THREE ELITE clubs located inside a protected monument in Amritsar have got the backing of Mayor Karamjit Singh Rintu in a legal tussle with an NGO which has been pressing for their relocation citing environmental damage and unauthorised construction.
The mayor’s vote of support however, is in contradiction with an agreement between the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which protects the monument — the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Summer Palace, also famously known as ‘Company Bagh’ or ‘Ram Bagh’ — and the Municipal Corporation Amritsar (MCA), which had been presented in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The agreement makes several commitments, one of them being the shifting out of the clubs in a phased manner.
The Amritsar Club, Lumpsden Club and Service Club have been in existence since the British era — before 1930. Their members include the city’s elite. Entry is limited to members only though the property is public. Sources say influential members have been lobbying to stop removal of these clubs. The Amritsar Vikas Manch, an NGO, has been fighting for removal of these clubs from the palace and Ram Bagh in the Punjab and Haryana High Court since 2002.
The mayor however has said that the MCA will ensure that the clubs remain in Ram Bagh. “MCA will work with ASI to protect the monument. At the same time we will ensure every kind of support to such clubs so that they remain in the Ram Bagh. We are always there for these clubs and will stand with them in every hour of need,” he had said after meeting the clubs’ representatives on Friday.
What agreement says
The agreement states that: “MCA would consider the extension of lease with respect to these clubs maximum for another five years. During this period, MCA should initiate the process of shifting all these clubs in phased manner to some other appropriate location and hand over entire protected area to ASI for better management of the National monument.”
It further states: “A lot of solid and water waste being produced by these clubs are causing adverse effects on the surrounding environment and monument. Clubs have indulged in unauthorised construction even after the palace was declared a monument of national importance and both parties agreed for removal of illegal and unauthorised construction inside monument as part of agreement.”
It also said: “All commercial activities including serving of liquor should be banned by the MCA. Also, MCA shall look into that no such activities are continued in the premises (sic).”
Assistant Excise and Taxation Commissioner Hemmant Sharma said, “All the clubs have licences to serve liquor. If the ASI has submitted an agreement against serving of liquor in court, then the MCA should write to us. We haven’t received anything in writing from the MCA against licences given to these clubs.”
Asked about the agreement, the mayor said, “It is true that we have given an agreement in court. But the court hasn’t given its final judgment yet. At the same time, the MCA commissioner has written a fresh letter to ASI over objection to some clauses of the agreement. ASI is yet to respond to the commissioner’s letter. So nothing is final yet.”