Badal’s beacon ‘bribe’ stirs controversy

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS

Chandigarh : Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s offer to let elected members of the Sikh religious body SGPC use red beacons atop their vehicles and provide them police bodyguards is unlikely to go down well with the high courts.

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Badal made the announcement of the sops Thursday, a day before the election of the president of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) — the mini-parliament of the Sikh religion and the world’s richest Sikh organisation with an annual turnover of Rs.3.25 billion.

The chief minister’s loyalist Avtar Singh Makkar was “unanimously” elected SGPC president Friday in a house dominated by the ruling Akali Dal.

Badal made the offer though Makkar’s re-election as president was a forgone conclusion given the majority that the Akali Dal has in the SGPC — nearly 170 members out of 185.

The sops — allowing SGPC members to use red beacon lights on their personal vehicles and offering two security guards to each from the already burdened Punjab Police — is unlikely to be welcomed by the state’s home department and the Punjab and Haryana High court here.

In the last four years, the high court has been coming down heavily on the misuse of red beacon lights by unauthorised persons and also police security provided to self-styled VIPs.

Having security personnel in tow is considered a status symbol among politicians, bureaucrats, police officials and other influential people in Punjab. In recent years, the high court has given strict directions to the state government that red lights and security cover will be given only to authorised persons.

Badal’s latest largesse will mean that nearly 400 Punjab Police personnel — two for each SGPC member — will have to be spared for security duty during each eight-hour shift.

The move is contrary to the standing order of the high court and the current exercise of the Punjab home department and police to prune security cover of people who do not need it so that policemen can get back to policing.

“I don’t know who has given this advice to Badal. The high court is seized of both matters — red beacons and security cover — and is very strict on who should be allowed this.

“What government functions do the SGPC members perform to deserve these sops? It is a private organisation, and moreover SGPC members are supposed to be doing ‘dharam prachaar’ (propagate religion). Why do they need red beacons and security for that,” a senior home department official here questioned.

Home department and police officials say that Badal will be embarrassed when the high court rejects his latest move. They say it will be very difficult to justify the sops in court.

“Everyone, including family members of the SGPC committee members, will start flaunting red lights on their private vehicles,” a senior police official told IANS.

Badal’s move is being opposed by a section of Sikh leaders too.

“I will challenge this in the high court. This is nothing but a bribe from Badal to SGPC members. I will myself neither use the red beacon nor accept Punjab Police security. Why is this required?” opposition leader in SGPC Karnail Singh Panjoli said.

Senior Sikh leader Manjit Singh Calcutta too questioned Badal’s motive behind the offer. “Badal should meet the SGPC members as president of the Akali Dal and not as chief minister of Punjab. He is misusing his authority. This will not serve any purpose for the religion,” Calcutta said.

But Badal loyalist and third time SGPC president Makkar defended Badal’s move, saying it would add to the stature of SGPC members.