August 02, 2020
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A Shadow On Chandigarh?

Badal reneges on a pledge. The Anandgarh project has villagers, planners and architects fuming.

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A Shadow On Chandigarh?
"Lakhs of people will be adversely affected and moreover, it will damage Punjab’s claim on for the farmers whose land is being acquired, who’ve worked day and night to make it fertile, no amount of money can compensate them."
- Parkash Singh Badal on the New Chandigarh project, June 29, 1995

DENIZENS of Chandigarh remember Parkash Singh Badal’s vociferous objection to the plan for a parallel township cheek-by-jowl with Le Corbusier’s model city. And they fail to understand why, five years down the line, he is determined to implement the very project he had so vehemently opposed. As opposition leader, he swore to scuttle New Chandigarh; as chief minister, he has virtually revived it under the name Anandgarh.

Architects the world over are against the idea of tampering with Chandigarh by locating a 10,000-acre urban sprawl right next to the city. Given the manner in which the project has been conceived, they say, Anandgarh will be a "dormitory town", dependent on Chandigarh’s already strained infrastructure and facilities. Overcrowding and traffic will turn the "city beautiful" into another Delhi, they fear.

Chandigarh’s unique ambience will be destroyed, as prospective residents of Anandgarh put pressure on the Union Territory’s civic, entertainment, medical, shopping and other facilities, says Col H.S. Chandoke, who heads the Save Chandigarh Committee. For instance, one would have to drive right across the city to get from the railway station to Anandgarh, thus adding to traffic and air pollution.

Former Punjab chief architect Jeet Malhotra suggests that the proposed city be located 50 km away from Chandigarh, against the backdrop of the Naina Devi hills. This has the advantage of a picturesque setting and will not involve mass displacement of the farming community. Besides, Anandgarh could then have a character of its own, instead of becoming an adjunct of the capital city, just as Gandhinagar is to Ahmedabad. "The profit motive is at work; Anandgarh’s buildings will sell quicker if it’s close to Chandigarh than if it’s far away," observes Malhotra. Says townplanner Hafeez Contractor: "If the people who planned Chandigarh said there should be no construction activity within a particular radius from the outskirts, that’s all right. The green belt around the city should not be disturbed. But the need to populate the region has grown, so one can’t blindly say no construction activity can take place. So, while it may not be advisable for a township to come up beside Chandigarh, there should be no doughnut kind of growth, with Chandigarh in the middle, a green belt around it, and a township outside it. Instead Chandigarh can grow in tentacles, new areas projecting out like fingers from a palm."

Unconvinced, architect and Sikh historian Patwant Singh believes the project will sound the death-knell for Chandigarh, which he regards as a work of art, "a rare convergence of creative architecture, spatial planning and imaginative landscaping". The assault on Chandigarh, he feels, is no way of observing the 50th anniversary of the Corbusier Commission.

In the first phase, 28 villages are to be acquired. A notification covering some 5,000 acres was issued under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act last fortnight. The local residents have launched an agitation under the slogan "Anandgarh hatao, pind bachao (remove Anandgarh, save the villages)". The Shiromani Akali Dal, they say, has clearly forgotten the promise it had made in its 1996 manifesto: that agricultural land would not be acquired.

"Anandgarh will come up only on our dead bodies," declares Bibi Rashpaul Kaur, sarpanch of Ratwara, one of the notified villages. She says residents of all 28 affected villages are ready for a "fight to the death". On the village panchayat for 22 years, she says the entry of government officials will be barred: "They come and create trouble.They got the signatures of some of the women on what were ostensibly electricity bills and used these as consent to the Anandgarh project. It is cheating."

The villagers do not want rehabilitation packages, nor are they mollified by the promise that their residential areas will not be touched. "Once they take away our lands, our cattle will starve," says Kaur. Agrees a former village headman, Gurcharan Singh: "We have seen so many dislocations in the last 60 years, the biggest being the Partition, then the reorganisation of Punjab. Now, it’s Anandgarh. They are killing us."

Gurnam Singh, a farmer from Mullanpur, suggests the government build its city at Anandpur Sahib. "We do not need a big city here. Chandigarh is enough for us." Mohan Singh, another farmer, says: "Let Badal build a city in his own constituency and dispossess his own people." The very man to whom they had looked for protection has ditched them. "After getting into power, he wants to uproot us," observes retired schoolteacher G.S. Dhillon.

Charan Singh, a former sarpanch, says there’s a political aspect to the move: "Farmers from Punjab can no longer purchase land in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. In Punjab itself, our own government wants to dislocate us and make us jobless."

The Punjab government does not agree that Anandgarh is a "revival" of the New Chandigarh plan. "The objectives, scope and scale are different. It will be an independent city with no government buildings or housing. It will be a convention centre, with education, health, entertainment and self-employment facilities," says Punjab Urban Development Agency vice-chairperson, A.K. Dubey.

Chandoke points out another dimension to the move. "Punjab will no longer have a claim to Chandigarh," he says. "The Centre can take the view that now that the state has a capital of its own, it does not need Chandigarh." This is precisely the argument Badal had raised in 1995, when he launched an agitation against New Chandigarh. At the time, Badal confidant Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa had promised: "If the Akali Dal comes to power, its first act will be to strike down the Beant government’s New Chandigarh scheme."

The chief minister, Anandgarh’s detractors point out, is showing precisely the same haste in acquiring land and pushing the project through, as his predecessor did in 1994. Like Beant Singh at that time, the incumbent chief minister will soon be facing an election in which his prospects aren’t particularly bright, unless he can pull off a Chandrababu Naidu.

Chandoke feels the move is motivated more by the fact that bureaucrats and politicians who have purchased land on the proposed site stand to make a killing than any other consideration. "Otherwise, where is the requirement for spending money on a satellite township, estimated at Rs 75,000 crore?"

Political parties across the board, Chandigarh residents and the majority of the farmers affected, particularly the women, have opposed the project. The Congress staged a dharna in the assembly and has joined forces with protesting citizens’ groups. A rally against Anandgarh last fortnight under the banner of the Anandgarh Hatao Sangharsh Committee found former chief minister and Congress leader, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, sharing a dais with the bjp’s Laxmi Kant Chawla, the Shiromani Akali Dal’s Ravi Inder Singh as well as Left Front and Akali Dal (Mann) activists.

The Centre, given its political compulsions, has maintained a hands-off approach. A departure from its stand in 1994, when the ministry of home affairs had advised the Punjab government not to proceed with the New Chandigarh project on the grounds that it violated the Punjab Capital (Periphery) Control Act, 1952, whereby development within 16 km of Chandigarh was banned. The Act has already been violated twice, with the development of the Panchkula and Mohali townships in Haryana and Punjab respectively.

In 1994, the then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s intervention may have been prompted by a petition from more than 65 internationally renowned architects, planners, designers and artistes from the US, Europe, Japan, Australia and Canada not to jeopardise the future of Chandigarh. The petitioners - who include former US senator J. William Fulbright, sculptor Aiko Miyawaki, Yale School of Architecture dean Fred Koetter, historian Betty Blum and many others - wanted Chandigarh declared a World Heritage City.

Recently, concerned citizens including former home secretary .. Vohra, novelist Mulk Raj Anand, intach vice-chairman S.K. Mishra and others wrote to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, pleading that the 1952 Periphery Control Act be respected, so that Chandigarh could escape the "urban chaos, congestion and crime which have overtaken other Indian cities".

The Punjab government’s justification for the Akali volte-face, as articulated by Anandgarh Development Authority head Upinderjit Dhaliwal, is that the displaced persons will be adequately compensated not only monetarily but with employment. Besides, environmental concerns will be addressed by setting up a 20,000-acre Shivalik Nature Reserve.

Anandgarh will be "an ultra-modern, futuristic city with global vision", promises the Punjab government. It justifies the proposal by citing an estimated 40 per cent growth in population over 1991, from around 7.8 to 11 lakh. The town planner it has hired to prepare a perspective plan for the region, E.F.. Rebeiro, says this figure will touch 25 lakh in the next two decades.

Second, the Anandgarh plan document admits that the project violates the Periphery Control Act - passed by Parliament - but justifies it by saying that such violations have taken place earlier. Third, it charges the Chandigarh administration with not meeting the Punjab government’s demand for land for offices, residences, convention centres, university and educational complexes, etc. This is unfair on state government employees waiting for accommodation, it says.

The fourth reason cited is that nris want to acquire property in Chandigarh but would be equally happy to invest in Anandgarh. The project would be self-financing and not entail any government expenditure. Fifth, it says the areas around Chandigarh will be ideal for knowledge and service-based economic activities, like infotech.

Nowhere does the document address the issue of why the proposed city cannot be located outside the periphery of the Union Territory. On the other hand, it trashed the Chandigarh Master Plan, saying that it has no sanctity. "Critics of Chandigarh say it is against the concept of the Chandigarh Master Plan - the cmp itself needs to be redefined," says special secretary to the chief minister, Sarvesh Kaushal.

The Chandigarh administration has already asked the Punjab government to "rethink", but that is unlikely. In meetings of the Chandigarh Coordination Committee, which includes the chief secretaries of Haryana and Punjab as well as the Union secretary, works and housing, both states have agreed that future development could not be stopped because of the master plan.

"Chandigarh was born of Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision and Le Corbusier’s creativity," says Patwant Singh. And Badal’s millennial folly could just cloud all that.


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