Unholy nexus in the Holy City

Unfortunately, the land mafia is slowly but surely erasing the not-so-distant memories of the famous green boulevard of the city. It is changing the land use of the major thoroughfares, including the Mall Road. Old trees that carry ‘heritage value’ are being axed to pave way for concrete jungles.

People, unmindful of the consequences, have started investing in real estate for speculative purposes by taking huge loans from banks.

Giving thrust to the rampant colonisation, recently Chief Minister Amarinder Singh came to Amritsar to lay the foundation of a private real estate. He, however, chose to ignore the inauguration of the high-tech bus stand.

The t disturbing factor is that the lush green fields, including famous orchards on Amritsar-Jalandhar, Rajasansi, Majitha and bypass roads, have been converted into new residential and commercial colonies, much to the chagrin of environmentalists who rue the wanton destruction of green patches.

All this has given a boost to private builders and colonisers to come up with all conceivable new colonies in and around Amritsar, enticing NRIs and local residents with tall promises of providing ‘world class infrastructure’.

Hundreds of such colonies, both legal and illegal, have sprung up in the periphery of the city. Majority of them are being promoted by land sharks, who have a nexus with politicians and top bureaucrats. Many Delhi- based builders, too, have joined the fray to promote the colonies. Majority of these new colonies are being promoted by ruling party functionaries, throwing to the winds all bylaws and site plans.

The whole thing works out quite simply. A farmer sells his fertile land on Amritsar-Jalandhar road for Rs 10 lakh per acre only. But an influential coloniser prepares attractive drawings of the ‘dream colony’ on costly, glazed paper to attract the NRIs, and sells the land for Rs 6000 per square yard!

A large chunk of black money has been invested into the real estate by many senior politicians, top bureaucrats who have virtually purchased benami properties in the periphery of the city.

All this is in stark contract to the builders from Delhi who have offered infrastructure with broad roads, green spaces, round the clock power and water supplies, besides offering security to residents.

The nexus between politicians and bureaucrats who have high stakes in the real estate has ensured illegal sewerage and water supply facilities in the newly-developed unauthorised colonies in various parts of the city.

Shockingly, the government has been losing huge revenue due to ‘benami transactions’ through the ‘power of attorneys’.

With the lopsided and ill-planned growth of the city, freedom fighters and stalwarts who have been the pillars of Amritsar’s rich historical tradition are likely to pass into oblivion. Our leaders have no time to install the statue of Master Tara Singh, a great Sikh leader, which has been gathering dust in Delhi for the last about four years. Similar treatment has been given to other freedom fighters belonging to Amritsar.

There has been an alleged disregard of norms and bylaws in the sale of prime government lands that could not have been sold without proper auction.

The Improvement Trust seems to have forgotten that it is a ‘custodian’ of the public property and enjoys no rights to abdicate its responsibilities and also it has no right to hand over the land arbitrarily. Interestingly, the Shiromani Akali Dal supremo, who had promised to run his government on the pattern of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s government, had turned a blind eye to the rampant encroachments on way to Harmandar Sahib, say observers. So much so, the widening of the road from Jallianwala Bagh to the Golden Temple by giving huge compensation worth crores to the owners had served little purpose, as the powers-to-be at that time allowed shops to open up opposite Jallianwala Bagh. (This led to frequent traffic bottlenecks.)

Many ‘non-historical’ and ‘unauthorised’ shrines also sprung up in the periphery of Harmandar Sahib allegedly to safeguard the interests of shopkeepers, say observers. Intriguingly, the Badal government “allowed” the unauthorised construction during its five-year term.

However, the ‘beautification of the surroundings of Harmandar Sahib’, an ambitious project of the Central government, could not be completed during the Badal regime.

Interestingly, the Congress MLA, Mr Birdevinder Singh, has raised his voice against the land mafia operating in the Holy City. He has provided enough evidence on the floor of the Punjab Assembly about the nexus between land sharks, politicians and bureaucrats.

Apart from embarrassing his own government, he provided enough ammunition to the Opposition Akali Dal /BJP to start a war of words, leading to adjournment of the House. But observers say that while cornering the ruling Congress, the SAD/ BJP “forgot its own apathetic attitude” towards the planned development of the city.

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