr. DS Bains, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Mr. SK Sandhu, Special Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Mr. KJS Cheema besides Principal Chief Conservator of the Forests Mr. HS Gujral, Chief Conservator Forests (Forest Conservation Act) Mr. Kuldip Kumar, MD Punjab State Forest Corporation Mr. Kuldip Singh and State Chief Wildlife Warden Mr. Dharinder Singh.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Too high maintenance - TAPI Gas Pipeline

The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline agreement signed on May 23 is a follow-up to the December 2010 agreement but essentially a rerun of the aborted 1990s game with a few players changed and a few goal posts moved. Then, as now, Pakistan was impoverished and the US 

hopes that the pipeline will help it revive its fortunes. Then, as now, the US was dealing with the Taliban to arrive at a different kind of an arrangement. Reacting quickly to the TAPI pipeline deal, the US State Department gave its approval the same day, saying this was a welcome step towards energy diversification (meaning away from Iran).
There were conflicting interests of different States in the region in the 1990s. Father Communism had died in Moscow and the children had been orphaned in the resource five 'stans' of Central Asia. Enter Uncle Sam with his goodies and ideas to wean away these orphans from the old Soviet Union. The great game in the inhospitable terrain of Central Asia was about to begin — the prize being geopolitical power.

American energy firm Unocal and Argentine energy firm Bridas were in it for the profit. The Soviet Union was dead but Russia must not be allowed to live so the Americans were in it for keeping control on energy sources and Russia out of the vital energy region. Pakistan's Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in her second term was looking for routes to and from Central Asia that would make her country the gateway and pivot and additionally take her country out of penury. The Pakistan Army, a law unto itself, was seeking control of Afghanistan for 'strategic' depth against enemy India.

It was left to the intelligence agencies once again to operationalise this agenda. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had its own plans to control Afghanistan with Pakistani troops backing the Taliban. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was helping the great American cause of controlling the gas from Turkmenistan and other American interests. The Saudis, keen to Wahabbise Afghanistan, pitched in with the secretive intelligence chief, Turki bin Faisal, and his money for the Taliban. Iran, Russia and India were to be kept on the margins of this great game of modern buzkashi.

Assistant Secretary of State, Robin Raphel, who represented US interests, while visiting Kabul, said, "The US government now hopes that peace will facilitate US business interests." Later in Islamabad, she pronounced that the Unocal pipeline "will be very good for Turkmenistan, for Pakistan and for Afghanistan."

The US was ready at one stage to strike a deal with the Taliban, whose representatives had been feted in Texas, but for other reasons it collapsed. The Taliban shot themselves in the foot with their bestiality towards women and non-believers and pushed the Clinton administration into an embarrassed silence. The subsequent cruise missile attacks in Afghanistan in 1998 shut out further possibilities.

We are now being led away not only from Iranian oil and gas but also from Iran itself. We have identified ourselves more closely to Saudi sources and into the Turkmen grid, which is theoretically, at a later date, meant to compensate for losses from Iran. However, by moving away from the Iran option we are making our access to Central Asia, where China is already present in strength, that much more difficult. The US has pushed hard on the TAPI deal for its larger geo-strategic interests, although the Russians are not completely out of the game, Gazprom having shown interest in the consortium.

On paper the project looks attractive as it promises economic bounty from Turkmenistan to Bangladesh. However, even a cursory look at the map shows how unreal this 1,800 km pipeline worth $10-12 billion is, as it will cross the world's most turbulent areas today — Afghanistan and Balochistan — where security will be provided by Afghan and Pakistani forces.

The Oman-India pipeline (the hub for Qatari, Turkmen and Iranian supplies) at $4 billion, being considered in 2010, through the Arabian Sea avoiding turbulent and even hostile areas, is probably history. Deepwater pipelines should remain the preferred option, as this assures cheaper gas from diversified and secure sources. Gas from TAPI is expected to cost thrice as much as from domestic sources and India will also pay indirect costs for the security of gas supplies to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US and Nato plan to pull out by 2014 and now the argument is that since this project is in the regional interest, these regional powers should also handle its security. There are serious doubts about claims that the Afghan forces are now ready to take on the burden. This claim is probably motivated by the need not to portray the impending departure as a retreat from an unwinnable situation.

The proposed pipeline goes through Kandahar, enters Balochistan, passes through Multan reaching India at Fazilka, Punjab. Given the nature of Pakistan-India relations one would have little confidence about the ability or even the intention of Pakistan to ensure uninterrupted supplies. How much or when Pakistan will plead inability to abide with agreements in the face of protests from elements of the devoutly anti-Indian organisations like the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, which oppose even trading with India, or prevaricate on some pretext, are legitimate concerns.

India's massive dependency on imported energy will continue to grow. There will also be competing interests for sources and India cannot afford to have either/or solutions nor assume hopeful situations that are unlikely to occur. Projections built on manifestly false or unattainable hopes will not provide energy security.

Vikram Sood is former Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing. The views expressed by the author are personal.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mysterious disease attacks kinnow plants in Fazilka

Praful Chander Nagpal

Fazilka, June 3
A mysterious disease has attacked kinnow plants in Fazilka district, as a result of which the plants have started drying up. The development has forced the horticulturists to uproot the dying plants in certain villages of the district famous for growing quality kinnows.

"An unknown disease has attacked the kinnow plants during the past about three to four weeks," says the state award winner in kinnow cultivation, Sidharath Periwal of Khippanwali village, and Rubash Jakhar of Pattrewala village.

According to the official figures, nearly 25,000 hectares is under kinnow cultivation in Fazilka district. Kinnow plants in Karni Khera, Penchanwali, Mohammad Pira, Muradwala, Sappanwali, Khippanwali, Jhumianwali, Aalamgarh, Patterewala, Wazidpura, Mammukhera and other villages have come under the attack of the yet-to-be-identified disease.

"We have been compelled to uproot nearly three dozen dying kinnow plants as over the years, these have become resistant to the chemical fungicides used to fight diseases," says Raj Davinder, a horticulturist of Mammu Khera village. His family has devoted around 40 acres to kinnow cultivation.

Local traditional and progressive horticulturists say that the root of healthy kinnow was hit by the disease.

An eminent horticulturist, Prem Babbar, who has been providing counselling on kinnow cultivation for over more than two decades, says normally, the cause of infection in the root of kinnow plants was due to a disease called phytopthora. However, a chemical fungicide recommended by the Punjab Agricultural University to treat the infected plants was proving ineffective these days. It gives rise to the speculation that the plants were under the grip of some mysterious disease.

Babbar, who is popular as kinnow king, says the PAU should make a trial on a bio-fungicide to treat the plants attacked by phytopthora, under its direct supervision and monitoring.

Notably, kinnow cultivation is popular amongst traditional horticulturists of Fazilka and Abohar areas. The horticulturists earn good dividends by quality kinnow cultivation. They have also won state and national prizes in this field.

Meanwhile, it has also come to light that another reason for early drying up of the kinnow plants could possibly be that some plants acquired from nurseries for transplantation are already affected with phytopthora.

While talking to The Tribune, Deputy Director (Horticulture) Jagnandan Singh Brar admitted that some kinnow plants were dying. He listed three possible reasons for the same. Besides phytopthora, deficiency of micro-nutrients and intense hot weather could be proving harmful to the kinnow plants. He says the problem was likely to be solved after the arrival of monsoon.

A team of PAU horticulturists, led by District Extension Specialist (Horticulture) Dr Mohika Gupta, shall visit the affected villages in Fazilka district for an on-the-spot survey and a field study to identify the reason behind the dying kinnow plants.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Illegal Colonies in Fazilka - by PUDA

List of Various Illegal Colonies Issued by PUDA on 3 June 2012

Friday, June 1, 2012

ABOHAR-FAZILKA RAIL LINK : July 15 fresh deadline to open the track

Praful Chander Nagpal

Fazilka, May 30
After much hue and cry and various public complaints to railway department, the Chairman of Railway Board has flashed a fresh deadline to the Northern Railway authorities to open the Fazilka-Abohar rail track by July 15.

As per the information obtained by scholar retired Professor of IIT Roorkee Dr Bhupinder Singh from Rajesh Aggarwal, Director, Research Design and Standard Orgnisation (RDSO) Ministry of Railways, Lucknow, the Chairman Railway Board has given some fresh targets to the Northern Railway to complete the process of running train in a phased manner till July 15.

As per the directions of the chairman, the recruitment and postings of all the requisite staff comprising 172 employees to be deployed on this track should be completed by June 15, 2012.

The Commissioner of Railway Safety would finally inspect the track on the first week of July positively, after deployment of the staff on five railway stations and 27 manned level railway crossings, track and signalling maintenance. The repair of track and technical problem if any would be removed by June 15. 

As per the target, the track would be thrown open on July 15.

"Whether which centre or the state government representative would inaugurate the track is yet to be decided," said Divisional Rail Manager, Ferozepur Division, N K Goyal, while interacting with the members of deputation of Northern India Passengers Samiti and Beopar Mandal who called on him in his office on Tuesday evening.

"The department has already recruited 36 out of total requirement of 172 employees, including station masters and assistant station masters. The remaining staff shall be available by June 15. The trial run of the train would be conducted on June 28 in which he and other senior officials of the department would make a ride," said Goyal.

The members reiterated their resolve to initiate "rail roko" agitation from July 1, if a train on Fazilka-Abohar track is not introduced by June 30.

The members of the deputation Satish Dhingra and Shakti Singh informed that they have also demanded from the DRM to raise the level of platform number 1 for the convenience of the passengers and revive washing line at Fazilka railway station.