Before he went into home quarantine after Bathinda SSP Bhupinder Singh Virk, with whom he had attended an Independence Day function on Saturday, tested positive, Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal traveled to Patti district in Tarn Taran and attended a public gathering where sources said over 50 people were present.
He had gone there on Monday to inaugurate a jogging park, accompanied by members of the district administration and local Congress MLA Harminder Singh Gill.
Tarn Taran deputy commissioner, Patti SDM and Tarn Taran SSP were also part of the gathering, where social distancing norms were also violated.
It was not immediately clear whether the minister had, at that time, already been informed about Virk having tested positive. He could not be reached for comment despite several attempts.
‘Function not organised by administration’
On July 13, the Punjab government put a bar on all public gatherings, restricted social gatherings to a maximum of five attendees and marriages and other functions to 30 instead of the previous 50. It had also asked police to register FIRs against those violating curbs on public gatherings.
A detailed notification issued by the government last month said joint teams of police and civil administration should strictly enforce the restrictions on social gatherings (restricted to five under Section 144 imposed in all districts) as well as weddings and social functions. “There shall be no physical presentation of demand charters by associations,” the government had said.
“The function was not organised by administration. The function was political. We had told them to not exceed the number of attendees beyond 30. Yes there were a few more chairs than what was advised. Chairs were provided by Congress and not by administration. Yes it is true that we should had avoided it and it should not happen,” said Patti SDM Rajesh Sharma.
However, the district administration had itself issued a press note for the function. “Punjab Government would spend Rs 15 crore on harnessing the huge potential of Harike wetland by making it a tourism hub. This was stated by Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal today after inaugurating a beautiful park constructed at a cost of Rs 1.25 crore in Patti city. On the occasion, MP Jasbir Singh Gill (Dimpa), MLA Harminder Singh Gill, Deputy Commissioner Kulwant Singh, SSP D H Nimble and Chairman, District Planning Committee, Jagtar Singh Burj were also present,” it said.
This function was organised three days after local police booked former Khemkaran MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha and 100 other Akali Dal workers for violating Covid-19 protocol while protesting against the government over the alleged role of politicians and administration in the hooch tragedy that claimed 121 lives earlier this month.
A large canopy was installed in the park where Manpreet Badal along with local MLA and MP delivered speeches. The local MLA also honoured the SSP and DC.
A big crowd was moving with the state finance minister when he was inspecting the facilities provided at the park and also planted a sapling. At times, the finance minister and local MLA were also seen without masks.
SDM Rajesh Sharma too confirmed that the gathering at the inauguration exceeded 30. He didn’t give a clear answer when asked if any action would be taken against the organisers and those who attended the function.
Tarn Taran DC Kulwant Singh, who was also present at the function, said, “There was no permission for the function from district administration. I had to be present there as per protocol as a minister was coming to attend the function.”
Local Congress MLA Gill said, “Our attempt was to keep the gathering limited. We take care of social distancing and other protocol. Maybe a few more people than expected had come for the gathering. But we were concious about following Covid instructions.”
Asked if the function could have been avoided, the MLA said, “Yes it could have been avoided. Our intention was to keep the gathering low.”
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