The gentle toughiehttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/print/the-gentle-toughie/

The gentle toughie

As head of the Punjab Assembly’s watch-and-ward staff,Jasjit Singh Minhas handles unruly members in the House—all this while having to duck an occasional paper dart

Jasjit Singh Minhas has to think on his feet most of the time,almost literally. The watch-and-ward officer in the Punjab Assembly has a chair assigned to him a level below the Assembly Secretary’s seat but he usually spends most of his time in the Assembly standing. He has to stay alert for anything that goes wrong in the House when tempers rise and even watch out for that occasional paper dart that might come his way. His brief is to make sure that in situations such as these,the Speaker is unharmed and that unruly members are politely told to leave.

The Assembly has barely recovered from Wednesday’s ruckus when legislators threw bundles of papers at the Speaker and assaulted the watch-and-ward staff. One of them even occupied the Speaker’s chair. The commotion happened after Congress legislators brought a woman,who had allegedly been assaulted by the Tarn Taran police,to the Assembly. On Thursday,a day after the incident,the House is quieter with the Opposition having boycotted the day’s proceedings.

There are strict rules on how unruly members can be handled.

“I too was pushed around that day. But it’s important for members of the watch-and-ward staff to be patient. The brief given to the staff is to be polite with legislators. We can request them to maintain decorum,but the staff cannot use force. Some of the members later came to us and expressed regret. That was enough for us. After all,they are respectable members of the House,” he says after the day’s proceedings ended at 2.30 pm.

With experience and some training,says Minhas,he usually knows when a tense situation can take a turn for the worse. During the session,at the slightest hint of any trouble,the watch-and-ward staff makes a human chain around the Speaker’s chair. At other times,most of them stand alert at the entrance to the House. A few others are on stand-by outside the House and enter when called in.

Minhas has been heading the watch-and-ward staff for four sessions of the Assembly,though he has worked for 26 years in the Vidhan Sabha. He says the staff is briefed every day before the Assembly begins as well as at regular intervals,even when the Assembly is not in session. “The staff is highly experienced. Some of them have been around for over two decades,but we still keep repeating that we cannot misbehave with the members as they are respected legislators,” says Minhas.

After the Assembly winds up for the day,Minhas goes to his office to look at the requests for entry passes to the Assembly. It was over an ‘unauthorised’ entry to the Assembly premises that the House erupted on Wednesday,so Minhas knows he has to be doubly sure.

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The Budget session lasts till March 26,after which Minhas will have to get back to his other responsibilities.