SEEKING TO address issues over which his predecessor, Amarinder Singh, had faced criticism, new Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, in his first remarks after taking oath on Monday, underlined his accessibility as an “aam aadmi”, assured support to farmers and the poor, and “justice” in the Bargari sacrilege case.
Ahead of the Assembly elections in the state next year, Channi promised a reduction in power tariff, free power and water supply to farmers and the poor, waiver of their pending power and water bills of the last five years, and a transparent “people’s government”.
Channi, 58, became the first Dalit Chief Minister of Punjab after he was administered oath of office by Governor Banwarilal Purohit. Deputy Chief Ministers Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and O P Soni were also sworn in on Monday.
While Amarinder Singh stayed away, senior Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Harish Rawat, Ajay Maken and PCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu were among those who attended the ceremony.
Speaking to reporters later, Channi said his government would continue free power and water supply to the agriculture sector, and extend it to the poor too. “Their pending water and power bills of the last five years will be waived off. I know these bills add up to lakhs. The water/ power connections which were cut due to non-payment of bills will also be restored,” he said.
“We will make power cheaper so that it does not burn a hole in anybody’s pocket. I know how expensive power hurts. My wife gives me a look each time we receive the power bill,” he said.
Calling himself an “aam aadmi”, Channi thanked the party’s central leadership for elevating him to the top post. “I am a poor man’s son. I used to pull a rickshaw. We used to live in a kutcha house with no roof. My mother would coat the walls with mud. I understand the pain of the poor,” he said.
He said he would “join the farmers’ struggle and press upon the Centre to repeal the black farm laws”. “Punjab is an agrarian state. If the existence of farmers is threatened, the state is threatened… I stand with them firmly,” he said.
“My government will take a decision against the sand mining mafia today itself. I urge the sand mafia and other mafias to stay away from me. I am not their representative. I am a representative of the poor,” he said.
Channi said he was a “people’s man” and would ensure that he was available to them. “I keep my bed in my car so that I am on the move and can start meeting people at 5 am. I will go to each house in the state. I will function from the Secretariat. The administrative secretaries will be informed today itself that they have to meet people at least two days in a week. They will be asked to go to the directorates outside the Secretariat to be available to the public. Field officers will also be asked to be available to the public,” he said.
Amarinder Singh was known to seldom visit the Civil Secretariat, making access difficult.
Channi said his government would deliver on the party high command’s 18-point agenda for the state, including the emotive Bargari sacrilege issue in which he assured “justice”.
The cases of sacrilege date back to October 2015, when torn pages of Guru Granth Sahib strewn outside a Bargari gurudwara led to widespread outrage and death of two protesters in police firing.
Channi also assured protesting government employees that their issues would be taken up, and appealed to them to get back to work.
On his predecessor, Channi said Amarinder Singh “is also known as protector of Punjab’s water rights”, and assured that he would complete his unfinished work.
Channi later convened a Cabinet meeting with his two deputy chief ministers that ended late at night. They discussed various pro-poor initiatives including the construction of 32,000 houses for economically weaker sections, increasing free electricity units from the existing 200 units to 300 units for SC/BC/BPL domestic consumers, waiving pending electricity bills of tubewells under the Rural Water Supply (RWS) scheme, and simplifying the process of allotment of five-marla plots, according to a press release issued after the over three-hour-long meeting.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Deputy Chief Minister Randhawa said they would roll out these initiatives from October 2. “We held a long meeting and discussed many issues. The administrative secretaries have been asked to put up a proposal for the next Cabinet meeting. All these major decisions will be rolled out then,” he said.
Channi is a three-time legislator from Chamkaur Sahib assembly constituency in Rupnagar district. He was among those who rebelled against Amarinder Singh.
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