A proposal to set up a mega textile park in Punjab’s industrial hub, Ludhiana, has been red-flagged by locals, environmentalists and even some political leaders. The issue also rocked the budget session of the state Assembly Tuesday as CM Bhagwant Mann tried to address concerns raised by MLAs. What is the proposal, why is it facing such stiff opposition?
A Mega Integrated Textile Region and Apparel Park, under the PM-MITRA scheme, has been proposed to be set up in Ludhiana.
The land required for the project, being undertaken jointly by the Centre and the state government, falls near the Mattewara forest and on the river Sutlej floodplains.
Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann told the Vidhan Sabha Tuesday that the basic requirement of the project was the availability of ‘contiguous and encumbrance free land parcel of 1,000 acres’ for which the Punjab government has identified the land in tehsil Koom Kalan of Ludhiana.
“PUDA has already acquired 957.39 acres of land and remaining land will also be acquired shortly,” said the CM.
He revealed that while 463 acres of government land in the villages Ghari Fazal, Haider Nagar and Garcha has been transferred to Punjab Urban Development Authority (PUDA), another 493.99 acres of panchayat land in villages Sekhowal, Sailkiana and Salempur has also been acquired after paying due compensation.
The project was originally conceived in 2020 during the previous Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh.
The notification issued by the Union Ministry of Textiles says that under the PM-MITRA, a total of seven such parks will come up across the country with a total outlay of Rs 4,445 crore. The notification also specifies the ‘objective of the project’ as ‘sustainable industrialisation’ that does not harm the environment to ‘meet the United Nations sustainable development goal 9.’
The proposed project site is located near the Mattewara forest and on floodplains of river Sutlej.
It touches Mattewara forest from two sides, and also borders river Sutlej on one side.
There are fears that the project would not only disturb the biodiversity of the protected forest, but might also lead to chemical discharge from factories into the river.
Spread over 2,300 acres, the Mattewara forest is often called the lungs of Ludhiana district, and is home to several animal and avian species including peacocks, sambhar, antelopes (nilgai), monkeys, deers etc.
“The project is not going to spell one but multiple ecological disasters. It is not only going to damage Sutlej floodplains but also the biodiversity in Mattewara forest. Thousands of villagers still depend on Sutlej for water for drinking and other needs,” says Jaskirat Singh, a local environmentalist and member of the Public Action Committee (PAC), which is opposing the project.
Despite government’s claim for smooth land acquisition, authorities have not been able to take possession of the ‘acquired’ land at Sekhowal. Whenever officials try to do so, villagers assemble to resist the move.
“The Gram Sabha of Sekhowal village has passed a resolution (in July 2020) against this forceful acquiring of their land. They are opposing acquiring 407 acres of fertile land because it is their only source of livelihood. Some villagers have also moved court against it,” said Singh.
A group of residents from Ludhiana have also filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the project.
The NGT, during its last hearing on April 8, 2022, constituted a joint committee comprising officials from Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), Greater Ludhiana Area Development Authority (GLADA), district magistrate, Ludhiana and Divisional Forest Officer and asked for a “factual report within two months”.
“It is also important that ecology at flood plain zone of river should not get damaged permanently hence we direct that any construction activity if allowed within the flood plain zone of Sutlej, shall be at the risk of the proponent/developer,” said the NGT.
When the project was conceived during the previous Amarinder Singh government, senior AAP leaders including Bhagwant Mann, Sarvjit Kaur Manuke, Harpal Singh Cheema and Kultar Singh Sandhwan had voiced strong opposition against it. But in power, the AAP government has decided to move forward with it.
“Ahead of Punjab polls, we had even submitted Green Manifestos for Punjab to AAP leaders in which our first demand was shelving this project. Padma Shri environmentalist Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal who had helped us in preparing the Green Manifesto, is now AAP’s Rajya Sabha MP. We now expect that at least he should raise his voice against it…The site instead can be used for eco-tourism,” said Jaskirat Singh, also a member of Punjab Vaatavaran Chetna Lehar, the outfit that had prepared the Green Manifesto on Punjab’s environmental issues.
During the ongoing Budget session, several MLAs including Congress’s Partap Singh Bajwa, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, Pargat Singh and AAP MLA Hardeep Singh Mundian raised their voice against the project. Speaker Kultar Singh Sandhwan also intervened and said that though he cannot participate in the discussion, but the issue was ‘close to his heart’, that he was opposed to the plan, and CM should reconsider it.
Pargat Singh said that “we all will be responsible for it” if any harm is done to Mattewara forest and the Sutlej.
Leader of opposition Partap Singh Bajwa also shot off a letter to CM Mann, and wrote: “The total forest cover of Punjab is mere 3.67% of the total geographical land. Water pollution is a known issue facing Punjab. Any project adjacent to forests, I fear, will do far more damage to the ecosystem and further degrade the quality of land and water in the state. The Mattewara forest is adjacent to Ludhiana city, reportedly one of the four most polluted cities for Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM). This project is environmentally unsound. Reconsider this project adjacent to Mattewara, the last green lung surrounding Ludhiana…’
Mann, who had earlier accused the Congress government of “destroying Mattewara forest”, now says that the project would “help in attracting investments and generate employment”.
On environmental concerns, he maintains that “no river pollution would be allowed at the proposed site” and “all environmental norms laid by central and state pollution boards will be followed.”
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