A proposed industrial park in Ludhiana has sparked a confrontation between the Punjab government and the local villagers, who fear it will disrupt the ecology in the area.
According to the plan, the industrial park -- which will have textile units in about 1,000 acres of land -- will come up just five kilometres away from the Mattewara forest in Ludhiana district, 200 km from Chandigarh.
The government had approached the villagers in Sekhowal to lend the panchayat land for setting up the industrial park, following which 407 acres of land was agreed upon. But the villagers have now backtracked from the deal, saying they were "tricked" by government officials.
"In May the block development officer called the sarpanch and other panchayat members and convinced them that a park will be set up on panchayat land. The sarpanch and panchayat members signed on the resolution to allow government to utilise the land. We later realised that it was for industrial park and not a usual park. We will not allow the industries to be set up here which will disturb our environment," said Kashmir Singh, who claimed to be a relative of the sarpanch.
Environment activists have also joined the villagers in their fight. They claim that the proposed industrial park will not only affect the forest but also the Sutlej river flowing nearby. "This move by the government will destroy the environmental system. The textile park will release its effluents in this Sutlej river and will damage it. Trees will be cut. We nature lovers have organised committee and have written to the Chief Minister (Amarinder Singh) to review his decision," said Ranjodh Singh, an environmental activist.
The government, however, has assured that the the ecology of the place will remain intact. "We are not going to cut any trees nor we are using any land of the forest area," Amarinder Singh assured.
The chief minister's assurances have however failed to pacify the activists, who cite the industrial pollution at another Ludhiana waterbody, the Buddha Nullah.
"We know what happened with Buddha Nullah. How it turned from a water stream to a dirty drain....the govt has not been able to clean it up over years....and similar threat looms large on the sutlej river if industrial park comes up near Mattewara forest area," said Ravneet Singh, campaign manager, EcoSikh.
Punjab has less than 3 per cent of forest area and with dwindling underwater table, the government must ensure that the state known as the land of five rivers is not deprived of its natural resources.