Dec 26, 2008

Lifestyle - India;Status-conscious Punjab VIPs to lose security

Chandigarh, Dec 26 (IANS) In a move that is bound to receive the common man's welcome, security cover given to hundreds of VIPs in the state in the name of unidentified 'terror threat perceptions' is likely to go, thanks to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

High court judges Hemant Gupta and Nawab Singh have come down heavily on the 'feudal mindset' of the so-called VIPs who continue to flaunt their armed security at every place.

First to go will be the virtual 'terror on roads' created by the pilot and escort vehicles of these VIPs. The high court has clearly said that other than the chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana, speakers of both state assemblies and the chief justice of the high court, no one should be allowed pilot and escort facility.

The pilot-escort facility being used by over 250 VIPs will be withdrawn over the next few weeks. Punjab police sources said that if the pilot-escort vehicles were taken back, the VIPs will also lose the accompanying security personnel.

The high court Tuesday ordered the Punjab and Haryana governments and the Chandigarh police to review the security requirements of all people who have security personnel and to prune it drastically. The high court in particular mentioned that certain people were using security as a 'status enhancing tool'.

Influential industrialists, the ruling Akali Dal and Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC - a Sikh politico-religious body managing Sikh shrines in Punjab) members, student union leaders, mediapersons and even liquor distributors are among VIPs whose security is likely to be pruned.

The order comes days after the Mumbai terror attack. The high court took cognizance of reports that hundreds of policemen were guarding undeserving VIPs, leaving the common man to fend for himself.

The down-sizing of security around most people is likely to be completed within the next three months, when the matter comes up for hearing before the bench again. Haryana has sought one month's time to implement the high court order on security.

The family of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal itself enjoys a security paraphernalia of nearly 1,000 security personnel, including National Security Guard (NSG) and Punjab Police commandos and paramilitary security.

The security around Badal, his son and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal and other immediate family members also includes bullet-proof vehicles, jammer-fitted vehicles, light machine guns (LMGs) and other security gizmos.

Punjab Police officials told IANS that the Badal family had now indicated that security around them could be curtailed by about 10 percent. The Badals are guarded at their two homes in Chandigarh (one official and one private bungalow), their home in Lambi village, Sukhbir Badal's house in New Delhi and also at all places that the father-son duo travel to every day.

A few Punjab Police securitymen have also been given at the behest of Badal to his close political associate and former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala and his family in neighbouring Haryana.

Some of the ministers, legislators, bureaucrats, police officers and Akali Dal leaders enjoy a security cover far in excess of what the rules say. Youth Akali Dal president Kiranbir Singh Kang alone has 24 gunmen and police pilot and escort Gypsy cars. Many ministers, legislators and officials are known for misusing their escort vehicles as pilot vehicles to get the roads cleared for them thanks to their blaring sirens.

The high court has asked both states to curb this nuisance on the roads. The high court's observation came in response to a petition filed by an SGPC member whose security was recently withdrawn.

'Prima facie, we agree with the contention of the petitioner that the pilot and escort provided to protectees is a traffic hazard and creates problems for the public. Our Constitution provides equal rights and status to all its citizens and the feudal mindset doesn't synchronize with expectations of people of this country,' the high court observed.

The Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief, Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh, who has been charged by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in two cases of murder and one case of rape of a female disciple, enjoys the topmost Z-security cover from the Haryana police.

Several godmen and sect heads in Punjab and Haryana too are under police protection.

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