Taking charge as first Dalit Chief Minister of Punjab, Charanjit Singh Channi on Monday sought to begin his tenure on a populist note by announcing free water supply to smaller homes, a reduction in power tariff for domestic users, sewerage charges waiver and a transparent government for the “aam aadmi” (common man) in the state going for Assembly polls early 2022.
Third-term legislator from Chamkaur Sahib, Channi was on Monday sworn as CM, two days after Captain Amarinder Singh’s surprise exit from the post. A Jat Sikh, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, (62), the jails and cooperation minister in the outgoing cabinet of Captain Amarinder Singh and a Hindu leader OP Soni, who was medical education and research minister also took oath as the deputy Chief Ministers.
Addressing his first Press conference as CM, Channi got emotional while speaking about his humble origins and thanked the Congress for giving great honour to a real “aam aadmi” like him.
“I come from a family who had a house made of mud and straws. I am a representative of a poor man, be it a poor farmer or a labourer. I myself pulled a rickshaw. My father had a tent house business and I used to supply chairs (on a rickshaw),” Channi said in a choked voice adding his government is “aam aadmi ki sarkar” (government of the common man) and he himself is the voice of the common man.
Making his first big announcement as CM, Channi said the poor will get free power connections for water motors and all domestic power consumers will also be given relief by bringing down the power bills. The sewage charges for houses up to 150 or 200 square yards in urban areas will also be waived off, he said adding a decision on this will be taken when the Cabinet meeting this evening.
The CM said he will rein-in the sand mafia and corruption. He said government officers will be made accessible to the people and officers – at the Secretariat in Chandigarh and deputy commissioners in districts – will have to listen to the common people in their offices on set timings.
Channi said there will be no political vendetta but the guilty will not be spared. He said the investigation in the sensitive Bargari sacrilege case, which took place during the previous Parkash Singh Badal government, will be carried on but there will be no vendetta. “No vendetta will be there against anyone but no one guilty will be spared as well. Everything will be done as per the Constitution,” the CM said.
On farm laws, Channi said the economy of the country is dependent on agriculture and there will be no development if farmers are aggrieved. The CM said he will join the farmers’ agitation against the new farm laws to resolve their issues and urged the Centre to repeal these contentious legislations.
Channi appealed striking Punjab government employees to return to work and trust him to resolve their issues regarding 6th Punjab Pay Commission.
Earlier in the morning, Channi was sworn in as the state’s 16th chief minister by Governor Banwarilal Purohit at a simple ceremony attended by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi among others.
With state Assembly polls scheduled in early 2022, the Congress is banking on Channi, a Sikh Dalit, for poll victory. In the 2017 Assembly elections, the Congress had won 78 of the 117 seats.
The Dalits make up an estimated 31.9 per cent of Punjab’s overall population and backward classes constitute 18 per cent of the state’s population. Channi (58) is expected to help the Congress win support of the community as the first ever Dalit CM of Punjab.