Exclusive | Technical and medical support to be received from abroad to build drug rehabilitation center in Amritsar: Bharatiya Janata Party’s Taranjit Sandhu

Taranjit Singh Sandhu, former Indian Ambassador to the US and Bharatiya Janata Party's Amritsar Lok Sabha seat candidate, addresses the media in Amritsar.

Taranjit Singh Sandhu, former Indian Ambassador to the US and Bharatiya Janata Party’s Amritsar Lok Sabha seat candidate, addresses the media in Amritsar. File photo | AFP

Taranjit Singh Sandhu, a former Indian ambassador to the US, is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) candidate for the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency. In an interview with TNIE’s Harpreet Bajwa, Sandhu stressed that setting up start-ups could help reduce brain drain from Punjab, especially Amritsar.

The former envoy also spoke about drug issues, including investigations by the NIA and NCB, use of lasers to curb smuggling by drones, construction of rehabilitation centers with international aid, and creation of job opportunities to prevent young people from taking up drugs again. It emphasizes the need for a multifaceted approach to addressing this issue.


Why did you decide to jump into the political arena and contest Lok Sabha elections from Amritsar?

I have not decided to jump into politics. I have been a civil servant for 36 years and I believe politics is another avenue to serve the people. My basic objective is the development of Amritsar. I am focusing on Amritsar. If you go around the city you will know the issues that plague the city and its people. There is an urgent need to focus on development issues here.

What issues will you poll on, what are your priorities, and do you have a vision document?

Amritsar faces serious security problems, a worsening drug problem and sanitation problems such as mixing of sewage and water, posing serious health risks. Many areas have contaminated drains and garbage dumps, exacerbating the problem.

Low productivity, low incomes and low employment plague both the commercial and agricultural sectors, and I want to address those issues. Regarding law and order, it falls under the jurisdiction of the states, but we will continue to demand that the state governments fulfill their responsibilities. If I am elected and Prime Minister Modi’s government is re-elected at the Center, there is a constitutional mechanism to compel state governments to act.

Drugs and unemployment are two major problems in the area. How do you deal with it?

For drugs, we need investigations by NIA and NCB. And for smuggling, we have new technology to curb drug smuggling drones using lasers. Another part is rehabilitation of drug addicts. For that, we need to build rehabilitation centres and for that we will take technical and medical assistance from abroad.

Most importantly, the medicines provided by the state government are pills sold in black, so the medicines that are successful all over the world are important. Children use them and then turn to drugs. The two medicines that are successful in the US are nasal sprays and vaccines. The Indian American community in the US, on my recommendation, has already bought them and sent them to Amritsar for free. We need to be aware of this and focus on best practices.

Thirdly, we need to create employment opportunities for our youth as we need to harness their energy in a positive way. If they have no other option, there is a high chance that they will revert back to drugs. There are two ways to tackle the unemployment problem – short term and long term. The short term way is very clear. Amritsar has huge potential, especially in terms of increasing flight routes to improve connectivity and strengthening cargo facilities. Currently, the cargo facilities at Amritsar airport are only utilised at 20 per cent capacity. Expanding these facilities is essential for exporting industrial and agricultural products to Middle Eastern countries like UAE, Saudi Arabia and Dubai, which have shown great interest in products from this region. Private companies have a collection centre in Mohali and are therefore interested in transporting their products from here. We manufacture wool, sukaf, phulkari, bras and handicrafts. So, many start-ups can be set up and sell these products.

There is a brain drain from Punjab as young people leave for countries like Canada, the US and Australia. What do you think about this?

There are two ways to stop the brain drain. As I mentioned earlier, attracting investments and start-ups to Amritsar is very important. Indian-American Punjabis donated $100 million. They established the ‘Vikshit Amritsar’ initiative to provide this support to young people, especially women.

Currently, we receive 15 lakh tourists but the number can go up to 50 lakh by enhancing connectivity, nurturing start-up ventures and promoting various activities like tourist guiding. So, these young people will be given a week of training and I will ensure that I provide it. My international connections and tie-ups with national chambers will definitely help bring jobs and investments to Amritsar.

Will you leverage your successful career in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and the Amritsar parliamentary constituency on the India-Pakistan border to advocate for the resumption of India-Pakistan trade through the Attari border, which was halted after the Pulwama attack?

I have been emphasising the importance of connectivity, especially in facilitating trade. Ensuring that our products reach Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Middle East will essentially take the pressure off our dependency on Pakistan. Transit trade is essential. Resources are available. This includes air freight, border trade and the newly constructed 25 km rail link from Patti to Makuhu that provides direct access to ports in Gujarat and Mumbai.

Farmers are protesting against Bharatiya Janata Party candidates in Punjab, and when you visited their villages they opposed them and posed black flags to you. How can you build bridges with them and regain their trust?

I am talking about the farm issue in Amritsar. I am looking at Amritsar, which is in a very unique position. I do not completely agree that there has been a massive opposition. Since I go to rural areas, I have a very clear agenda for farmers. The most important thing is to increase their income, whether it is increased by industries, corporations or trade unions.

While MSP is a national issue, my focus is Amritsar. If we unravel the history of paddy and wheat, we find that it began in the 1960s and 1970s because of its profitability for farmers. Today I suggest that growing vegetables can be equally beneficial for them. If we can boost their exports, their income can increase 15-20 times. I am committed to providing this alternative.

You are considered an outsider. How do you feel about that?

“This is a joke as the other candidates could not find anything else. They have thrown the outsider tag. Everyone knows that my grandfather Teja Singh Samundari has strong roots here. The Golden Temple complex has Samundari Hall, my father Bishan Singh Samundari founded Guru Nanku Dev University and I have been serving the country for 36 years.”

There are rumors that you are a parachute candidate. Before you, Hardeep Puri and Arun Jaitely fought elections in Amritsar but lost. Do people here prefer local faces?

To connect with local people, you have to find your local roots. I am from Amritsar. How dare you call him an outsider just because he came here after 36 years of military service. I don’t think he did anything for his country. I come here every year on vacation and I am from Amritsar.

Don’t you think things would have been different for the party and your political prospects if the BJP and SAD had joined forces?

Whether that’s good or bad is a matter of speculation. But I’m focusing on the current situation. My message is very clear about the development of Amritsar.

Don’t you think there should be a cooling off period for people who want to leave the bureaucracy and join politics?

If politics is considered a public service, it should be treated as such. Why is a cooling-off period necessary? There is no cooling-off period for other occupations. There is no such requirement for doctors, lawyers, and engineers to become civil servants.

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