Leaders from across the country attend ceremony, barring those from the Congress

Amid cheers and enthused slogans from an extremely responsive crowd, Governor Shivraj V. Patil on Wednesday administered the oath of office and secrecy to the 84-year-old Akali stalwart, Parkash Singh Badal, who took over as the Chief Minister of Punjab for a record fifth time. While leaders from across the country participated in the event, the Congress was conspicuous by its absence.

Sporting a grey suit and the signature Indigo Blue turban of the Akali Dal, Mr. Badal took his oath in chaste Punjabi, with the ‘Fateh Burj' (victory tower) of the Banda Singh Bahadur Memorial here forming the backdrop. The venue, which is 20 km away from the capital, Chandigarh, marks the victory of the Sikh Army, which under the command of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur defeated the Mughal forces of the regent of Sirhind in 1710.

17 others too take oath

Apart from Mr. Badal, the Governor administered the oath to 17 other Ministers of the Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance which bagged 68 of the 117 seats in the recent Assembly polls. Those who were sworn in included Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh, who is Mr. Badal's son. For the junior Badal it is his second tenure as the Deputy Chief Minister. When reports last came in, the Chief Minister had yet to decide on the portfolios for his ministerial colleagues.

Former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) convener and Janata Dal (United) president, Sharad Yadav, BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkand Chief Ministers Narendra Modi, Prem Kumar Dhumal and Arjun Munda respectively, BJP leaders Rajnath Singh and Shanta Kumar, former Haryana Chief Minister, Om Parkash Chautala, former Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Karnataka Public Works Department Minister C.M. Udasi, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MPs Thambidurai and Dr. Maithreyan and former Canadian MP Ruby Dhalla were among those who made it to the swearing-in ceremony.

Vote-on-account

Later in the afternoon, at the first meeting of the newly-sworn in Cabinet gave its nod to holding the first session of the Assembly from March 19 to April 4. A vote-on-account would be passed on March 28, in place of a proper budget, which would be passed later in the year.

The Cabinet also approved the excise policy for the year 2012-13 with an increase in outlay of Rs. 570 crore over last year. The revenues are expected to touch Rs 3,638.40 crore as against the expected Rs.3068.40 crore at the end of the current fiscal. The Cabinet has also decided to continue with the existing system of allotment of liquor vends through draw of lots.

Railway budget flayed

In his first reaction after assuming charge, Mr. Badal described the Union Railways budget as “directionless, hopeless” and contrary to the assurance of the United Progressive Alliance government to safeguard the interests of the common man (aam admi). He said the proposed hike in the fare of all types of trains under the garb of upgrading the railway infrastructure was “highly deplorable.”

Through a statement he said: “The anti-Punjab stance of the Congress has been once again come to the fore as it had deliberately ignored the interests of the border State much to the dismay of the people of Punjab.” Expressing concern that not a single kilometre of track had been added, Mr. Badal said that the budget had also ignored the numerous requests made by the State government at different forums for the extension of the already sanctioned Kolkata-Ludhiana Eastern dedicated rail freight corridor to Amritsar. Nor did it take care of the State's pending demand to sanction another Western freight dedicated Mumbai-Delhi rail corridor to Amritsar via Ludhiana for providing fillip to the industrial sector.

The headline of the story was corrected for a factual error.